A fear of taco trucks is a fear of Mexican women

Just a few miles from where the final Presidential Debate was hosted last night, Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union built a “wall of taco trucks” in front of the Trump International Las Vegas hotel. Along the “wall,” mostly Latinx and female workers and community members rallied against Trump’s xenophobia and his refusal to bargain with workers who won a union election at his hotel.

This isn’t the first time taco trucks have come up this election season. Earlier this year, Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump, warned that Mexican culture is so dominant, that “if you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” This comment sparked “Taco Trucks on Every Corner” gear and “Guac the Vote” efforts, where taco trucks were turned into voter registration sites.

Yet, as I read about taco trucks in the news again, I realize that the misogyny underlying Gutierrez’ comments has been entirely ignored. The fear of Mexican culture and “taco trucks on every corner” is, of course, a fear of Mexican women as both laborers and mothers.

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, a historian of Mexican food, noted in a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine that tacos made their first appearance in U.S. media in 1905 after a group of women called the Chili Queens, located in San Antonio, became popular with the rise of railroads and tourists visiting the Southwest in the 1880s. Pilcher adds:

Mexico was considered a dangerous place. The Chili Queens were a way of sampling that danger . . . The risk was that the food was hot—people described it as “biting like a serpent.” These women were also sexualized and seen as “available.” So the idea was that you would flirt with the Chili Queens. I think that image of [something] exotic, slightly dangerous, but still appealing has really persisted with Mexican food.

Mexican women are central to the history and evolution of tacos in the United States. The Chili Queens introduced tourists in Texas to Mexican cuisine and, in return, were exploited and fetishized as “spicy Latinas,” a stereotype that continues to harm us to this day. Their labor made them vulnerable to the advances of tourists and railroad workers: while the Chili Queens fed and nourished these men, their own bodies were violated.

Still today, female taco vendors—while facing a high demand for their products—are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In New York City, for example, 90 percent of the city’s vendors are immigrants, and around half of all vendors are women. These women face lacking worker’s protections, burdensome city regulations, and harrasment from drunk customers. Customers—including Donald Trump—love tacos, but unfortunately, not the women who make them.

The fear of “taco trucks on every corner” is also a fear of the Mexican woman who makes more Mexican babies. The villification of Mexican and Latinx women as “spicy,” hypersexual, loud, and aggressive goes hand in hand, as Hortensia Amaro argues, with stereotypes that present Mexican-American women as reluctant to use birth control and desirous of large families. In claiming that something must be “done about it,” Gutierrez is using the same logic that led to the forced sterilization of Latinas in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. Women, as laborers (many of whom sell tacos for a living) and as mothers who reproduce Mexican people and culture, are the perceived threat.

This is why it’s so important that the “wall of taco trucks” was largely organized by women and immigrant laborers. Yvanna Cancela, the political director of the Culinary Workers Union, noted in an interview with NBC: “We want to show [Trump] that walls don’t divide us, and rather what he has done is uniting us. And when I say ‘us,’ I mean it as in every group that Trump has vilified: Muslims, women, immigrants and workers.”

Women have been key in organizing against Trump’s brand of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment and their involvement in creating a “wall of tacos” should be highlighted and uplifted. You can start by supporting your local female taco vendor today!

Header image: NBC

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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