While buzz around Mexican cuisine may not seem like anything new, longer and more intricate histories of how Latino/a/x chefs and food entrepreneurs earned recognition in the U.S. remain obscured.
This lecture focuses on how Latinx labor transformed the foodscape of New York City between the 1980s and today. Following a Tex-Mex craze, regional Mexican cuisine took hold via pioneering entrepreneurs like Zarela Martinez, whose eponymous restaurant in Manhattan opened in the 1980s and stayed beloved for a quarter of a century. As humbler NAFTA-era Mexican immigrants moved to New York in the 1990s, their bakeries, bodegas, taquerías, and tortilla factories spiced the Big Apple but unfortunately suffered from racialized devaluation of their ingredients, labor, and creativity. This lecture places high value back onto the histories of Latinx culinary entrepreneurs—both privileged and precariat—who made New York into a city of “many Mexicos” one can now ingest on a daily basis.