Culture

The Brief And Surprising History Of Tex-Mex Food That You’ve Never Heard

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Handfuls of shredded yellow cheese. Flour tortillas. Corn chips dripping with melted queso.

While many Americans think of these dishes as examples of authentic Mexican cuisine, they are completely wrong. 

Indeed tacos salads and sizzling fajita platters are delicious, but they are properly considered Tex-Mex food. That label wasn’t used to describe the unique border region style food until the 1960s, but the origin of Tex-Mex goes back more than a hundred years to a time when Texas was still a part of Mexico. Over the ensuing decades, different ingredients and cooking styles combined along the border to become what we today call Tex-Mex. 

Tex-Mex was first used to describe a railroad.

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The term “Tex-Mex” didn’t originate with the invention of quesadilla triangles. The origin of the term can be traced back as an abbreviation for the Texas-Mexican Railway. First chartered in 1875, the 52-mile line was created to deliver sheep from Texas ranches to customers along the Gulf of Mexico.

An English gastronomer popularized the name of the cuisine.

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Eventually, the moniker would be applied to the Texas-take on Mexican food.  The first usage has been traced to a 1963 article in the The New York Times Magazine, but the term didn’t really take off until the publication of the 1972 book “The Cuisines of Mexico” by food author Diana Kennedy.

Kennedy used the term to draw an important distinction between authentic Mexican cuisine and the Americanized version that was popular in Texas. Mexican restaurant owners took offense to the term at first but most eventually embraced the new descriptor.

Diana Kennedy received the Order of the Aztec Eagle.

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In case you are wondering why an Englishwoman would be such an expert on what constitutes real Mexican cuisine, Kennedy wrote several books on the subject based on her more than fifty years of travels in Mexico. She has been called the “grand dame of Mexican cooking” and was decorated with The Order of The Aztec Eagle in 1981. That is the highest honor the Mexican government can bestow upon a foreigner. 

Tex-Mex has its roots in Spanish Missions.

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The establishment of Spanish missions in Mexico, and what would later become the southwestern United States, brought together Aztec staples like beans, with European ingredients such as rice. The Spanish also brought with them many flavors that are essential to Tex-Mex cuisine including olive oil, rice, onions, garlic, oregano, and cilantro.

Tejanos blended Mexican and American cooking styles.

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Tex-Mex cuisine really started to separate itself from traditional Mexican dishes in the home kitchens of Tejanos living north of the Rio Grande. Tejanos were descendants of the original Spanish-speaking settlers of Tejas. After Texas became an independent state and later part of the United States, Tejanos maintained their identity and overtime combined their traditional family recipes with the influx of new flavors that arrived in the area as Americans migrated to the state.

Railroads introduced new ingredients north of the Border.

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The advent of the railroad changed America in many ways, one of which was the ability to send food products and livestock across regions.  Flour, lard, bacon, and molasses made their way to Texas ranches, along with cast-iron skillets and Dutch ovens. Mexican ranch cooks learned to incorporate these ingredients and tools to gain favor with Anglo palates.

Spanish immigrants brought the cumin.

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Cumin isn’t often used in Central Mexican recipes, but it’s a Tex-Mex favorite. New Spanish immigrants to Texas brought a taste for the spice with them by way of the Canary Islands.

Tex-Mex moved from the ranch to the streets.

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From the ranches and home kitchens, Tex-Mex foods such as tamales and enchiladas became street food staples in Texas cities starting in the 1880s. Towards the beginning of the 1900s, health safety laws put many vendors out of business. This is the time when you start to see the first indoor restaurants serving Tex-Mex food.

Chili con carne gave many Americans their first taste of Tex-Mex.

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A stew of ground beef and chilis (and sometimes beans), chili con carne became a popular dish in San Antonio during the 1880s with parlors popping up on every corner. Famous “chili queens” served up the concoction by the bowl-full to hungry locals and travelers. The essential Tex-Mex dish found an even bigger audience at the 1893 Word’s Fair in Chicago, thanks to the appearance of the San Antonio Chili Stand.

Burritos were born on the border.

