Mexican Immigrants' Foodways in El Paso, Texas, 1880–1960s: Identity, Nationalism, and Community

Juan Manual Mendoza Guerrero, University of Texas at El Paso


Although food for Mexican immigrants in El Paso has been through history, with their differences in time, a very important element of their culture, while site that has influenced identity, sense of nation and community, academic studies for this geographic area and for this specific group, are almost nil. This dissertation aims to contribute something to fill this gap. Here, it discusses the historical changes and continuities of Mexican food from 1880 to 1960s, during which time retention, cultural assimilation, and inventive were part of the many processes experienced for Mexican immigrants in their relation with food. The most important findings in this dissertation are the historical breaks that began to take shape during the late nineteenth century, at which time it showed a clear division between Mexicans and Anglos around food and around general merchandise that both groups consumed. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Mexicans dominated the retail grocery trade and the Mexican restaurant business as well; also Mexicans were the pioneers of industrialization of its own food. However, traditional dishes such as menudo, enchiladas or tamales were hidden from public eyes. Spanish newspapers, as well as other newspapers in El Paso, did not publish them, instead of that, published European dishes. In 1909 and 1926, when the first two recipes books, which include Mexican dishes, were printed in El Paso, Mexican dishes were authored by non Mexicans. This was the beginning of a long process of intellectual appropriation of the Mexican culinary capital which lasted all the twentieth century. The appearance and growth of non-mexican canned companies that industrialize Mexican food, and the growth of chain supermarkets, that replaced mexican neighborhood stores, helped this trend of Anglo appropriation and redefinition of content and presentation of Mexican food. These trends lead Mexican food to be adjusted to Anglo taste and bigger commercialization. This situation was seriously questioned by some Mexicans in 1930s who saw this as a loss not only of Mexican culture but also of the "traditional" family. The postwar period brought better times for Mexicans because in this time they were able to exhibit "traditional" food and post recipes, however, Mexican food business and manufacturing were almost entirely in the hands of non Mexicans. The Chicano Movement of the 1960s brought up the matter of food to claim the right and duty to preserve the Spanish culinary heritage.

Subject Area

American history|Ethnic studies|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Mendoza Guerrero, Juan Manual, "Mexican Immigrants' Foodways in El Paso, Texas, 1880–1960s: Identity, Nationalism, and Community" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3512015.