New York Times (Opinion)
By Lawrence Downes
September 16, 2016
A guy walks into a TV studio. His name is Marco Gutierrez, founder of Latinos for Trump, and he is there to defend Donald Trump’s merciless immigrant-expulsion plan as tough but necessary, given what he knows about Mexicans.
“My culture is a very dominant culture,” he says on MSNBC, the day after Mr. Trump’s Aug. 31 immigration speech in Phoenix, “and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
Drugs, rape, murder, tacos: Leave it to the Trump crowd to frame the presidential race as a cultural death match. And leave it to Phoenix — border-state capital and overheated epicenter of the great American immigration freakout — to have gone down this road already, years ago.
Mr. Gutierrez, meet Salvador Reza.
Mr. Reza is an American of Mexican ancestry, a day-laborer organizer, military veteran and teacher, who has spent years in Phoenix being a thorn in the side of racist bureaucrats and law enforcement officials, especially Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the county’s Trump-supporting, serial immigrant abuser.
“People don’t know this,” Mr. Reza said, “but the precursor of all the anti-immigration laws in Arizona was the 1990s taco wars.”
In 1999, Mr. Reza read in the paper about plans by the city to eliminate taco trucks by enforcing an ordinance regulating traveling carnivals — no vendor could operate for more than five days.
He recognized the danger and called the taco vendors, or taqueros, to an emergency meeting. Within 24 hours a few dozen of them had raised $5,000 for a lawyer and began a long campaign of wrangling with the city, neighborhood residents, zoning officials and the county health department. Protests led to organizing, and to victory. Taqueros who had worked out of home kitchens ended up with a commissary, where they bought supplies in bulk and used commercial-grade equipment to cook and clean.
“I think we now have about 60 trucks and hot-dog carts,” Mr. Reza said. “We probably give work to about 600 families. We’ve been at it for 15 years and we’re still going.”
In a better world, Republicans would celebrate this happy ending. Taqueros are, after all, part of the small-business bedrock of America. These are women and men who accept no handouts, who would cross a burning desert to support their families, who work hard to make America a tastier place. But that wasn’t the message spread in Phoenix by Mr. Trump, who likes to say that if people don’t listen to him on immigrants, “We’re not going to have a country, folks.”
Mr. Reza knows the subtext of that argument, how Mr. Trump’s vision of an America under siege is a call for cultural erasure: Let’s build the border wall, deport as many of them as we can and terrify the rest, so we can finally stop pressing 1 for English and start picking our own tomatoes, minding our own children and making America great again.
Mr. Reza has a riff about how cultural genocide has always been linked to food: the extermination of buffalo devastating the Sioux, the burning of Indian cornfields. He sees eliminating taco trucks as a wishful step toward eliminating immigrant livelihoods — and neighborhoods.
But the Phoenix taco wars are over, and tacos won. On Sept. 26, the night of the first presidential debate, a well-loved Mexican restaurant, El Portal — owned by Mary Rose Wilcox, a former county official and a nemesis of Sheriff Arpaio — is going to reopen. A truck will be parked outside selling tacos, in a rebuke to Mr. Trump, Mr. Gutierrez and nativist fearmongers everywhere. Go, if you can. Go to support the taqueros of Phoenix, and the optimistic, can-do culture Mexicans bring with them over the border. Go to support the America they are helping to build.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com