This piece seems to be increasingly relevant in this, ahem, interesting, election season. Earlier in the year a “taco war” broke out between Austin and San Antonio after a clearly confused New York-based writer crowned Austin the home of the “breakfast taco.”
The outbreak of rhetorical war contained much more than simply a dispute over a culinary mainstay.
Indeed, upon closer inspection, the taco dispute illustrates the broader and more deeply entrenched and often ignored nativist tendencies that rumble along at low levels—low levels, that is, until men in camouflage begin screaming at asylum seekers on the nation’s southern border. Or, until some of the same men move on to the occupation of government property (as they did recently in Oregon). Or until presidential candidates begin pounding the drum of border security by resorting to racist characterizations.
In a piece for the Washington Spectator I drew a line between the taco wars of Texas and the genesis story of Texas and the “activists” “occupiers” at Masher National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
The “cowboys” who turned on the federal government in Oregon, the heirs of that manifest philosophy, were denouncing the very institution that had created them, after it acquired the western lands through war, wealth, violence, and dispossession. Their image, the one that resonates with most Americans, once took on mythical status thanks to the cultural elites on the East Coast who turned out the dime novels and illustrations that glorified their image as the American ideal. And so it was unsurprising that the clumsy words of a New York writer would trigger the Taco War of 2016; it simply fit within a deeply ingrained tradition of codifying the transfer of cultural ownership by a select elite.
The analysis drew from my ongoing work on a non-fiction book about American masculinity, the border and myth. More on that soon.