Last week I wrote about the silly breakfast taco war between San Antonio and Austin, and like a true narcissist/professional Internet content maker, I read the comments. In most cases (always), doing so leads to regret. On this occasion, I was straight-up taken aback by an observation that popped up more than once:
The notion that a taco isn’t a taco unless it contains a corn tortilla did not compute.
“Can you believe this,” I asked my co-workers. Yes, they could. In fact, a lot of them agreed with the commenters. On the West Coast (and a good portion of the Southwest), a flour tortilla is synonymous with 1) a burrito, or 2) white people tacos.
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: yes, there is such a thing as an authentic flour tortilla taco. This isn’t up for debate. Donna Gabaccia, a food historian, notes in her book “We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and The Making of Americans” (shoutout to LA Weekly’s Dommy Gonzalez for finding this source) that the flour tortilla is native to Northern Mexico because wheat (which you need to make flour) was easier to grow than corn. The tortilla de harina is a staple in states like Sonora, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. Oh, and a lil’ state called Texas. The only thing that’s remotely white about these tortillas is the flour they’re rolled on.
My initial reaction to the dismissiveness of the flour tortilla was to think, “Da fuck you know about real tacos?” After all, I grew up in Rio Grande Valley, a part of Texas that’s the closet you get to Mexico without actually being in Mexico. To claim that the tortilla de harina isn’t legit because Moctezuma didn’t eat it is straight-up stupid and is an invalid argument unless you speak Nahuatl. By that logic, the al pastor taco, which is likely an invention of the 20th century, isn’t really that Mexican.
But if I’m being honest, this isn’t about the tacos. What we’re dealing with is this notion of authenticity and how it relates to identity and belonging. Communities form out of shared experiences, whether it be geography, skin color, language, music, or food. These things shape how we see ourselves as individuals and as part of something bigger than we are.
The flour tortilla taco is part of my experience as a Mexican-American (the term I’ve chosen to define who I am, along with Tejano). That’s obviously not the case for some random people on the Internet, but you know what? It’s okay! There is no one, true version of the Mexican-American (or Latino) experience. A young Latina living in South Dakota might not have a lot in common with me, but at the end of the day, we can both laugh and connect over the same meme. Instead of focusing on the things that differentiate us, why not champion and celebrate what unites us? I say this knowing fully well that I should heed my own advice; I’ve been guilty of challenging other people’s authenticity.
And should you ever find yourself in South Texas, or any part of the Southwest where they’re abundant, do your taste buds a favor and try a warm, powdery tortilla de harina with melted butter. Your world will be rocked.
Don’t do it in Austin, though. Their tacos still suck.
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