Perhaps we’re entering an age in this country in which cultures are far too intermixed for the work of extracting and celebrating supposedly unadulterated strains to be done without damage. Arellano is right to rage against “authenticity” and its accompanying fantasy notions of exoticism. His point about the lack of Mexican or Mexican-American voices in the debate over what does and doesn’t count as Mexican food is particularly worthy. He’s right to elbow his way into the discussion. And he’s right to recognize a pattern in which Americans prefer their Mexicans “authentic” and their Mexican-Americans assimilated.

In a complex passage somewhere near the middle of Taco USA, Arellano simultaneously evokes the disciples of Mexican “authenticity”, the corporate fast food hucksters, and the allure of an encounter with another culture that can be seen as the positive force amid all the negative ones driving the spread of Mexican food in America:

“We want the most ‘authentic’ Mexican at all times - always have, always will. And if your neighborhood still suffers under the tyranny of Taco Bell and combo plates? Fear not - Mexican food is coming to wow you, to save you from a bland life, as it did for your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Again. Like last time - and the time before that.”

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Michael Meyer is a CJR staff writer.