The Jury Talks Back

5/26/2017

Horde Of Haters Compel Women-Owned Business In Portland To Close

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 7:28 am

[guest post by Dana]

When these absurdities pop up, it reminds me yet again that there are none so closed-minded as those who loudly proclaim their open-minded progressivism while simultaneously dropping the authoritarian hammer on everyday Americans.

Two ambitious and hard working young women, and I have to mention that they are white because those are the rules, ran a small business in Portland known as Kooks Burritos. Due to accusations of “cultural appropriation,” Kooks Burritos is no longer in business.

Although the business had been operational for several months, and become increasingly popular, the hoopla began when the Williamette Week recently published an article about owners Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connelly wherein they described how a trip to Mexico inspired them to learn how to replicate the unique and tasty tortillas of Puerto Nuevo when they got back home:

“In Puerto Nuevo, you can eat $5 lobster on the beach, which they give you with this bucket of tortillas,” Connelly says. “They are handmade flour tortillas that are stretchy and a little buttery, and best of all, unlimited.”

“I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did,” Connelly says. “They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins. They wouldn’t tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look. We learned quickly it isn’t quite that easy.”

“On the drive back up to Oregon, we were still completely drooling over how good [the tortillas] were, and we decided we had to have something similar in Portland,” Connelly says. “The day after we returned, I hit the Mexican market and bought ingredients and started testing it out. Every day I started making tortillas before and after work, trying to figure out the process, timing, refrigeration and how all of that works.”

When they returned, they set up shop in a inside the Tight Tacos food cart in Portland. Tight Tacos describes itself as “an authentic street taquero”. The man behind Tight Tacos is Reggie Ballesteros, “a Hawaii transplant” who lived in California before landing in Oregon. Because “he couldn’t find tacos like the ones he ate growing up,” he opened Tight Tacos. And he apparently didn’t have a problem with two white girls using his food truck to make their popular breakfast burritos. (Q: Does this make Ballesteros an accomplice to a couple of white girls’ cultural appropriation?)

Back to Wilgus and Connelly. After their interview in the Williamette Week, the aggrieved began their campaign of hate:

“Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly,” an article in the Portland Mercury reads. “These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise.”

Mic.com also offered commentary: “In less than six months, Wilgus and Connelly have managed to build a business. And depending on how you look at it, their methods are either genius or the latest example of white folks profiting off the labor of people of color.”

Interestingly, Mic.com writer Jamilah King, who is black (remember the rules), also said this in her report on Kooks:

The problem, of course, is that it’s unclear whether the Mexican women who handed over their recipes ever got anything in return. And now those same recipes are being sold as a delicacy in Portland.

That’s right, Jamilah. Because it’s unclear, you don’t know what transpired, and neither does anyone else. But sure, let’s infer, and assume the worst – privileged white girls stole from poor Mexican women. King, along with those whose attacks compelled the owners to shut down the business, have no clue what took place. Maybe the business partners paid a huge amount of money to the Mexican women, maybe they offered and were turned down. Maybe two American girls showing such a level of admiration, appreciation, interest and respect for the craft was enough for these tortilla makers. Why does King, or anyone else, assume that they would want compensation? Isn’t that projection of the worst kind? They’re a poor brown people in a poor land, pride in their workmanship isn’t enough, they want money!

Further, how aggravating that King chose not to focus on a tremendously noteworthy aspect of this report: Two gutsy young women built a successful business in a tough town for businesswomen in a mere six months! What a significant achievement. One that should have been cheered about by women of every color everywhere. Especially in Portland:

A new report on women owned businesses finds that Portland is one of the worst cities in the country. The data from America Express OPEN’s new report ranks Portland in the bottom ten cities in the country out of 100.

A commenter at The Mic left this fitting observation:

Sooooooo, let me get this straight. Are you all suggesting that Andy Ricker close Pok Pok? Should John Gorham close Toro Bravo? What about Expatriate? Should we force Kyle to stop serving Laotian tacos? Are you going to try and convince me you’ve never stood in line at Por Que No? Um, Bollywood Theater anyone? If learning how to make a food from another culture and selling it is now considered cultural appropriation, then why not take this issue up with the sucessful PDX businesses that have been doing this at a much larger scale for years, and stop harassing these two women struggling to start a small business.

Interestingly, Portland is home to 5 Taco Bells. Taco Bell was founded by [the very white] Glen Bell who learned how to make Mexican food by watching the cooks at of a nearby Mexican restaurant:

According to Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Bell watched long lines of customers at a Mexican restaurant called the Mitla Cafe, located across the street, which attracted a dedicated customer base for its hard-shelled tacos.[4][5] Bell began eating there regularly, attempting to reverse-engineer the recipe, and eventually won the confidence of the proprietors such that they allowed him to see how the tacos and other foods were prepared.[4][5] In late 1951 or early 1952, he took what he had learned and opened a new stand, this time selling tacos under the name of Taco-Tia.[4][5]

Over the next few years, Bell owned and operated a number of restaurants in southern California including four called El Taco. Bell sold the El Tacos to his partner and built the first Taco Bell in Downey in 1962.

But, don’t worry. If you are in Portland and want to only patronize eateries where there is no cultural appropriation taking place, then here’s a convenient list for you: (Alternative To) White-Owned Appropriative Restaurants in Portland

–Dana

2 Comments »

  1. I’m sorry that these young women caved so easily to the angry mobs. I think if they had stuck it out and stuck their thumb in the eye of the haters, they could have ridden out the storm, and continued being successful. I can understand how hard it would be though knowing what was being said. I wonder if they caved to the bullying, or did they believe they had actually committed a sin and appropriated, and closed shop in acknowledgement of that?

    Comment by Dana — 5/26/2017 @ 7:36 am

  2. So a black journalist culturally appropriated a German invention to print hateful remarks about two white girls that culturally appropriated a recipe that was culturally appropriated by Mexicans. Gotta love Portland!

    Comment by Sean — 5/26/2017 @ 9:26 am

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