On Sunday, June 5, the third annual Milwaukee Taco Fest will set up shop at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Presented by SWARMM Events (creators of Milwaukee’s Shamrock Shuffle), the fest aims to “[bring] together local Milwaukee restaurants for a day of taco tasting, tequila, margaritas, cervezas and tons of great entertainment.” Lucha libre wrestling, a taco-eating contest, and a Chihuahua beauty pageant are also promised. General admission tickets are $13, and tickets for the actual tacos are $2.
But some Milwaukeeans aren’t thrilled with Milwaukee Taco Fest (which we wrote about back in 2014). In a widely disseminated Medium piece entitled “Milwaukee Taco Fest; I’m not your sidekick,” local sous-chef and self-described “proud Mexican-American” Gil Amador-Licea details his many misgivings with the event. “This morning I learned about a forthcoming event in Milwaukee, Taco Fest,” Amador-Licea begins. “Apparently this is going to be their third one already, so I don’t know much about the organizers and I don’t feel like going personal on them, so let me go straight into cultural appropriation of Mexican cuisine, traditions and adjudication of faux paraphernalia such as culturally inaccurate sombreros and adorable chihuahuas with tiny colorful Spanish Flamenco dancer dresses.”
Following a primer on Mexican food and culture, Amador-Licea gets to the heart of the matter, and doesn’t hold back:
“So, when you have one third of Milwaukee’s area full of places selling tacos made by Mexicans, by businesses owned by Mexicans with a very strong inheritance, but a white dude who thinks it’s OK to organize a taco fest for other white people in a safe environment because they are scared of entering a ‘bad’ neighborhood, all I can think of is Christopher Columbus “discovering” a place with people living there already but taking their knowledge and essence into a protected place. It is the guy saying ‘I’m not racist, I have a Mexican friend’ You have in this festival a chihuahua beauty pageant, let me tell you something, I’ve never seen something like that in Mexico, I’ve see other kind of animal cruelty, but never with tutus or tiny plastic sombreros, you have a social-media friendly environment where people take selfies with giant plastic maracas and thinking it’s ok to mock Mexicans because the place/festival allows them to do so, plus their social privilege and the fact that they pay a ticket. You have some Mexican restaurants, but BelAir and Gypsy tacos win, because you prefer social connections than true flavours, the gentrification of Mexicans. I understand some of the money goes to charity, that is never a shield for bigotry.”
“Let’s eat tacos together, let’s celebrate food together, but let’s respect other people’s inheritance,” Amador-Licea continues, before ending with this:
“Some people will think I’m making a big deal about this, or we, but this is personal, and when you connect the dots the result is a segregated city, a racist city. This is my home, I’m not going anywhere even when some always say to us when we complain about injustice ‘well, if you don’t like it go back to ____’ No, I don’t like it, I live here, get used to it.”
You can read Amador-Licea’s full piece here.
UPDATE: Dan Shafer at Milwaukee Magazine has responses to the controversy from both Amador-Licea and the owner of SWARMM, Michael Sampson.