Nostalgia, Nationalism, and Cultural Colonialism: The Taco Chronicles

Reception: January 8, 2021

Acceptance: February 24, 2021

Taco Chronicles. TV series

Santiago Fábregas and Carlos Pérez Osorio (dirs.), 2019-2020 Netflix, Singapore.

On the same day, December 17 of the fateful 2020, the media announced that the unesco has included Singapore's street food on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and that the Government of Mexico City, given the alarming numbers of infected and hospitalized by sars-CoV-2, will not allow the sale of street food in 200 neighborhoods of the city until December 20 (Herald of Mexico, 2020; Lin, 2020). Many, on social media, commented negatively on this decision of the city government, contrasting it with the hours that, although limited, allowed the opening of the establishments of fast food from the city. Although tacos and street food are not equivalent, in public space and in daily emotional stories they find common ground. Indeed, in different spaces, both are attributed a significant identity value. In this review I discuss the instrumental role that television discourse plays on culinary nationalism and its forms of cultural colonialism in contemporary society; This is, at the same time that it contributes to the imagination of the nation in the sense proposed by Benedict Anderson (1983), it produces an effect of assimilation, appropriation and, therefore, of obscuring the distinctive gastronomic practices of the regions (Ayora- Diaz, 2012). In this sense, in another place I argued that Mexican cuisine is not a tradition, concept or monolithic set of practices but an assemblage characterized by its diversity, since the ideology of a unified national cuisine, rooted in the indigenous past, contrasts with the hybridization of local, ethnic and regional cuisines found in the country (Ayora-Diaz, 2019: 1). This point had previously been argued for the American case (Mintz, 1996: 104). To consider the role played by television series such as Taco Chronicles, outlined in this text, it will be necessary to provide a synthetic description of the series and its contents, both for those who do not have the Netflix service and for these comments to be understandable, even when they are read once the episodes have been left out. Catalogue.

Official Trailer of the documentary series Las Crónicas del Taco

Episode content. This series consists of two “volumes” broadcast in 2019 and 2020. The first season consists of six and the second of seven episodes, each lasting around 30 minutes. The 13 chapters constitute a broad but not complete sample of the diversity of tacos in the Republic of Mexico (in order of display): during season or "volume" 1, Tacos al pastor (Mexico City), carnitas (Michoacán) , basket (Mexico City), roast beef (Sonora, Tijuana, Los Angeles), Barbecue (Hidalgo, Mexico City), and stews (Mexico City, Los Angeles). During season 2: from suadero (Mexico City, Austin), from cochinita (Mérida, Sucilá, and Tixkokob in Yucatán, and Tulum in Quintana Roo), from cabrito (Saltillo, Coahuila and Santiago, Nuevo León), the “American Taco ”(San Bernardino and Los Angeles, California, and San Antonio, Texas), burritos (Ciudad Juárez, Coahuila; Santa Ana, California; Santa Rosa, Jalisco; Hermosillo, Sonora; and the space station of the pot); birria (Guadalajara, Aguascalientes and Tijuana), and fish (Ensenada, La Paz, Playa Cerritos in the Baja California peninsula, and Tokyo, Japan). Although there is no news of a third season, it is evident that the southern states (Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca) and the Gulf of Mexico (Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz) have been left pending or excluded. Of the Yucatan peninsula, only the Yucatan state has been represented since Campeche does not appear and Tulum, in Quintana Roo, appears briefly in the chapter on the cochinita, represented (in a questionable way) as part of the peninsular Mayan "tradition". Several states in the center of the country also do not deserve mention in the series. As it is neither a book nor an academic documentary, its producers do not explain why what is shown is included, or what is not shown is excluded. However, the inclusion of different cities in the United States, Japan, and the Space Station serve to suggest that the taco is not just global, but galactic.

The structure of the 13 chapters is the same, which makes it somewhat tired for viewers to enjoy. All chapters begin with a voice in off which is supposed to be the same taco to which the episode corresponds, which narrates its way of being produced, consumed, and its importance for Mexican cuisine. This is followed by the credits and at the end of these, taquerías are shown, the voice is given to cooks and cooks, taqueros and on many occasions taqueras, who narrate the chronicle of their establishments, the importance of popular markets, highlight the quality of the ingredients, the flavors of the dishes, and the continuous, elaborate, heavy work involved in making tacos on a daily basis. The producers of the series, however, confer the authority to speak regarding the importance and significance of these dishes to chefs, gastronomy writers, cultural guides, and a single anthropologist. Among these there are voices of great authority: the anthropologist Miriam Beltrán has worked on street food and popular cuisine, mainly in the capital of Mexico; the Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita has published a couple of encyclopedias on Mexican cuisine, and Gustavo Arellano is a journalist who has published on the importance of tacos in the usa uu. In each episode appear chefs recognized for their regional importance and different local and regionally known restaurants and food stalls. In the first instance, the catalog of broadcast episodes is presented as a "Praise to the Mexican taco." However, its effects are more complex than simply fueling national pride through a nation-unifying dish.

