Editor’s Note: Former San Antonian and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report, Jillian Reddish moved to Seattle in 2014 to pursue a communications degree at the University of Washington. Her letter to her fellow citizens below was originally published by the Seattle Globalist.
I can understand that one primarily hipster city will have a natural affinity for another majorly hipster city, but I’ve been seeing signs lately that Seattleites are buying into a few fallacies about Austin, such as when Seattle Metropolitan recently published the myth that Austin is the home of the breakfast taco.
So let’s get one thing straight right now: Breakfast tacos are not from Austin.
Yes, they are in Austin, they are all over Austin, and I definitely agree that they are great in Austin. But Austin did not invent breakfast tacos, just like Seattle did not invent coffee.
Sure, Austin did a lot to make breakfast tacos a household term (so did Taco Bell). But if the word on the street is that breakfast tacos are going to be introduced to Seattle, it’s important not to fall into the cultural appropriation trap hipsters so often seem to.
When Seattle Met wrote about a new company called Sunrise Tacos bringing breakfast tacos to the Seattle breakfast taco scene, I was pretty excited.
Until I ran into this explanation of a migas breakfast taco:
“… It’s also the only one filled with the combo of scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and fried tortilla strips known in Austin taco speak as migas.”
No. First, that “Austin taco speak” is Spanish, a language independent of Austin coffee shops and spoken by at least 470 million people throughout the world. The dish itself has a Spanish version and, it can be argued, both Mexican and Tex-Mex versions.
Second, the article generally upholds the contested myth that Austin invented breakfast tacos, when in fact, no one is certain who “invented” something this ubiquitous to South Texas. Texans have been having this, ahem, “conversation” about the origins of breakfast tacos for years, and it very recently heated up again.
When Matthew Sedacca claimed in February 2016 that Austin invented the breakfast taco, it sparked an outcry and even a Change.org petition to exile him from Texas (we get pretty serious about tacos). Multiple hashtags popped up, notably#maketacosnotwar and#keepAustinpretentious.
San Antonio went to bat on behalf of the rest of South Texas, the huge region south of Austin, all the way over to Corpus Christi and down to Mexico. Even a Californian got involved, calling out Austin for its shortsighted cheek.
In the end — and this is important — Austin backed down because it was proved beyond a pretentious doubt that breakfast tacos were a thing before Austin claimed them. And yes, this entire conversation is relevant to Seattle’s emerging breakfast taco scene for many reasons.
We can’t flippantly ignore the heritage of cultural cuisines. If Seattle buys into the “Columbusing” of breakfast tacos, it would be, to use the words of my native Texas friend, “like me writing an article to San Antonio about this great new food I recently discovered from Portland: It’s called salmon!”
I want you to know that I say this as a new Seattle resident who has given serious thought to questions of identity and heritage. Yes, I am a statistic: I moved to Seattle from Texas in 2014 along with 4,055 others, and I see this myopic ability to suddenly “discover” something great about another culture’s cuisine — with no appreciation for history or heritage — as contributing to the same gentrification Seattle is worried about.
Columbusing threatens our ability to live together and respect people from different backgrounds as we continue to take in new residents.
With all of these new Texans moving to Seattle, it’s obvious that breakfast tacos will find a warm welcome. But are we really going to fall for the old joke? Texans say about breakfast tacos that, “The Rio Grande Valley invented it, San Antonio popularized it and Austin takes credit for it.” (Writer Charles Scudder also does a decent job explaining why Austin’s claim to the breakfast taco is cultural appropriation).
When will hipsters finally start thinking it’s “cool” to acknowledge the real roots of something? Back before chefs started experimenting with pork belly, ahi tuna or kimchi in tacos, Hispanic mothers prepared cheap and filling meals for their families, adding rice and beans for protein, stretching out cheap cuts of meat, tenderly wrapping leftovers in a warm tortilla. Now it’s being elevated to “cuisine,” instead of being honored as the frugal genius this food is.
Seattle is a city with endless opportunities to learn about cultural traditions through tons of tasty dishes, if we do so with respect.
As a huge fan of breakfast tacos, I think it’s great that a company like Sunrise Tacos now exists here, but I would ask that they proceed thoughtfully and educate Seattleites about the cultural roots of the breakfast food they’re pushing to raise a real appreciation for preceding food traditions.
Whenever they deliver that foil-wrapped package with a side of salsa, Sunrise has an opportunity to remind us of the original influences the breakfast taco came from.
Until that happens, I’d rather get my breakfast taco fix in South Texas, and recognize the traditions and the people who taught me about the roots of the vibrant culture that thrives in San Antonio and South Texas.
I’ll do this whether hipsters think it’s Insta-worthy or not.
Top image: Jillian Reddish at the now-famous taco wall. Photo courtesy of Jillian Reddish.