This weekend thousands of Portlanders are expected to attend the inaugural installation of a two-day ticketed event dubbed the Portland Taco Festival. For $12-65 dollars, attendees gain entry for the chance to pay for tacos starting at two bucks each with the option of adding passes to the tequila expo. The event doesn’t stop there though.
Organizers decided to take the event a step further by boasting a Chihuahua beauty pageant and the promise of margaritas so good they’ll “remove your sombreros.” And, if that wasn’t enough, those keen on proving just how spicy they are can partake in a hot pepper eating challenge!
Portland’s messy relationship with food and race spans long before this weekend.
It’s a history so messy, in fact, that an amazing podcast called The Racist Sandwich attempts to unpack it all. When a restaurant called Saffron Colonial opened up in a historically Black Portland neighborhood in 2016, they immediately received backlash for including menu items that glorified colonization and changed their name to British Overseas Restaurant Corporation.
More recently, a burrito pop-up called Kooks decided to shut down after the owners bragged about peeking into windows to steal the tortilla recipes of women in Mexico and they were called out for cultural appropriation.
The Portland Taco Festival ads plastered with hipsters posing behind hard shell taco cutouts and white boys donning Lucha Libre masks are just another example of the Pacific Northwest’s tone-deaf, casual racism.
As Portland continues to receive due critique for the racism that pierces its liberal façade, it makes perfect sense that a taco festival in this city would opt to cater to the preferences of white folks and forgo respect for the culture which the taco originates from.
Emblazoned in the center of the festival’s logo appears a fiery Chihuahua surrounded with design elements that conjure images of the Aztec calendar to effectively ensure attendees are unable to forget the painfully uncomfortable canine contest.
From the mock Spanish of the Skippyjon Jones children’s book series to the ultra-thirsty Papi in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, this isn’t the first time that Chihuahuas have been co-opted to perpetuate Mexican stereotypes. But since it’s 2017, you’d think the organizers would take notes from the Taco Bell ad campaign that eventually led to a boycott at significant drop of sales and avoid any tiny dog references.
In an even more confusing mishmash of copy, the festival writes on their Facebook event page, “Far from the standard street fair, we will bring a new creative twist to what a city celebration can be. The modern street taco is really the embodiment of Portland’s melting pot culture. Mexican influences such as Green Chili mixed with metropolitan ideals create the diverse flavor unique to our great city.”
Even if the notion of a melting pot hadn’t been retired for its promotion of assimilation, it’s hard to understand how a Mexican street taco could possibly represent Portland, a city that is 76% white and that continues to push out its people of color—only nine percent of which are Latinx.
While the festival’s bro-y ad campaign and insistence on perpetuating dusty ass Mexican stereotypes was what first caught my attention, further investigation revealed that the festival is actually a “massive fundraiser for an amazing nonprofit program in association with the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Archetypos Center for Spiritual Healing.” With a mailing address in the state of Colorado, hefty doses of Portland pride are being doled out by festival organizers who appear to live out of state.
On their website, Archetypos is designated as a church organization but they state, “Our mission is to bring people together by looking past the false barriers that separate society such as religion, politics, economics and racial issues. We wish to find common ground on which to build a foundation for the ENLIGHTENED HUMAN CONDITION free from dogmatic exclusion.”
For an organization so apt to write off “racial issues” as false barriers, they sure are quick to reinforce boilerplate representations of Mexican culture in the events they throw. While I reached out to Portland Taco Festival for further information on the organizers, they’ve yet to respond.
On the Portland Taco Festival Facebook page, they continue to hide behind anonymity by avoiding the many commenters requesting clarification on whether or not any Latinx people assisted in organizing. Judging from the nonresponse and rebuttals from attendees that urge people to focus on “TACOS” and “NOT RACE,” I think we have our answer.
Instead of heading to a festival that promotes sombrero-wearing chihuahuas and features the works of Gringa Loca Art, consider paying a visit to these six tasty Latinx-owned eateries in Portland that don’t require an entrance fee instead.
Emilly Prado is a writer based out of Portland, Oregon, focused on amplifying the voices of marginalized communities in music, art, and activism. You can see more of her published work at www.emillyprado.com