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Another quintessential Tex-Mex meal is the burrito, a flour tortilla stuffed with various ingredients. Meaning “little donkey” in Spanish, it is believed that the portable meal got its name in Ciudad Juárez during the Mexican Revolution from a street vendor who served them from the back of his donkey.

Nachos are named after a Mexican chef named Ignacio.

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While the tale of the burrito is likely a folk legend, the origin of the term nachos is much more likely to be true.  Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya is credited with creating the dish of fried tortillas to serve a group of hungry American women taking a tour of Piedra Negra in the 1940s. The world was never the same again.

Refried beans aren’t fried twice.

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The term refried beans is actually a mistranslation of the Spanish term frijole refritos. Rather than the prefix “re” meaning to do again, it is actually an intensifier. A more accurate translation would have been “well-fried beans.” 

Otis Farnsworth is the father of the combo plate.

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What goes great with refried beans? Rice of course. Chicago native Otis Farnsworth is credited with being the first to pair the two together. Farnsworth opened one of the first Tex-Mex restaurants in 1900 in San Antonio. His restaurant was called the Original Mexican Restaurant. 

The origins of the chimichanga is a matter of dispute.

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The chimichanga is another Tex-Mex dish that was first created north of the border. Two restaurants, both in Arizona, lay claim to creating the first chimichanga. El Charro Cafe in Tucson claims that the original owner accidentally dropped a burrito in the fryer, and spoke the name as she avoided saying a similar sounding Mexican curse word. Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix claims to have invented the chimichanga after deep-frying unsold burritos so they’d keep longer. The owner, Woody Johnson, named them chimichangas, which is supposed to mean “toasted monkeys.”

Taco Bell made Tex-Mex an American staple.

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A milestone in Tex-Mex history happened in 1962: Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, Calif. Bell started out in business with a hot dog stand in San Bernardino. After seeing long lines at a Tex-Mex restaurant across the street that served hard shell tacos, Bell decided to change his business model. Eventually, Taco Bell would expand to 7,000 locations, bringing Tex-Mex to the masses.

The first international Tex-Mex restaurant in Paris opened in 1983.

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According to the Houston Press, the first restaurant to bill itself as “Tex-Mex” didn’t open in the United States, but in France. Claude Benayoun tasted Tex-Mex food in Texas while a college student in California, and returned to Paris with the idea for a new exciting concept. The restaurant closed its doors for good just a few a years ago.

The 1986 movie “Betty Blue” made Tex-Mex even more popular in Paris.

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Benayoun’s restaurant was not an instant success, but the 1986 movie “Betty Blue” would go on to change all that. The movie features a scene of heavy tequila drinking, and (SPOILER ALERT) the movie ends with the main character forlornly eating chili con carne after mercy-killing his lover. The movie led to an explosion of Tex-Mex restaurants in the city, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Chuy’s in Austin, TX claims to be the first self-proclaimed Tex-Mex restaurant in the United States.

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Mexican restaurants in America were slower to embrace the term Tex-Mex. Now a major chain, the first Chuy’s opened on Barton Springs Blvd. in Austin, Texas in the early 1980s. Its owners, Mike Young and John Zapp, added the words “Tex-Mex Deluxe” to their menu in 1986.

The longest operating Tex-Mex spot is in Dallas

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Restaurants throughout Texas were serving up Tex-Mex food long before anyone started calling it by that name. El Fenix in Dallas is considered the oldest Tex-Mex restaurant in operation today. It was founded in 1918 by Mexican immigrant Miguel Martinez. Martinez is also credited with inventing the first tortilla-making machine.

Tex-Mex can be found all over the world.

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Tex-Mex is a global phenomenon. You can find Tex-Mex restaurants everywhere from Switzerland to Thailand.

Some Mexican restaurants in the U.S. call themselves “Mex-Mex”

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Lots of restaurants that took offense to the label “Tex-Mex” took to calling themselves Mex-Mex, either in protest or to signify that they have more authentic dishes.

