Nepantla: Views from South 4.3 (2003) 493-522
[Access article in PDF]
Women and Chile at the Alamo
Feeding U.S. Colonial Mythology
Guillermo Gómez-Peña (1994, 28) aptly characterizes the ambivalence toward Mexico in U.S. popular culture in terms of food and violence: "The current media war against the Latino cultural other is intercut with eulogies to our products. Blood and salsa, that's the nature of this relationship." "War" between the United States and Mexico has long been cast as a desire to consume the "other" within the Anglo-American body and nation. From the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the current obsession with "Latin" culture, U.S. national, cultural, and economic forces have viewed Mexico as a commodity to incorporate. Blood circulates with salsa and tequila throughout this history of (neo)colonial ingestion. The U.S. desire to consume Mexico has always been contested by anticolonialism as well as by xenophobia (defending national and corporeal purity), but Manifest Destiny and NAFTA have had their way thus far. I will focus here on one site where the contours of this battle are drawn: the Alamo. The competing national claims that converged at this Texas mission have been encoded in popular culture as desire that is simultaneously alimentary and heterosexual.
This intersection of food, sex, and cultural plunder is apparent in U.S. corporate manifestations, such as Taco Bell, whose advertisements appeal to heterosexual masculinity by establishing a metonymic relationship between women and tacos and by framing this romance within a mission-style architecture reminiscent of the Alamo.1 This setting—like other Taco Bell ad campaigns highlighting border crossing, patriotism, and revolution—associates U.S. consumption of Mexican food with the historical framework of colonialism, but coding (inter)national relations in [End Page 493] terms of fast food, flirtation, and adorable chihuahuas trivializes the political reality.2 Eating tacos is a matter of national and sexual conquest, such advertisements seem to suggest, appropriating Mexican culture to demonstrate U.S. machismo. The "quiero" in Taco Bell's famous slogan, "Yo quiero Taco Bell," reflects this convergence of appetite, love, and appropriation in U.S. packaging of Mexico.3 It is no wonder that many estadounidenses are eager to "make a run for the border."
Over the past century and a half, a proliferation of representations—from Augusta Evans's novel Inez: A Tale of the Alamo to Fiesta San Antonio and the films of John Wayne—has engendered and racialized a mythic Alamo that satisfies Anglo-American expansionist fantasies. The central role that women and chile have played in the formation of this myth corresponds with U.S. (neo)colonialist efforts to incorporate Mexico nationally and economically. U.S. patriotism remembers the Alamo as a fiesta to displace the historic U.S. defeat there and to reclaim the Alamo for its own pleasure. Yet remembrances that fracture these racial and sexual myths, such as Sandra Cisneros's provocative story "Remember the Alamo" (1991), which I analyze at the close of this essay, offer strategies for resisting the colonial consumption patterns reenacted there by hungry tourists.
Methodology: Touring and Consumer Colonialism
Tourist Experience #1: Mexico North and South of the Border I have visited "Mexico" in many different places—from Epcot Center's "Mexico" in Florida to the San Antonio missions and "Old" Mexico itself—and been struck by a common scene in all of these locations involving white tourists, spicy food, and pleasure. An American Mexicanism—a term I derive from Toni Morrison's "American Africanism" to signify an "American" (or, rather, U.S.) mythology of what Mexico represents—repeats this pattern both North and South of the border.4 In San Antonio, tourists in sombreros float on dinner barges behind the Alamo. In the restaurant that forms the center of Epcot's "Mexico," mariachis sing "¡Ay ay ay ay, canta no llores!" [Sing, don't cry]. In Oaxaca, an elderly woman begs for coins in an outdoor restaurant while a U.S. tourist raises his...