Gustavo Arellano on Houston's Inherent Insecurity and Insultingly Racist Food Trucks

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Read the first part of our interview with Gustavo Arellano in case you missed it.
Gustavo Arellano -- a.k.a. "Ask a Mexican!" himself -- doesn't shy away from having strong opinions or expressing them. It's what has made Arellano into a popular columnist, author and public speaker over the years and what's bringing him to Houston on November 15 to kick off the University of Houston's lecture series, Food for Thought.

The free talk starts at 5 p.m. and will explore everything from how salsa overtook ketchup as the country's favorite condiment in the 1990s to why Taco Bell matters from a historical and cultural perspective. Afterwards, Arellano plans to consume large quantities of Tex-Mex food -- the subject of his most recent book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America -- at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe.

And perhaps while he's there, Arellano will get a small taste of the reason Houstonians were so incensed to have been left off his recent list of the 5 American cities most influential in the development and spread of Tex-Mex food. Although Arellano made it up to us in a follow-up post, he remains a bit mystified as to the hysterical (or "impassioned," depending on your perspective) responses he received from Houstonians after the list was published at our sister paper, the OC Weekly.

In a recent talk at the University of Texas San Antonio, Arellano related the story of discovering Houston's penchant for extreme agitation and anxiety when we are left off any national lists of any kind.

"So I put Dallas [at number three on the list of most influential cities] and figured there'd be no controversy," Arellano told the audience. "Oh my Lord, the people from Houston had a fit. And I love Houston, but I got in nasty, nasty fights with those folks from Houston because they were like, 'How dare you give Dallas [that spot]."

"It was a real scandal," Arellano finished. When Texas Monthly interviewed him about the list and the ensuing "scandal," Arellano said that he sort of understood the rivalry between Dallas and Houston -- but to his Californian eyes, there was more to it than that.

"The people from Houston got insanely mad," says Arellano. "But the people from Dallas didn't give a damn. So I think what that shows is just the inherent smugness of the people from Dallas and then the inherent insecurity of the people from Houston."

(Again, some people may call our "insecurity" perhaps "pride and misplaced anger." At least, I do. And as a lifelong Houstonian, I can't say I disagree entirely with Arellano's assessment.)

Despite this, Arellano is excited to get back to the Bayou City, although he admits that he doesn't typically eat Tex-Mex while he's here.

"I always try to get barbecue or whatever Mexican restaurant a friend of mine takes me to," says Arellano. "But he's proudly from Nuevo Leon, so he hates all Tex-Mex. He says that's not real Mexican food," hearkening back to Part One of yesterday's interview with Arellano in which he questioned whether or not "authentic" in relation to Mexican and Tex-Mex food was even a discussion worth having.

Instead, says Arellano, he ate at Tampico the last time he was in Houston...and loved it. Don't expect to find him at any of our gourmet food trucks, however.

"I find it telling that mainstream society didn't accept these taco trucks until non-Mexicans started running them," says Arellano. "It cracks me up and infuriates me to no end. It's insulting and it's racist."

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"Garcia" is a Mexican enough name, right?
You also won't find him dining at Taco Bell, as much as he respects the impact the fast food chain has had on propagating Tex-Mex food on a national basis. He's not necessarily a fan of Taco Bell's new "master chef" Lorena Garcia nor the Doritos Locos tacos that have been like late-night catnip to weed-addled drive-thru connoisseurs.

"I think it's interesting that Taco Bell couldn't find a Mexican chef," Arellano says of Garcia, which is certainly one of the tamest criticisms lobbed against the Venezuelan chef. "But I understand where Taco Bell is coming from. On one had, you have the Doritos Locos tacos so they're getting that crowd -- and on the other you have the Cantina menu."

"You can't keep serving the same thing again and again and again," says Arellano. But is any of it really considered Tex-Mex anymore, or has Taco Bell finished its job of spreading the Tex-Mex gospel across America?

That and many more questions are yours to ask Arellano on November 15 when he comes to the University of Houston. There will be a book signing following the lecture as well as ample opportunity to pick Arellano's brain at El Real afterwards -- he plans on inviting his fans on Twitter and Facebook to share the meal with him.



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Location Info

Venue

Map

Tampico Refresqueria

4520 N. Main St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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17 comments
Alexander_Bites
Alexander_Bites

That's complete bullshit for him to say that taco trucks were not accepted until "non-Mexicans" started running them. RAcism?? Truth be told most of the "mainstream society" was intimidated by true taco trucks - and taquerias - because they didn't know the menu and didn't speak Spanish. It took the "non-Mexican" operators, who put the menu items in English and explained them in English, to get Gringos comfortable enough to try them. Look at it as a collaboration. The traditional places are reaping this benefit also, now.

TA

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

By various sorts, but there's a lot of truth to his basic point, that food trucks didn't get nearly the play with the media and with the establishment as they do now. There's various things that can be pointed to, like the fact that today's 'gourmet' trucks make better use of social media, but I still see mainstream media referring to "roach coaches" and it drives me batty.

Nicholas Dion
Nicholas Dion

Houston is racist and Dallas does not give a damn. Mmmk. Time to go back to CA Mr. Arellano.

queentate09
queentate09

@HoustonPress thank you!! for a min there I pondered having to read a *gasp* newspaper!!!

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Seems to me that he said society was racist.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Maybe he should try some Vietnamese or Nigerian or something. There is more to Texas than BBQ and Mexican food.

The truck thing is so god damn true. No paper gave a shit about trucks, or at least devoted so much time to them, until a bunch of lilly white people started running them. 

One last thing, it is impossible for someone from Cali to understand Texas and vice versa. It is impossible to put aside prejudice, so the most we can do it realize that we have preconceived notions of both places and go from there. Let's not try to deny them, because then we are giving in to illusions.

Jefs_Old_Boss
Jefs_Old_Boss

I'll say that he's probably not wrong about the inherent racism in the food truck business. But for me it was quite the opposite. I was brought up with a strong distrust of "roach coaches" -food trucks with crappy food to say the least. It was actually taco trucks that got me interested. They looked clean, the food was cooked and tasty. Without the good taco truck vendors in Houston, I would've never tried the other non-taco varieties.

TedStickles
TedStickles

This fucking guy. How about his inherent LA smugness?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @H_e_x Yes on the trucks. That's part of the reason I hate hearing "gourmet food truck" so much.

Alexander_Bites
Alexander_Bites

 @Kylejack OK. One place. And from what I see on the website the taco trucks came after the restaurant. I still don't see how the racism card can be used in the case of mobile food establishments and the recent popularity.

TA

H_e_x
H_e_x

 @kshilcutt Ah, he did do that. He does everything, that man. 

H_e_x
H_e_x

 @Kylejack  @H_e_x Ugh, the whole "gourmet" angle is so pretentious and condescending. They are pretty much saying that these real-deal trucks are lower and unworthy, peddling in pedestrian street fare.

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