The Diversification of Food:How Immigration Affects The Way We Eat

— This was produced by Casey Baker and Andrew Wagers–

As groups of people migrate around the globe they bring with them pieces the of the puzzle that is their origin.  Food, music, and language are all foundational aspects of the way a culture exists, and when culture spreads these aspects evolve to incorporate their new location.  One of the largest group of immigrants in the United States come from Mexico, and according to Zong and Batalova, “As of 2013, approximately 11.6 million Mexican immigrants resided in the United States”. After conducting interviews, locating research and listening to talks given by Mexican immigrants, it is clear that immigrants go through a lot of hardships, but in some instances they can result in unifying two worlds through simple things such as food.

Mexican immigration did not start out in the millions, according to, the immigration took place in a series of four waves. The first significant wave of immigrants came into America around the time of World War II, where there was a strong need for agricultural workers. This need continued to pull immigrants in from Mexico during the second and third wave. The fourth wave ended up being the largest wave of all; this was because the Immigration Reform and Control act was passed in 1986. This new act created more opportunity for undocumented immigrants to be able to obtain citizenship. The Act stated that there would be legalization for immigrants who had been in the US before January 1, 1982 (this group made up 1.7 million) and for agricultural workers who had worked at least 60 days during the agricultural season between May 1985-86 (this group contained 1.3 million) (Wyloge).

Graph depicting the number of immigrants in the US (Zong and Batalova)

The Immigration Reform and Control Act was not the only act to go into place to help undocumented people. In 2012, President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), this was passed specifically undocumented children. There are specific qualifications to be able to apply for DACA; for example, you have to had come to the United States before your fifteenth birthday, be enrolled in school or have a GED, and you cannot be convicted of a felony (Wikipedia). There are several benefits in obtaining a DACA permit, you are able to apply for jobs, obtain a social security number, and you can be eligible for scholarships to attend college.

An advertisement letting people know all of the benefits to DACA and what it actually is (Immigrant Law Group)

There are a lot of people in the United States who do not agree with the passing of things like DACA and the Immigration Reform and Control Act, because they feel like these immigrants are not really a part of our country. What these people do not understand is that in some cases coming to the United States, legal or not, is the only chance that these people have for survival. In the United States, people always complain that the minimum wage of $7.25 is way too low, and some are even trying to push to get the minimum wage up to $15 just for flipping burgers. In some places in Mexico you are lucky if you even make $5 a DAY, not even $5 and hour. This means that if you were to work an 8-hour day in Mexico, you would only be making about $.62 an hour.

Another thing that people take lightly is when people say that “oh, they just crossed the border illegally”, there is so much more to that statement than what meets the eye. These immigrants are risking their lives as well as their families lives in order to try and create the best life possible. There are several different ways in which immigrants try to cross the border, and all of them have a high death rate and all of them include coyotes. A coyote is a person who basically leads you through the journey across the border. They have a specific set of rules that you have to follow, and if you do not follow them or if you get lost, you no longer have the coyote to help you. Another fact about the coyote is that they aren’t free; you have to have $10,000 in order to even be considered by a coyote, and you make two payments throughout the journey and you get to keep $2,000 (Fault Lines Blog). A lot of immigrants that are courageous enough to take part in this journey usually do not make it due to dehydration, starvation, other illnesses or from getting lost. In an interview with Karina, a Junior at the University of Kentucky, she stated that her parents came here (illegally) from a place in Mexico called Jalisco with a coyote through California. She said that her father almost died while trying to cross the border because he was severely dehydrated; luckily, her father was able to obtain water once he got to California. After making it to California, Karina’s parents ventured to South Carolina for agricultural work. From there her family constantly moved from state to state for her father’s jobs, eventually settling in Kentucky.

Jalisco is the town where Karina’s family is from (Mexico Institute)

With Karina’s family’s migration as well as that of millions of other immigrants, food is a significant part of the journey. As Karina stated in the interview “food brings families together”, as families become separated by thousands of miles, food connects them to each other and to their native home. Even Laura Patricia Ramirez, owner of a local Mexican restaurant, said that she frequently calls home to learn just how her mother used to make her favorite dishes so she can replicate the food she grew up eating all the way in Kentucky. This story is replicated time and time again with slight variances in the food cooked by each immigrant family and with the number of Mexican immigrants that have came to America each has created “infinite varieties” of Mexican cuisine each treated as “not a fraud, not a lesser sibling, but an equal” to each other. (Arellano 9).

Karina Angel telling Casey about her family’s story

The migration of Mexican food into the United States has been so drastic that in Taco USA, Arellano refers to Mexican food to “as much of an ambassador to the United States as the hot dog” (5).  This quote alone illustrates just how influential Mexican food has become in the United States. There’s no denying a validity of a type of food of which its main condiment outsells ketchup. Ketchup, the fundamental topping of a hamburger, a hot dog, and French fries cannot keep up with salsa sales. The disappointing part of this fact is the opposition that immigrants go through is overlooked when someone benefits off of them.

“The disparity between population growth and the spread of ethnic restaurants points to significant lags in the movement of food from ethic enclaves to mainstream society”.

With this, Pilcher is able to show that even through the large-scale immigration scene throughout the countries existence food has always taken a long time to take off. This to me is due largely in part to the racism immigrants face. It takes a lot of hypocrisy to criticize an entire ethnic group and then turn around and admit their food is good, maybe even better than your own.

People came together in the Cyprus community to give children food (Forces TV)

Food is a great unifier. It can tear people apart and then years later bring them back together. “Tacos entered the national cuisine in the late nineteenth century and were seen as a potential danger to both health and morality” (Pilcher 81). Years later and Mexican food captivates a nation’s taste buds with plans to take over the world one taco at a time and honestly, we cant wait until it does.