Last month, Marco Gutierrez, the founder of Latinos for Trump, famously remarked that Latinx immigration will lead to the presence of “taco trucks on every corner.” Gutierrez argued that Latinx immigration was forming a cultural hegemony in the U.S., stating that “my culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems.” With these remarks, he implied that he is part of the assimilationist school that believes immigrants to the U.S. should integrate completely into white American culture. In practice, assimilationist beliefs like these discourage the use of the Spanish language, adherence to Latin American cultural customs and expression of Latin American pride.
Gutierrez’s view of Latin American immigration is deeply racist. It assumes that white American (or what most racists refer to simply as “American”) culture is the only acceptable culture within which an American citizen or resident should exist. It does not respect the legitimacy or beauty of non-white cultures in the U.S. It is extremely telling that Gutierrez used “taco trucks” as his example of impending Latino cultural hegemony, because it reveals his refusal to recognize the subtleties of Latin American culture.
To encourage fear of “taco trucks on every corner,” you do not need to understand the history of Latino immigration. You don’t need to understand anything about Latin American culture. In fact, even a vague understanding of Latin American culture and history would immediately undermine the racist misconceptions of people like Gutierrez. His version of the taco truck is pure stereotype. It dehumanizes Latinx people by reducing them to a food item. It takes the pressure off of racist voters to actually understand or learn about Latinx people, since the entire multi-continental range of Latin American cultures can apparently be reduced to a taco truck.
Gutierrez’s taco trucks also exclude Latinx people from the narrative of American-ness. He places the increasing presence of taco trucks in direct opposition to American culture. This is ironic because taco trucks in the U.S. serve an incredibly Americanized version of Latin American food. Taco trucks tend to serve both white and Latinx populations. Clearly, the perceived divide between white American culture and the taco truck does not exist. Furthermore, it is ridiculous to assume that Mexican or Latin American culture is oppositional to the culture of the U.S., since massive portions of the U.S. were historically part of Mexico.
Gutierrez’s anti-immigration sentiment becomes much more confusing and complex when one considers the fact that Gutierrez is Latino. His political group, Latinos for Trump, confuses and offends many Latinx voters, who tend to be firmly anti-Trump. Latinos for Trump is a relatively small group that receives sizable press coverage because of its inflammatory nature. It is made up mostly of American-born Latinx people who wish to be invited, at least partially, into whiteness. They include themselves in racist white culture by throwing other Latinx people under the bus (or the taco truck), including themselves in whiteness by excluding themselves from Latinx pride. By warning Trump supporters of the dangers of “taco trucks on every corner,” Gutierrez separates himself from the taco truck, disconnecting himself and other Latinos for Trump from the stereotypes associated with Latinx culture.
Despite the bizarre and disheartening views of Latinos for Trump, taco fans can rejoice in the fact that taco trucks can also be used for good. At a recent protest, the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas was surrounded by a wall of local taco trucks. Many of these taco trucks were presumably owned and staffed by anti-Trump Latinx people. These taco truck protestors did not necessarily deny that the taco truck is Americanized. They take pride in the fact that their establishments are simultaneously Latinx and American. Within the Americanized cuisine of the taco truck, Latin American and United States culture are not contradictory or oppositional, but intertwined.
The message of the taco truck protest is two-fold. Firstly, the diversity and number of the taco trucks and their staffers implies that Latinx people cannot be reduced to one simplistic aspect of their culture. Secondly, the massive and highly visible display of the taco trucks expresses Latinx pride in Latin American cultures. The taco truck protests posit that there is no shame in taco trucks, and therefore no shame in identifying proudly with a culture that is both Latinx and American.
When white America identifies Latinx people with the taco truck, it is harmful and reductive. It promotes a simplistic and racist view of Latinx culture and immigration. That being said, Latinx activists can easily reclaim the racist taco-based theories and insults. With the taco truck protests in Las Vegas, activists showed their ability to weaponize a stereotype that is usually used against them. This reclamation showed the beauty of Latinx activism, pride and adaptability when faced with racist adversaries.