The Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant franchise has launched a new promotional campaign they call the “Cultivating Thought Author Series.” The brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything Is Illuminated,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “Eating Animals”) was whole-heartedly endorsed by Chipotle CEO Stephen Ells, and involves Foer’s soliciting brief writings by well-known authors and celebrities and printing them on the restaurant’s paper products – bags, napkins and cups.
The idea is that it takes patrons just a couple minutes to read each short story, essay or rumination—the amount of time Foer ascertains that it takes to munch on a burrito. In a Vanity Fair interview, Foer claims he sought out an “eclectic” group of writers for this project. Unfortunately, among the dozen writers who have contributed to the campaign, there are no Mexicans, no Mexican Americans, and no Latinos at all.
Visit the “Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle’s Missing Mexicans” Facebook page from writers Lisa Alvarez and Alex Espinoza to see cups with Latino authors’ stories in response to the campaign.
How is it that a place that touts itself, indeed whose very bread and butter is Mexican cuisine, commit such a blunder? How is it that Latinos don’t even get two minutes to share their own stories or ruminations?
All of this has gotten me to thinking about the complicated relationship that has always existed between the United States and Mexico. Because I’m from the border, I’m ever on the fringes of that country and this one. Does anyone truly feel American? Does our Motherland tug at our souls and fill our ears with the echoes of a forgotten language? Pat Mora in her poem “Legal Alien” describes this troubling dichotomy of living on the hyphen, in between two worlds, belonging to neither.
My family has for generations lived in Texas, even when it was part of Mexico. As an American of Mexican descent, I’m like a plait of numberless threads of people from other places. The indigenous part of us was conquered first by Spain and then by the United States. That reality courses through our past, but also is part of who we are right now. It isn’t an easy thing to be. There is an ever-droning pall over us as Mexican Americans right here in what has always been our own land. Conquered twice. Right here. Twice. And we get back up like the coyote in the cartoon flattened by the anvil. He comes to and shakes it off. We weren’t doing anything but living our lives, speaking our language. We shook it off. Everything changed. And we changed, too, and assimilated and learned the language all that time ago, holding to our chests the songs and stories of a time that we’ll never know again. Maybe we never really knew them. But they were always there, were never really erased.
My fifth grade teacher introduced us to a new student weeks into the school year. He came from Nuevo Laredo. Tall and handsome and dressed as neatly and perfectly as a new doll, he wore his dark hair combed back with a musky gel that reminded me of my father on the mornings when he shaved. He wore an impeccably pressed white shirt, Wrangler jeans and black cowboy boots polished to a high shine. The boy’s white skin limned the freckles scattered on his nose like tiny stars. I recall his penmanship–as flowery and perfect as the teacher’s.
As required, he wrote his name on the upper left-hand corner of the page. He wrote it in unabashedly large looping letters. He pressed hard on his pencil, making a deep imprint you could trace with a fingertip. Indelible. When the teacher checked the roll at the beginning of class each day, he confidently and clearly called out “Here!” Presente. There was no mistaking it. From that first day, he was the best student in the class–in all subjects, from math to English. And he spoke the Spanish of abuelos—rich and dark and poetic.
Even right there in Laredo, Texas, right there on the border, the rest of the kids labeled him different. The Mexican. The boy from over there. Funny thing is he was exactly like the rest of us. What was it that didn’t allow us to discern just that?
That boy went on to be the valedictorian of my high school graduating class.
He came to the United States already on the threshold of adulthood poised to grab at the achievements that both countries prize above all others. And yet I imagine he is so untethered from his past by now and so fully immersed in this country and so successful. Even so, in this country he is reviled for all of his dimensions–the ones he was born into, the ones he inherited, his blood, his skin, his tongue. He’s reviled for all the other things too, what he’s earned and won through hard work and ardor. How dare he? I am just like the boy from over there. The Mexican. I’m reviled too, though I was born right here. He and I are each a grotesque, two-headed calf. Imperfect. Sick. Not worth saving. Have to be put down. Erased.
The differences between Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans who have always been here are stark ones. He had to leave his home—another country—carrying his childhood in a mochila, his idealism and innocence seeping out like sugar through a pinhole down the length of a bridge—slowly and irretrievably. Today he makes up this painful landscape —oceans of people—rivers of them—who came here from over there. He looks like me. Sounds like me. Dreams like me. He is like a brother. The twin two-headed calf. We emerged as if from the dirt. We were always here—yerba, arbol, piedra, montaña, el rio—another landscape made of things that can’t be changed. Can’t be conquered. Can’t be erased.
This is my two-minute story. Provecho.
*Featured/top image: Chipotle Mexican Grill’s “Cultivating Thought” cups, void of Mexican voices. Photo: Business Wire.