Taco politics. The contemporary context is that of globalization. This is not a linear process. As early as the 1990s, Roland Robertson (1992) pointed out that globalization, especially in its cultural dimension, comprises simultaneous processes of homogenization and heterogenization: although there are tendencies towards homogenization, in each place the processes occur differently, moving us away from the hated homogenization. . However, in its complexity, globalization has had as one of its effects the relativization and destabilization of identity essentialisms, such as the nationalist one. In Mexico this has been addressed through the revitalization of nationalist symbology. Culinary nationalism has been taken up, for example, by the Observatorio de la Cultura Gastronómica Mexicana to sustain the symbolic power of the triad of corn, beans and chili peppers and its foundational role of national cuisine, turning the recognition of the Michoacán paradigm into a synecdotal of national cuisine (Ayora-Diaz, 2020). Although this Observatory seeks to unify Mexican cuisine under the umbrella of the three pre-Hispanic ingredients, the notion of the "taco" can be seen as isomorphic; that is, it is not identical, but its symbolic effects are the same. When I began to dedicate myself to the subject of food, in the year 2000, it was still common to make a distinction between the corn tortilla and the wheat one, through which the latter was denied Mexicanity and assimilated into the American culture. This is no longer the case, and although echoes of this distinction are heard in some episode of these Chronicles, in general the series seeks to eliminate it. What matters is the taco, "that mother who hugs us" to all Mexicans.

The episodes in this series are not intended to establish the origin of the taco. Gustavo Arellano admits it: “it is a complex story”. From the position of the Mexican nationalist discourse, it is a Mexican invention, and tacos de hard shell They are a "gringo" invention. However, both Jeffrey Pilcher and Gustavo Arellano suggest that the taco could be a recent invention, perhaps by miners in northern Mexico or migrant Mexican braceros to southern California. According to Arellano, in the episode about “American tacos”, in the United States the first menus of the 1930s in which “tacos” appeared, these were described as fried tortillas, not as soft tortillas (see Arellano, 2012; Pilcher, 2008 , 2012). However, all the episodes seek to establish the Mexicanness of the tacos and those who consume them. Thus, for example, in episode 4, season 2, Gustavo Arellano states: “a Mexican without a taco! You may as well kill yourself!”(A Mexican without tacos… you better commit suicide!); in episode 6, a cook states: “for Mexicans, taco and food are exactly the same”, and in episode 7 of the same season the Chef Solange Muris says: "Whoever is Mexican and doesn't like tacos, [I] would doubt where their parents are from." The series abounds in similar expressions.

Although this close relationship between the taco and Mexican identity can be seen as a foundational strategy in the face of the questioning of national identities that is added to others (such as the inclusion of Mexican cuisine in the list of intangible cultural heritage of the unesco), it is evident in this series, upon hearing the affirmations of the entire range of people who speak to us about tacos, that time is a common reference in all episodes. In some, such as the kid, they tell us about their ancestral consumption, since for 12,000 years, in Iran and Lebanon, then in Spain, and later in Mexico, this animal has been consumed on the grill. Indeed, this way of cooking was commonly invoked by writers in Sardinia, Italy, during my field research, to sustain the allochronism that placed shepherds in antiquity (“like 2,000 years ago”). It seems necessary to attribute certain characteristics to the tacos in order to demonstrate their importance for the national identity. Frequently they resort to its antiquity: before the Spaniards they already ate tacos; the cochinita taco is derived from an ancient Mayan culture; the barbecue is a development in northern Mexico where they appropriated the GDP Maya. The recipe for Michoacan carnitas is 500 years old, the tortilla producers (in Tacos de canasta) are guardians and warriors of the land of corn, roast meat is a “basic, ancestral flavor”, and many other references to practices , flavors, tastes of the past to which are added statements such as "taqueros are warriors, traditional cooks are magicians, and the stews are magical or sacred, or the techniques and technologies used are traditional", among others.

The recognition of nostalgia for the past also abounds. Thus, some clients say that Tijuana's birria is better than that of Jalisco, even though its production had begun there. Or roast beef brings the family together and making a roast is a time for conviviality; barbecue is celebration; in episode 6 of season 1, they tell us, regarding stews: “nostalgia is the ingredient that unites us all” and that “in a single taco different cultures, different social classes converge… everything revolves around a single food that is the taco ”; or in following episodes we find the Yucatecan chef who explains that his restaurant "was born like a dream, to rescue the traditions that are being lost"; the kid creates community, family, relates us to the ancestors who left us the stew as a legacy; “This yellow paper wrap [from the puff tacos] is nostalgia ”. In summary, the tacos that are consumed by Mexicans and non-Mexicans, whether in the national territory or in the United States, is a bond between the food and the Mexicans that establishes the national identity. The figure of the taco makes it possible to silence the differences between different regional and local culinary-gastronomic traditions. If since 2010 the corn, beans and chili of the Michoacán Paradigm allowed us to assimilate all the regional differences within a single national Mexican cuisine, the taco now shares that mission. As David Berliner suggests:

It is this current climate of [that we are] losing everything that has brought the notions of culture, heritage and authenticity - the great obsession of the moderns - together in an indissoluble triumvirate, turning them into moral justifications in and of themselves, enveloped by an aura of evidence and authority (2020: 5).

