Column: So what exactly could be wrong with having taco trucks on every corner?
With election day just a couple of months away, we were not lacking for evidence that this is one of the battiest presidential campaigns in history.
But who among us didn’t expect more?
Last week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump made another tough-guy speech about deportations and immigration. Then Marco Gutierrez, a founder of Latinos for Trump, got nearly as much attention for a comment he made in defending his candidate of choice.
“My culture is a very dominant culture and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems,” Gutierrez said on national television. “If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
Well, here in Los Angeles, we can tell the rest of the nation what that’s like.
First of all, it smells really, really good, all the time. Let’s say you can’t sleep, so you roll out of bed and decide you’re hungry, but it’s 2 a.m.
Open a window, take a deep breath and follow the scent of sizzling meat, onions and peppers to the nearest taco truck.
Taco trucks are like palm trees here. Part of the landscape, and not hard to find.
I’m not saying you’ll be able to sleep after you eat, but for just a couple of bucks you’ll have a full belly and a smile on your face.
Clearly, though, some people are going to remain terrified at the prospect of proliferating taco trucks — because the real message isn’t about more tacos, but more Latinos.
That’s the whole point of identity politics. Create villains. Draw lines. Reinforce fears.
On Friday morning, at my own risk, I drove into the heart of the dominant culture.
In Boyle Heights, I parked behind a bright red taco truck with “El Monchis” painted on it.
Ramon Flores, 23, told me the days are long and the work is hard, but he likes being in the business and hopes to take it over when his dad retires.
“I’m out at 6 a.m. every day,” said the East L.A. resident, who drives to downtown Los Angeles in the morning to buy food for the day. “Then I have to open the truck and cook the meat.”
Flores, a Garfield High School graduate, parks in his regular spot on Cesar Chavez Avenue, next to an Auto Zone and across from Station 2 of the L.A. Fire Department. The bright red truck has the names of family members painted on it.
Junior. Yessica. Ayleen.
Flores’s father and brother operate the family’s other truck, which is anchored in East L.A.
On a typical day, Flores said, he and his assistant chef will shut down and clean the truck in the early evening, and he gets home around 8 p.m.
So how many days a week does he pull such a long shift?
“Seven,” he said. “We have to work every day to make enough money.”
You’d think any Trump supporter would appreciate rather than loathe this kind of initiative. It’s the American entrepreneurial spirit on display.
And the tacos are made in America, unlike some of the clothing sold under Trump’s name.
“They’re good,” said Mike Contreras, a firefighter who works across the street from El Monchis and favors the cemitas — a taco-like sandwich made on Mexican bread.
Fire Capt. Alex Arriola couldn’t think of anything negative to say about taco trucks.
“They’re awesome,” he said, telling me the crew often eats at another one that pulls up to the neighborhood after El Monchis rolls home for the night.
Farther south in Boyle Heights, I spotted a white truck with the name “Milagro” painted on it, with a middle-aged woman serving up tacos and other food to factory workers.
“I’ve been doing it 25 years,” said Milagro Orellana, who had no time for chitchat. She hustles from one work spot to another, scaring up business wherever she can.
Outside Keck-USC Hospital, I asked the elderly gent behind the window of Neiro’s Hot Lunch truck how long he’s been in business.
“Me? Thirty years,” said Juan Hernandez, who took orders at the window while his son, Gerardo, prepared tacos and burritos.
Juan said he hadn’t heard the taco truck comment from Trump’s Latino cheerleader, but one of his customers, Samantha Vernal, had.
“It’s ridiculous. They’re super convenient,” said the patient care coordinator, who said she has been put off by the campaign targeting of ethnic groups.
A mile south of the hospital, Leo Llamas of Leo’s Mariscos Colima was flying American flags from his truck, as if it were Fourth of July.
How long has he been in business?
“Forty years,” he said, telling me he raised a family on sales of seafood cocktails.
I figured I needed to hit one last taco truck and order lunch, so I drove west. When I got to MacArthur Park, I spotted a brightly painted truck with religious figurines propped up in the front window. The name of the truck?
“Love & Peace Seafood and Mexican Grill.”
It was parked outside a Bank of America. I moved in close enough to hear the owner speaking in Spanish to his customers, and when he was free for a moment, I asked if he had heard the taco truck comments.
“No,” he said. “I’m too busy working to pay attention to politics.”
I asked if he was from Los Angeles.
“No,” he said. “Egypt.”
He told me he came to this country seven years ago, learned to speak Spanish and made friends with someone who taught him how to cook Mexican food. Three years ago, he said, he bought his own truck, and the woman cooking at the grill was his Guatemalan wife.
I ordered two carne asada tacos — which were excellent, by the way — and thought to myself, I know what would truly make America great again.
More taco trucks.
Read more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez
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