Stop calling it “guac”! A gastronomical peek at the Appropriation of Mexican Culture.

{WARNING: This post is full of fun facts and learning opportunities, read at your own risk.} 

Lately, it seems that cultural appropriation has become more popular than the Kardashian crew around here. I’ve mentioned this gripe of mine before, when I sort of complain about how “el Día de los Muertos” is our thing and how obnoxious it is that the very people who used to judge me for being proud of my heritage now want to celebrate it. It’s very confusing because I remember sitting in my middle school cafeteria in Ohio “looking like a weirdo” at the lunch table because of my torta de frijoles with sliced avocado. Back then none of my American friends knew what an avocado was. But now I scroll through my Facebook feed and see many of them making their own versions of guacamole.


Authentic Recipe & Photo credit:

I’ve actually met people who think guacamole is just mashed avocado. It’s not. I’ve met people who don’t like avocado, and to them, I say, fine… more for me. Just as fast food chains used to be cash only, there was definitely no avocado used in their dishes when I was a teenager. (Excuse me, it wasn’t that long ago…) And I promise you this, there was no chorizo in anything outside of the Tex-Mex restaurants that exploded in Columbus, Ohio in the early 2000’s.

So what’s really mashing my beans? I’m just wondering when people are going to start giving Mexico and its people some credit around here. I mean, I know not all Americans think we’re piñata-beating rapists who nap and eat nachos, but why aren’t more people talking about the delicious influence our gastronomy has added to everyday American life?

Let’s start with a sort-of-historically-accurate timeline of the Mexican food explosion, no pun intended beans, in the wonderful U.S.A…

First came the lime in the Corona, paired with the most annoying cultural appropriation in Mexican history, “Cinco de Mayo”. Next was the cheese dip (which honestly is a crappy version of the queso fundido we prepare in Mexico, but I’ll still eat it). After that came the avocado, making people go crazy for guacamole and toast. Tequila has always been around but only became more desirable among the elevated in the last few years. I’ve noticed the use of chipotle peppers in recipes everywhere, probably thanks to the fast food joint that made it possible to pronounce, C-H-I-P-O-T-L-E. Of course, we can’t forget about the taco trucks, initially reserved for the real Mexicans who didn’t care about a washroom or chairs, which later became a new thing to appropriate and rebrand for the less Mexican-like folks who prefer flour tortillas and organic lettuce. (Eye roll) Sidebar, I love flour tortillas!

Most recently we have the discovery of mezcal among the hip mostly white crowd, making such a splash — no pun intended — that it’s mixed into practically every high-end restaurant’s signature cocktail list. Although it might be a while before shots of straight mezcal become a “thing”. I won’t even drink it straight, and I’m super MexiCan!

As a (legal) immigrant kid, (Just want to put it out there, cause I know you’re wondering with the whole stereotyping theme and all.) in this amazing country, I used to feel alone in my desire for Mexican food. As a teenager I can remember having to drive to the “Mexican store” to buy limes, tortillas, tomatillos, chorizo and good avocados. Between the years of 1996-2002, no chain grocery store had all of these ingredients at the same time. At some point between 2002 and 2007, there was a significant shift. The city grew, the population increased, the Mexican influence became more apparent. By the time President Obama was inaugurated, we could buy all of the above-mentioned ingredients at the nearby Meijer, or Kroger.

Here’s why it’s rude to call it “guac”…

As avocados became easier to find in the U.S., mostly to make guacamole for the Super Bowl, the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants, including those who pick the avocados in California, became harder. Restrictions on obtaining driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and tags imposed hardship on the workers who must drive to get to work. The increase in deportations, of course, created a general panic among the undocumented communities which makes it difficult to get them to seek police help, for fear of retribution, therefore they are more likely to be victimized. Which is why a part of me dies inside every time I hear someone call it “guac”. It’s guacamole! You self-righteous hipster prick! When you replace the full name with an abbreviated or “easier to pronounce” word, you’re basically removing the essence and heritage of the word and the dish itself! You’re no longer saying: “this dish is Mexican”, you’re creating a new name with a completely different meaning and history. You’re APPROPRIATING it! Making it fit within the parameters of the English language, and encouraging the millennial apathy for pronouncing whole words.

Whenever I get worked up about this word, and someone tells me I might be “getting angry over nothing,” I try to draw comparisons on how the shortening or re-arranging of words can have a significant effect on their meaning, not to mention it’s disrespectful to those who represent those words.

A few examples that come to mind:

  • “Xmas” – Instead of Christmas

  • “Vag” – instead of Vagina

  • “Peepee” – Instead of penis

  • “Homo” – Instead of homosexual

  • “Guac” – Instead of guacamole

The list could go on…

Though cultural traditions and their meaning have changed in the social media era, the thing that’s remained constant is the continued (sometimes non-intentional) disrespect for Mexican culture not to mention the debauchery that takes place every May 5th. If you think I’m exaggerating when I say the drunkenness is disrespectful then answer this, how many drunk people on Cinco de Mayo know what they are celebrating? How many of them are Mexican? How many of them can tell you why they are “celebrating”? If your answer is 0 or “I don’t know, I’ve never cared to ask,” then you know why I feel disrespected.

“The difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation can ride a thin line—it’s a matter of intentionality and depth of thought—but exploiting caricatures of Mexico for bald commercial gain is definitely appropriation.” – Zach Blumenfeld

I get it, our sombreros, piñatas and Frida Khalo hairstyles are just too funny not to mock. The worst part about Cinco de Mayo is not just that it’s been appropriated by corporations, for many Americans, it’s now blurred as an all-inclusive Hispanic holiday that celebrates ALL Hispanics because that’s what we Hispanic people need, more people thinking we’re all the same, and that we’re all from Mexico. We all look alike anyway, so… why not use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to celebrate “us” and then we can’t call racism or appropriation because guess what? It’s a fucking celebration of Hispanics! Yay!!! I mean, who can forget this great little twitter moment in 2016?…

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 7.23.59 AM

So what if Zapata-style mustaches are so funny they’re now “ironically cool”?

Mexican traditions and art are constantly used in “hilarious” references depicting chihuahua dogs who speak taco and the XX guy. I don’t always appropriate other people’s cultural heritage, but when I do… I drink XX. That’s my new slogan. Mexican culture and cuisine have been appropriated so uniquely, that it’s sometimes hard to know the difference between authentic Mexican and anything with chipotle or avocado in it since you can practically order guacamole at any chain casual spot these days. In some ways, it’s cool to see these ingredients mixed into the mainstream palette and yielding tasty results. But the least appropriators can do is give credit to the source of these magnificent gastronomic creations…MEXICO! Same with cultural traditions, I think it’s wonderful that people want to learn more about traditions such as el Día de los Muertos, I just don’t want to see them using it as an excuse to paint their face on Halloween, (WRONG holiday btw) and eat tamales, because that’s way more fun than pressuring legislators to do something about the broken immigration system.

So I leave you with this thought if you ever have to ask yourself: “Am I being culturally insensitive when I wear this… or say that… or get drunk on a holiday that means nothing to me, for the sake of a good time while perpetuating cultural stereotypes?” The answer is YES. If your conscious is propelling the questions, you already know you need to put the maracas down, just enjoy some delicious guacamole, and sit your ass down.


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