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Latinx Files: Why aren’t Mexicans and Mexican Americans eating at this popular Mexican restaurant?

Customers line up in front of Veracruz All Natural, a food truck in Austin, Texas.
(Rosemary McClure)

The New York Times recently profiled Maritza and Reyna Vazquez, the sisters behind the popular Austin restaurant Veracruz All Natural. The story is a testament to their grit, hard work and growing success (they plan to open a food truck in Los Angeles at the Line hotel in Koreatown). It is an immigrant success story.

But it also reveals an uncomfortable truth about Veracruz All Natural: Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Austin don’t really eat there. Only about one-fifth of their clientele is Latinx.

It’s not for a lack of trying. According to the New York Times, the Vazquez sisters have hosted salsa nights and a monthly market called “Frida Friday ATX,” named after the ubiquitous Mexican artist, in hopes of drawing more Latinx customers.

It’s not the food, which for Austin standards is very good. (I’ll admit, as a Rio Grande Valley native I am biased and subscribe to my colleague Gustavo Arellano’s theory of Mexican food in Texas: “The RGV invented it, San Antonio perfected it, Austin stole it.”)

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So what is it then?

The answer, I’m afraid, is a monster that Latinx communities across the U.S. are all too familiar with: gentrification.

The Vazquez sisters opened the taco truck that would launch their mini-empire in 2010 in East Austin, a neighborhood that historically was made up of Black and Mexican/Mexican Americans — by design. In 1928, the city implemented a master plan that effectively pushed all nonwhite Austinites to the area that’s now east of Interstate 35. For decades, Austin’s Black and Mexican/Mexican American population called East Austin home.

In 1999, Austin implemented an urban renewal plan for parts of East Austin. It worked. For the next two decades, property values in the area exploded, forcing many longtime residents to move on.

It’s hard to overstate how much East Austin has changed in that time. I moved to Austin in 2007 shortly after graduating from college, rooming with childhood friends who were still enrolled at the University of Texas. Our apartment was off Riverside Drive, which was then known as the area where Latinx students of working-class background lived. Now, the stretch of Riverside Drive east of Interstate 35 is full of luxury condo buildings. In 2018, tech giant Oracle opened its “campus of the future” there.

Remember that story from a few months ago about recent transplants complaining about the decades-long tradition of car enthusiasts meeting on Sundays at Austin’s Chicano Park? That’s the same neighborhood.

Gentrification has gotten out of control in Austin. Earlier this year, the city hired its first displacement prevention officer to curb Black and Latinx families leaving because of rising housing costs.

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My larger issue with the New York Times story is that, whether intentional or not, it puts blame on Austin’s Mexican/Mexican American community for not embracing a restaurant beloved by the city’s “non-Hispanic” (their term) community. The story posits several theories, including that people of Mexican heritage have some aversion to healthy food and/or that it’s pricier than expected.

But how can you expect a clientele that no longer lives in the neighborhood to show up?

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The metaverse and science fiction

I’m a fan of science fiction. A big reason why I find the genre appealing is that it has an uncanny ability to give us a glimpse of what the future will look like. A great example of this is “Robocop”— the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic that predicted the militarization of police and the growing use of robots by law enforcement.

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On Monday, the Washington Post published a primer on the metaverse, an “immersive digital environment where people interact as avatars.” It’s what the tech giants are hoping is the next evolution of the internet — a world within a world made possible through virtual and augmented reality. The story makes mention of the 2018 Steven Spielberg movie “Ready Player One,” based on the book by Ernest Cline that features a digital universe accessed through a virtual reality rig. It’s a close approximation to what the metaverse is supposed to be like.

But in reading the story, I couldn’t help but think of another, lesser-known science-fiction movie.

2008’s “Sleep Dealer,” which played at the Sundance Film Festival and received a positive review from former Times critic Kenneth Turan (aptly titled “A nightmare that looks all too real”), tells the near-future dystopian story of Memo Cruz, a 20-something who flees his native Oaxaca to Tijuana. The border has been closed and made impenetrable in the movie. Though economic migrants are physically kept out of the United States, their labor can still be extracted thanks to virtual reality technology. In desperate need of making money, Memo finds a job working as a cyberbracero, plugging in at a maquiladora along the border that lets him control a robot working at a construction site in San Diego.

I, an overly online cynic, tell you all this not because I’m trying to make you paranoid or afraid of technology, or that the dystopian world of “Sleep Dealer” will become our reality (although, maybe?). Rather, I do it to remind you that skepticism of new, untested technology is a good thing. That’s especially true when this guy is involved.

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Things we read this week that we think you should read

— Oscar De La Hoya, the greatest Mexican American boxer of all time, is stepping back into the ring for the first time since retiring 13 years ago. Ahead of his Sept. 11 fight against former mixed-martial arts champion Vitor Belfort, the East Los Angeles legend spoke candidly with sports columnist Dylan Hernández about his demons (among other things, he revealed he was sexually assaulted by an older woman as a teenager), microdosing on mushrooms to find inner peace and how boxing again has become part of his healing process.

— Sunday marked 51 years since the Chicano Moratorium, a peaceful antiwar protest of more than 20,000 people in East L.A. that turned violent after the owners of a liquor store close to where the march was taking place called the sheriff’s deputies. Last year, a group of mostly Latinx journalists from across The Times newsroom worked on a special project that looked at the legacy of the Chicano Moratorium half a century later. You can find it here. Oh, and we also made a zine! You can purchase it via our store, or you can make your own by following this how-to guide.

— I have this theory that Texas culture is basically a whitewashed version of Mexican culture. This well-reported love letter to the Mexican vaquero written by Katie Gutierrez for Texas Highways magazine gives credence to my hypothesis.

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“Mexican vaqueros have largely been erased from Texas popular memory because they provide a picture of a Mexican that contrasts with racist depictions of them as unskilled, uneducated, dangerous, and a threat,” historian Muñoz Martinez told Gutierrez. “To tell the history of the vaquero you also have to tell the history of a long effort to displace Mexicans from economic, cultural, and political power in South Texas.”

— Music writer Suzy Exposito wrote about rising reggaeton star Jhay Cortez.

“I wanted to go beyond the Puerto Rican sound and make music for everyone,” Cortez told Exposito of his ambitions. “Anything that makes you dance can be universal.”

This story is a part of The Times’ 2021 fall preview, which you can find here.


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