White America Makes Millions on Latino Creations (OPINION)

Apr 20, 2023
1:45 PM

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LOS ANGELES — We’ve all been there: It’s 1:00 a.m., and you’re craving greasy, fatty meat wrapped in a doughy tortilla to absorb all the alcohol that you foolishly ingested.

And really, what other reason is there to go to Taco Bell?

Well, you might be interested to know that the $3.97 you spend for a heap of bland chicken goes to an international conglomerate that also owns KFC and Pizza Hut. These chains form the trifecta of American obesity, and Taco Bell alone pulls in annual revenue of over $10 billion.

That’s a lot of chalupas.

In any case, the first Taco Bell opened in 1962 in San Bernardino, California. The official story is that entrepreneur Glen Bell, in a brilliant burst of capitalistic genius, brought Mexican food to America.

But that tale is basically bullshit.

You see, like much of American history, this is the story of a white guy who ripped off people of color, received all the credit, and got filthy rich—while the people of color got nothing.

In truth, Bell was a struggling restaurateur who noticed that a nearby Mexican eatery, the Mitla Café, was thriving by selling tacos to the hardworking Latinos in the area. The Mitla Café was founded in the 1930s by the Rodríguez family, immigrants from Mexico, and was the first restaurant to serve hard-shell tacos in the United States.

Bell would “gawk at the perpetual line of regulars anxiously awaiting to savor the restaurant’s tacos.” So in a clever move, he ingratiated himself with the owners of the Mitla Café, and soon afterward, “he was in their kitchen,” learning how to make tacos. Adopting the Rodríguez family’s recipes, Bell added this exotic item to his own restaurant’s menu, and “his predominantly white clientele” went crazy for them.

Within a few years, the formerly desperate businessman had a chain of taco-centric restaurants, which he named after himself.

Today, Glen Bell is often portrayed as an innovative entrepreneur who built an empire through his masterful insights and sheer ingenuity.

But clearly, “what happened here is a white guy seeing opportunities to market Mexican food to a ‘mainstream’ audience for the love of profit, and not the love of Mexican people.”

Taco Bell, a highly egregious example of cultural appropriation, has become the scourge of nutritionists and a fixture in strip malls across America. Bhile Taco Bell is in over 30 countries, you can’t find one in Mexico, because the chain has flopped there. For Mexicans, “it’s a no-brainer to choose the authentic street food version of a taco in the place where tacos were invented over a fast-food approximation.”

And speaking of authenticity, whatever happened to the Mitla Café?

Well, the restaurant is still going strong, and the Rodríguez family, “now in their third generation, are running the place as a community of regular patrons crunch, munch and sip their way through a largely unchanged menu of crispy tacos” and other Mexican delicacies.

Even with the passing of years, the Mitla Café’s owners have never denigrated Bell for stealing their family’s recipes and making a bajillion dollars. So we can say that the Rodríguez family has embraced a Zen-like attitude of gratitude for their own success, rejecting any hostility for Bell and his heirs.

Or we can say that they got played like chumps.

Keep in mind that Taco Bell has more than 7,000 locations worldwide, whereas the Mitla Café has never expanded beyond its sole location.

While that may be good for nostalgia’s sake, it highlights how Latinos can work hard, innovate, play by the rules, and maybe achieve a decent level of success. Meanwhile, a white guy with no ethics can waltz in, take what he wants, and become a millionaire with minimal effort.

It’s not the most inspiring story.

We know how America views Latinos. We’re good for performing backbreaking labor. Our kids toil away at brutal jobs in factories under illegal conditions. And while we start fledgling businesses at a much higher rate than the general population, we remain nonexistent in the leadership roles of existing companies.

Basically, we work hard, put up with discrimination and abuse, and don’t complain. Our reward for this fabled work ethic is the satisfaction of helping white guys succeed.

Yes, it’s enough to give you heartburn and indigestion. Or maybe it’s all those Taco Bell beefy five-layer burritos.

Who can tell?


Daniel Cubias is an editor and writer based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Barrio Imbroglio, Zombie President, and Feed the Monster Alphabet Soup. Twitter: @DanCubias