By Lindsay Mower, Editor-in-Chief
This past summer UMF professors Gaelyn and Gustavo Aguilar traveled the National Historic Lewis and Clark Trail on a two-month exhibition in support of “Who Eats At Taco Bell?” — a project the pair performed while traveling across 11 states making tacos with people and engaging others to learn alongside them as they ask question: What will it take for us to truly live together interculturally?
Researching since 2006 as ‘Tug’ — a collective that investigates social practice and problem-based interventions that examine the cultural politics of contemporary border regions in North America, the Aguilars have observed American attitudes and institutions change dramatically while the United States finds itself on the verge of becoming a nation with no majority demographic group. Tug Collective believes that changes of this nature can expose underlying fears and uncertainties in our communities that have the potential to lead to conflict; biases that our country has essentially inherited.
The inspiration for “Who Eats At Taco Bell?” presented itself about two years ago. UMF Professor of Anthropology, Gaelyn Aguilar explained. “We were down in Brownsville, Texas, which is where Gustavo is from, where around 93% of the population identifies similarly to Gustavo as an American of Mexican descent,” said Gaelyn, describing the genesis of the project and noting that there are 150-200 tequilas in Brownsville, but only one Taco Bell exists.
According to Gustavo, UMF Professor in Experimental Performance, if you listen to some of the news and ideas that get thrown around in the media, you may have the perception about people from this geographical region, “who would want to eat at Taco Bell when they have all that authentic food?”
Gaelyn said that they first began to try to answer this question by going on the street and asking people, “Do you eat at Taco Bell, do you eat at Taco Bell?”
Fast forward two years, setting off on Saturday, May 14th, 2016 at the Camp Dubois confluence of Wood River and Hartford, Illinois and ending in Seaside, Oregon on July 16, the Aguilars journeyed along the Lewis and Clark Trail, examining the interlocking dynamics of immigration and racial justice in America through a common appreciation for tacos. In the end, having traveled around 3,700 miles, some parts via bicycle, the pair learned about cultural fluidity as they met generous people from across Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
“The idea was that we start rethinking the idea of cultural fluidity,” said Gustavo adding with a smile, “We found out that people were very comfortable eating at Taco Bell.”
It seems that, actually, people from this cultural region are very fluid in being a U.S. Citizen but having a Mexican-American culture because they understand that Taco Bell is not Mexican food, but that it is what it is. For them everything has a place, and they can be very fluid going between these places, speaking greatly of their culture fluidity.
“Especially, young people are very comfortable and very fluid in having multiple cultures,” said Gustavo. In the media we seem to be talking about the ‘mono-listic’ culture that is at odds with everything. That has to be pure or authentic, or it doesn’t count,” said Gustavo.
While frequent media coverage of debates around immigration policy and racial justice has been shedding such negative light on these issues this past election cycle, the Aguilar’s project is refreshing and reflects positive action in the community. The way that they have brought people closer together is beautifully delivered through their story and is proof that potential for a better future remains; a future that, thanks to the efforts of Tug Collective, is closer to being a place where we live together interculturally.
You can follow Tug Collective on their Facebook and Instagram where they encourage you to upload your own photos highlighting cultural “resilience and reinvention,” or you can learn more about them on their website at http://www.tugcollective.org/. You can also find the schedule to their live talks along with other information about this project on their website at www.tacotalk.org.