Gustavo Arellano: Jill Biden and the Republican Party are two sides of the same breakfast taco

Dr. Jill Biden stood in front of a crowded hotel banquet room this week in San Antonio and tried to inspire everyone by talking about her husband’s record on Latin issues.

Instead, the first lady joined an ever-growing club: a group of pandering politicians who tried to use Mexican food to win votes.

Speaking at the National Conference of UnidosUS, the civil rights organization that has for decades known as the Larza National Council, the first lady praised President Raúl Yazghir’s vision to build a nonprofit that does not focus on just one Latino group.

“Raul helped build this organization while recognizing that the diversity of this community—as distinct as the Bodegas Bronx, the beauty of Miami blossoms and as unique as the tacos here in San Antonio—is your strength,” she said, mispronouncing “bodegas.”

Biden laughed after throwing the line, as if expecting a standing ovation from the city where tacos—like breakfast, except for tacos—are the gospel. Instead, there was nervous laughter and some applause of approval. I smiled and walked away.

2022 is being 2022, America hasn’t.

Through her press secretary, the first lady quickly apologized “for her words conveyed nothing but pure admiration and love toward the Latin community.”

Republican politicians like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Dan Crenshaw — you know, the guys whose party is still behind a former president who said Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and Central American refugees come from “pit countries” — have accused Biden of not communicating with Latinos.

Democrats have largely kept quiet and left poor Biden alone, like that last sad tortilla chip in a bowl.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists criticized Biden for the “lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity to the diversity of Latinos” in the Alamo. And then, in the most inadvertently funny quote of the year, he added, “We’re not tacos.”

But we are. We’re also the bodegas and the flowers that Biden used as metaphors to praise Puerto Ricans in New York and Cubans in South Florida—metaphors the NAHJ and Republicans had no problem with.

So why beef — or rather, chorizo ​​and eggs — with breakfast tacos?

Mexican food has always been a part of the presidential campaign, ever since John F. Kennedy accepted a 48-pound diet Tammy as a birthday gift from the San Antonio-based National Taco Board in 1961 “on behalf of Hispanic United States citizens,” according to a press release.

The primary season has long seen candidates from all parties pose for photos at Mexican restaurants, usually accompanied by local Latin politicians.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama hosted lavish diplomatic banquets that included Mexican food (Geber invited real Mexican chefs; Barry went with Rick Bayless). Jesse Jackson praised Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 for his ability to “go from biscuits to tacos to caviar real quickly, knowing that this is the cultural diversity that makes up America.” Bill Clinton frequently went to the classic Mi Tierra Cafe in Tex-Mex in San Antonio, which has a plaque of Willie running around dressed – you guessed it! Mi Tierra Cafe T-shirt.

Not every presidential administration has had its mixed policies in the right way. Richard Nixon once rejected a giant enchiladas from the National Taco Board. Gerald Ford nibbled on a tamale still wrapped in its shell.

Then there was Donald Trump’s infamous 2016 tweet: “I love Hispanics!” Accompanied by a photo of him smiling over a giant taco salad.

UnidosUS President Janet Morgoya told the New York Times, “I don’t know that any self-respecting Latino would even admit that the taco bowl is part of our culture”—not to mention that Chicanos in California and beyond have enjoyed taco salads for decades.

Historically, using Mexican food as a campaign trick has been as safe as grabbing bread in Manhattan, covering Philly steak with cheese at Brotherly Love or grabbing a beer from Schlitz in Wisconsin.

That was before 2020, when Trump – the most racist president in modern American history – not only lost Latin support from 2016, but also grew.

Suddenly, Republicans realized they had a chance to win the votes of Mexican Americans, who as a group had historically overwhelmingly favored Democrats, mostly because GOP officials had considered them invaders for so long. The recent victory of Mayra Flores – a South Texas Republican who does not speak of her influence and does not answer whether President Biden was legitimately elected – as the first Mexican-born representative in the House of Representatives only added to their sweet dreams.

This is why conservatives are suddenly doing their worst wake-up impersonation and claiming that Biden and Democrats are racist for saying Latinos are tacos.

But that attitude is also why the person who wrote the first lady’s UnidosUS speech threw tacos for breakfast. It’s the culinary touchstone of Texas, but especially San Antonio, where the meal first gained widespread popularity. (Don’t believe Austin.) The hope was that by shouting out this lovable domestic element, Biden would be seen as smarter and more in tune with Latinos than Republicans and would be able to garner Latino support at a time when her husband desperately needed he-she.

Taco is no longer neutral. It became a weapon in the name of owning the other side.

Shortly after Biden apologized, I called Jose R Ralat, taco editor at Texas Monthly and author of “American Tacos: A History and Guide”—the second best book on the history of Mexican food in the United States, after mine. . He took me to a taco crawl in San Antonio in May and I’m still full on it but unfortunately didn’t include breakfast tacos.

“My friends are like Meh in the whole thing,” Ralat told me over the phone. “This isn’t controversial; it’s false. It’s the equivalent of a mother of the groom wearing white to a wedding.”

He criticized Republicans for being “disingenuous and cynical.” But he also applauded again at Biden for setting herself up for failure.

“Its big mistake was trying to combine an incredibly diverse cultural group into one thing,” he said. “This is always impossible, and it will always be counterproductive.”

The funny national assembly. In a statement to Hispanic reporters, Ralat – the member – was less tolerant.

“They have more important fish to fry, man,” he said. “They need to focus on diversifying the newsroom.”

Despite Biden’s remarks, Ralat expected politicians to continue eating and screaming tacos through the midterms of this year and beyond.

“Tacos are seen as a friendly subject to win the favor of Latinos as a whole,” he said. “And as we’ve seen, it won’t always work out. But, hey: at least it isn’t.”

Gustavo Arellano is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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