The ancestral past, the nostalgia for the family and the rapidly changing ways of living together, the loss of stews or their displacement by other cuisines (such as competition with the fast food) justify the search for elements that allow affirming national identities. On the other hand, they reduce regional diversity to a unifying element of the culinary “tradition”. Thus, paradoxically, the taco is converted, throughout these thirteen episodes, into the reducing element of regional diversity; In other words, we are shown iconic dishes from different regions, but the taco is the total unifier of Mexicanness.

Different episodes show how the taco has gone global. However, they emphasize their Mexicanization: the stews that the tortillas wrap may have been imported from other cultures, but in Mexico they acquire another identity, the Mexican one. If the taco al pastor came from the Middle East, or the kid from Mesopotamia via Arabs and Spaniards, or the breaded fish (such as tempura) from the Far East, today the Mexican taco affirms its nationality elsewhere. Furthermore, we find, although with marked ambivalence, that different chefsWhether in Mexico or the United States and Japan, they have made culinary mergers, or have integrated elements outside of Mexican cuisine, but they are still Mexican. As one says Chef of Mexican origin living in the United States: “yes, the ingredients are different, but I'm Mexican and so my tacos are Mexican”.

To conclude, it is difficult to do justice to thirteen episodes (seven and a half hours of recording) in a short space. However, I believe that viewers should approach these programs with a critical eye. Many of them, especially in the first season, are focused on the production and consumption of tacos in the capital of Mexico and emphasize its “chilanga” nature. In this sense, there is a Chilanga Mexicanness that is confused with a nationalist Mexicanity represented as a tendency to reduce regional, local, ethnic culinary complexity, in what is only a vehicle for food: the taco. Speeches about its authenticity, its antiquity, its popular character (it is the food "of the people") sustain a nostalgic, romantic view of the past, which in turn presents a unique national and nationalist identity that clouds the perception of difference. It seems to me necessary to reflect on these discursive and representational strategies and their possible effects as practices of internal cultural colonialism that privileges the one over the multiple, and that promise to re-stabilize what cultural globalization has destabilized.


Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Londres: Verso.

Arellano, Gustavo (2012) Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Nueva York: Scribner.

Ayora-Diaz, Steffan Igor (2012). Foodscapes, Foodfields and Identities in Yucatán. Ámsterdam y Nueva York: cedla y Berghahn.

— (2019) “Introduction: Matters of Taste. The Politics of Food and Identity in Mexican Cuisines”, en Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz (ed.), Taste, Politics, and Identities in Mexican Food. Londres: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 1-18.

— (2020). “¿papadzules o enchiladas? Globalización, translocalidad y colonialismo culinario”, en Guillermo de la Peña y Ricardo Ávila (ed.), Alimentarse: perspectivas antropológicas e históricas de un hecho cultural total. Lagos de Moreno: Universidad de Guadalajara, pp. 117-140.

Berliner, David (2020). Losing Culture: Nostalgia, Heritage, and Our Accelerated Times. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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Heraldo de México (2020, 14 de diciembre). “¡Adiós a los tacos! Cierran comercios de comida callejera en la cdmx”. El Heraldo de México, versión en línea. Recuperado de, consultado el 23 de febrero de 2021.

Mintz, Sidney (1996). Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom. Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. (2008). “Was the Taco Invented in Southern California?” Gastronomica, vol. 8, núm. 1, pp. 26-38.

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. (2012). Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robertson, Roland (1992). Globalization. Social Theory and Global Culture. Londres: Sage.

Steffan Igor Ayora Diaz is PhD, McGill University (1993). He is a full-time Research Professor at the Autonomous University of Yucatán and sni ii. He conducts research on the relationships between cuisine, food and identity, technologies and cuisine, and on the cultural and political aspects of taste, in Yucatán since 2000, and in Seville, Spain, since 2016. He has published the monograph Foodscapes, Foodfields and Identities in Yucatán (cedla and Berghahn, 2012), co-authored with G. Vargas Cetina and F. Fernández Repetto, Cooking, Music and Communication. Technologies and aesthetics in Contemporary Yucatán (wow, 2016). He has edited eight books, including Cooking Technology. Transformations in Culinary Practice in Mexico and Latin America (2016), Taste, Politics and Identities in Mexican Food (2019) and Food, Taste and the Politics of Identity. Global Approaches (2021), these three by Bloomsbury Academic.


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