Saturday, July 28, 2007

The American Taco

I take a simplistic view of the taco, simplistic to the point where a quesedilla, a tortilla wrapped about some shaving of cheese and perhaps embellished with a slice of green Ortega chili pepper, then warmed to the point where the cheese begins to melt, qualifies as a taco.

There are, of course, tacos suaves, the tortilla being warmed but not cooked or crisped. Another taco point of departure is the essential ingredient of the tortilla, the maiz, or corn tortilla (yes!), or the taco de harina, the estimable and nicely chewy flour tortilla. I sit on the side of the aisle where the corn tortilla is the foundation of the taco.

With few exceptions, any filling makes an agreeable taco, so far as I am concerned.

These few exceptions involve things I would not knowingly eat such as ojo, or eye, pulmon, or lung. I don't have troubles with the likes of kidney or brains or heart, and am a known fancier of menudo, which is to say a stew of tripe. The eye and lung objections are purely idiosyncratic and have nothing to do with moral,medical, or ethical considerations. I may have already ingested tacos de ojo or de pulmon, and feel only mild misgiving at that prospect.

Thus for me a taco is anything wrapped in a soft tortilla, and the tortilla is by preference de maiz, of corn, por favor. It is difficult to think of any taco that is not enhanced by a sprinkle of cilantro.

The one taco I cannot abide is The American Taco, which is to say patriotism wrapped in the American flag.

I've put in some time living in and traveling through The South, indeed had traumatic racial experiences in The District, which I nevertheless love and could consider living in were that option to fall to my lot. Florida is yet another matter. To this day, one of my recurrent unpleasing dreams has it that I am hopelessly mired in Miami Beach. Graduate that I am of Central Beach Elementary School, old boy of Ida M. Fisher Junior High, I would not respond well to invitations to reunions. I have been in the South enough to have a personal response to the flag representing the late Confederate States of America, a response somewhere between tacos de ojo and possibly the Gidget movies, a mild distaste leavened by my removed and idiosyncratic sense of what that flag can mean to certain races and faiths. Indeed, I got some taste of that as I delivered my Miami Herald route, artfully coping with signs in front of buildings excluding dogs, certain races, and faiths from trespass.

My least favorite place for American flags are as decals on the rear deck of a car or SUV;
my next least favorite is on the lapel of a business suit or sports jacket, and then on any part of any body as a tattoo. Such displays invariably evoke for me the vision or actuality of an individual who is at heart an hypocrite, espousing on one hand traditional American values and hard-won freedoms, giving up these very values and freedoms by sending to represent them on state and national echelons men and women who literally vote away rights and privileges or who question the effectiveness of these rights and privileges.

There is still something thrilling about the American flag in a court of law or outside a school or museum, or The Hollywood Bowl; there is still something promising about a town meeting or the local newspaper going over the items on a ballot for its readers. But we need to keep a watchful eye on those flag wavers who are at such pains to give it all away.

So far as I can see, these American Tacos are represented in the two major political parties and appear as well in such -isms as Libertarianism, Individualism, and Independent-ism. Most of them would do poorly at high school civics; many of them have conflated notions related to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution with the privilege of bearing automatic weapons and an overall fear of large government. A large portion of their sense of patriotism and service to our country comes from another source of conflation, the belief that all who disagree with them are traitorous, somehow advocating seditious behavior and a complicity with enemies. In this irrational calculus, the enemy is seen as pro-labor, pro-health care, and favoring bizarre, recondite ecological causes.

Fellow citizens who advocate dignity for animals, equal justice, due process, and mediation are considered lunatics. Civil rights for minorities? For gays? For immigrants? Forget it

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