READ: Latin America Truly Is A Food Oasis And Here Are Some Of The Best Dishes

A Bay Area Family Admits They Have A Secret Room To Hide Their Parents In Case ICE Breaks Into Their Home, Reminding Many Of The Holocaust

Things That Matter

A Bay Area Family Admits They Have A Secret Room To Hide Their Parents In Case ICE Breaks Into Their Home, Reminding Many Of The Holocaust

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The president made a show last week of ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids last weekend. None were reported but the continued fearmongering used against the undocumented community for political gain is impacting families across the country. One family in San Francisco admitted to ABC 7 San Francisco that they created an elaborate plan to hide their parents if ICE breaks the law and forces themselves into the home.

The continuous threat of immigration raids has prompted immigrants across the nation to take action and protect themselves.

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The president of the United States continues to call for immigration raids nationwide, leaving families and communities an edge. The political war waged from the White House on the immigrant communities is taking a toll on families wishing to live in peace.

In response to the raids ordered last weekend, ABC7 news interviewed a mixed-status family about how they planned to deal with the raids. They admitted that it is something they are constantly concerned about and a year ago they planned a way to avoid having their family ripped apart.

“This weekend was very scary. I don’t want to lose my parents,” a young woman told the reporter while standing next to her mother.

The ABC 7 reporter asked the family if they have a plan and they admitted that they do have a plan. Not only do they know their rights and acknowledge that they do not answer the door if there is a knock they were not expecting. The family has a plan if ICE breaks the law and forces themselves into the home, something we have seen happen to multiple families in the past.

“So, we always say that if we do have people knock at the door, to not answer, to pretend like we’re not even home,” the young woman said. “If there is, like, a forced entry, we also have a hiding spot for our parents.”

It might seem extreme, but immigration advocates are ringing the alarm about just how the ICE agency works.

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ICE has been terrorizing immigrant families for years. There have been several examples of immigration authorities breaking down doors to arrest undocumented people despite the laws restricting them from such actions.

The historical comparisons made by politicians and activists is startling for many Americans.

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The camps along the southern border of the U.S. have been compared to concentration camps by many Americans. Jewish activists have drawn this comparison as well as calling on the end of such conditions. However, some politicians are fighting to change the semantics around the camps detaining migrants in inhumane conditions. For some, they fear being connected to a party allowing these concentration camps to reemerge in 2019.

Watch the video of a family admitting their desperate plan to stay together.

READ: What You Need To Know About Elizabeth Warren And Her Newly Unveiled Immigration Plan

It Hasn’t Always Been A Crime To Cross The US-Mexico Border, So When Did Things Change?

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It Hasn’t Always Been A Crime To Cross The US-Mexico Border, So When Did Things Change?

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Let’s start from the beginning. While immigration has been an issue on everyone’s lips over the past while after the Trump administration started enforcing a zero tolerance policy against border crossings, a new way of thinking about the issue was introduced during the Democratic debates.

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro suggested that border crossings should be decriminalized. Because if border crossings aren’t a criminal offense, then people can’t be charged for crossing the border illegally, right? Well, in short, yes. But the issue concerning what’s officially known as “Section 1325” is more complicated than what it initially seems, on the surface.

Decriminalization does not mean a free-for-all across the border.

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As much as the Trump administration would likely characterize the proposed policy as a stab at open borders, that’s not the case. The reality is that crossing the border at the moment is treated as a criminal offense, meaning that those without the appropriate documentation are automatically detained indefinitely: they are treated as a criminal.

However, decriminalizing border crossings would instead ensure that those who do attempt to cross the border are not slapped with charges of a criminal offense.

Instead, border crossings without appropriate documentation would be treated as a civil offense. In the same way that people aren’t considered a criminal for accruing a speeding fine, people crossing the border also wouldn’t be automatically treated as a criminal. This proposed approach is also more consistent with the US’ role as a signatory for the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention. That is, that it’s not illegal for people to cross international borders and request asylum from another country.

Decriminalization would mean considering a new model for regulating the traffic of people across the border.

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Granted, the US still has to consider its security interests when processing requests for asylum. However, the current state of things has seen exponential overcrowding and related issues in detention centers near the border, with no indication as to whether people are seeing their requests for asylum considered at all.

