There is much sadness among Mexican street food advocates that the “taco emoji” which many of us have waited for with bated breath, will not depict an “authentic” Mexican taco, but rather the kind of meat-lettuce-tomatoes-and-cheese option that Americans have come to consider “tacos” because that’s what they can manage to eek out as an order at 2am in a Taco Bell drive-thru after consuming several adult beverages and, perhaps, engaging in some regrettable karaoke.
Not that that’s ever happened to me, but you understand.
Anyway, a group of “social justice warriors” have decided to object, tongue-in-cheek, to the Americanized taco emoji in an offbeat effort to encourage Americans to embrace the more authentic taco toppings, including cilantro, onions and the occasional wedge of lime, all settled nicely in a corn tortilla rather than a giant Dorito.
After the fight to save the notorious #EggplantFriday hashtag, how could anyone deny the mighty influence of the emoji in contemporary discourse? For the past couple of years, L.A. Taco and its cohorts have been involved in a another seemingly inconsequential Internet battle over a kernel-sized, yet powerful object: the taco emoji. While we’d never compare our quest to real online-activist movements like #BlackLivesMatter, our efforts do come from deeply felt belief—the taco emoji should be modeled on an authentic taco.
What constitutes an authentic taco? That topic alone can be a controversial and divisive. The history of the dish goes back hundreds of years and has its roots firmly planted in Mexico. An authentic taco is a Mexican taco, therefore, and one that combines some sort of filling inside of a tortilla. While there are infinite combinations that can work within those simple constraints, a standard authentic taco is as much about what it contains (meat, onion, cilantro, corn tortilla) as what it doesn’t (cheddar cheese, tomato chunks, lettuce).
Other outlets have, for some reason, taken this quest seriously as an actual social justice maneuver and not a mildly sarcastic article from LA food writers, decrying the quest for an authentic taco emoji as the erosion of the American way. After all, if there’s anything that screams America, other than baseball, apple pie and ownership of semi-automatic weapons, it’s our dramatic insistence that our tacos be filled with a questionable meat-related product, oodles of cheddar cheese produced in the cultural wasteland of Wisconsin and lettuce with the nutritional value of notebook paper.
But the truth is, American tacos are disgusting. If I want a taco, I’m lining up for an al pastor creation, full of sweet pork and pineapple. Or, perhaps, a Taco Arabe from local hotspot Cemitas Puebla, doused in a chipotle barbecue sauce that’s been sitting in a vat, marinating in itself since the Spanish-American war.
But here’s the thing that even the snarky social justice warriors get wrong: emoji are used as communications devices, not realistic depictions (seriously, have you ever seen a smiling pile of excrement in real life?). If I’m going to text a friend using the taco emoji, I’m not telling them to meet me in a gentrifying neighborhood on Chicago’s west side so that we can partake of the local cuisine and take pictures of it for Instagram before we ride off on our Penny Farthings to a Mumford and Sons concert. I’m texting my friend with a taco emoji because I’ve had six poorly-considered shots of Fireball and I can’t manage to thumb-type a sentence telling my designated driver that I need to put something full of nacho cheese into my face hole. And regardless of any foodie inclinations I might have, that means I’m telling them to take me to Taco Bell. Which means the emoji is right on point. And as First We Feast points out, that’s really all that matters.
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