Beyond the human rights problems this presents, there is also a legal quandary that must be considered in the US judicial system. Currently, the appropriate punishments for migrating across the border include both detainment and deportation – which, let’s face it, cannot be fulfilled at the same time. 

This turns into an argument around semantics: should someone be deported if they haven’t served their time in a detention center? And should someone stay in a detention center when they really should have been deported long beforehand, to prevent them from accessing the US at all? Castro’s proposal is not just about alleviating the stress being placed on US resources by detaining considerable numbers of immigrants, nor is it only about correcting human rights atrocities. It’s also about considering how immigrants are treated by the legal system.

It’s actually possible that decriminalization could reduce the number of illegal immigrants who stay indefinitely in the US.

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And yes, that’s including those who have been detained. Instead, if an immigrant was caught crossing the border without papers, they would be detained only for a brief amount of time. Once it is determined by authorities that the immigrant doesn’t raise any red flags, they would be released into the US, complete with a case management system to check in on them. The immigrant would then have to attend an immigration hearing, which would determine their status. Should it be found that the immigrant did not qualify for asylum, they then would accordingly be deported.

The positive of such a proposal is that family separation would be a thing of the past. Because border crossings wouldn’t involve criminal prosecution, there would be no reason to detain, and thus separate, families. Children would not be psychologically scarred for life simply because their parents sought a better future for them.

In fact, the US has had a longer history of decriminalized borders than criminalized ones.

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It’s worth noting that this idea of decriminalized borders isn’t really a new one. It wasn’t until 1929 that the US passed a bill that considered border crossings as a criminal misdemeanor, which meant that people could be prosecuted for entering the US without the proper authorization.

Most immigration laws before this point were focused on keeping out alcohol, gun traffickers and Asian immigrants. But, it was a white supremacist senator, Coleman Livingston Blease, who suggested fees and testing at the US-Mexico border – or, Section 1325 of Title 8 in the US Code. Are we surprised? In retrospect, no, no we are not. 

To be honest, even with this relatively short history of the criminalized border crossings, most presidents paid immigration little attention, as doing so would result in forever prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Generally speaking, those caught crossing the border were simply informally returned.

Granted, there were some exceptions to this attitude. For example, The Great Depression saw Mexicans demonized for taking much-needed work, and deportations spiked around that time. However, it wasn’t really until the Bush administration that more decisive, ongoing action was taken on immigration. This gradual escalation in enforcing immigration policies led us to the catastrophe we’re seeing today at the borders, under the Trump administration.

So, how can you look forward to a future of decriminalized border crossings?

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Voting for 2020 presidential candidates who favor decriminalized border crossings are your best bet, if you’re keen on seeing the law changed. It’s worth listening to each candidate’s stance on immigration. For instance, aside from Castro, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has also endorsed repealing Section 1325. On the other hand, Beto O’Rourke rejected the idea from the outset, proposing his own set of aggressive immigration plans. The key is to listen to the policy proposals – not just smooth platitudes.

While voting strategically is probably one of the most effective ways to see decriminalized border crossings, you do have other ways of continuing the conversation. Sharing articles on social media, like this one, can educate people and start worthwhile discussions around the issue. Writing, and even meeting with, your local political representatives can increase their own awareness of constituent interests. After all, it’s their job to represent you! Getting involved with activist groups that promote immigrant rights is another way that you can promote and work towards the decriminalization of border crossings.

Anyway, we’ll leave you with this: the wildest fact is that, from 1980 to 2010, the Border Patrol budget was increased 16 times. This was despite the reality that the number of attempted undocumented entries did not rise during this time. Considering the mounting numbers of detainees at the border, it stands to reason that immigration is yet another issue reduced to sound bites and narrative twisting from those politicians seeking to Make America Great Again – despite human welfare being at stake. While we can discuss all we like about when and how border crossings have been treated by the criminal system, the important thing to focus on is how we value human lives.

READ: Fear And Anxiety Grip Undocumented Community Nationwide As Walmart Arrests Escalate

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