See update on the bottom of the second page…
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 16, 8:03 A.M.: An ex of mine used to love the works of Jonathan Safran Foer. She pushed me to read Everything is Illuminated, which I found too precious and twee and obviously the product of someone whose biggest problems are self-imagined. So it made sense that Foer, of all the people on Earth, would go to Chipotle one day and ask them to start printing short stories on its cups by famous authors because he needed something to read while gorging on a burrito and wanted the masses to have the same opportunity. "I really just wanted to die with frustration," Foer told Vanity Fair regarding his inspiration, and isn't it a blessed life when what makes you want to leave this vale of tears is the lack of literature at a feedbag factory?
So Chipotle granted Foer his wish, even allowing him to choose 10 authors to feature on cups and bags. It's a fine-enough list–Toni Morrison and Michael Lewis are great, Malcolm Gladwell is a hack, and I can't offer an opinion on George Saunders because I always mistake
her him for George Eliot. The Internet, understandably, trampled over itself to praise Foer and Chipotle…and almost everyone gave the two a pass for the sin of not including a single Latino author. Not one. Bill Hader made the cut, but not a Latino–think about that.
Not Pulitzer Prize-winning Junot Diaz, who also won a James Beard award for one of the finest pieces of food writing I've ever read. Not the doña of Chicano literature, Sandra Cisneros. Not best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea. Not Tex-Mex loco Dagoberto Gilb. Not any other number of Latino authors who could easily contribute a story or two that would be appicable a Mexican-food chain. Judd Apatow made the list–but not one Latino.
In Foer's world, Latino authors simply don't exist and simply don't appeal to his Chipotle worldview of what the chain is advertising as "Cultivating Thought"–the only Mexican cultivation the two approve for their beloved burritos is the tomatoes harvested by Florida pickers. For crying out loud, one of Foer's chosen few is Sarah Silverman–and while I'm a fan of hers, her only contribution to burrito culture is once joking about aborting a burrito.
"I think it's just the latest variation on a theme: take our food, ignore our stories," says Alex Espinoza, the acclaimed novelist of Still Water Saints and English professor at Fresno State. Along with longtime Weekly pal, Irvine Valley College English professor Lisa Alvarez, Espinoza helped to start a Facebook page called Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle's Missing Mexicans to call out the company and Foer on their shit.
Asked for comment, Alvarez dropped one of her ever-delightful neutron literary bombs:
I see this as an unfortunate pattern, an inability to recognize the contributions of Mexican Americans as public intellectuals equal to the ones chosen for this series. We can inspire the food, create the food, plant the food, pick the food, serve the food, clear the food, clean up after it's all over…but that's about it. When I saw the story today, I went to read it with hope, with an expectation built on what Chipotle advertises itself as–thoughtful, mildly progressive–and also, I should say with the clear knowledge of what this kind of program is and is not (there are much greater injustices and omissions in the world today)–but I did imagine I'd find at least one Mexican American. Just one.
It reminds me of the phenomenon Ralph Ellison wrote about so well in Invisible Man:"I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me." In the book the narrator talks about how, "He was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I've tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied." (Gustavo note: You KNOW folks are going to dismiss the efforts of Alvarez and Espinoza as whining Mexicans for their efforts…)
Mexican Americans are today's version of Ellison's "Invisible Man" and we've been that way for a long time for many reasons… This is just a tiny example. Dagoberto Gilb is very eloquent on this subject and I have gone on too long…
Or, if you want something more succinct from Alvarez, try this: "I just wonder if this subject ever came up in the room, you know what I mean?"
UPDATE, MAY 23, 7:03 A.M.: This controversy is slooooowly getting national traction, with the usual "we don't see color" or "fucking whiny Mexicans" dismissals by critics, as you can read in the comments below. But, hey haters: Chipotle is changing its story faster than one of its burritos collapsing through its gummy flour tortilla.
Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle's Missing Mexicans has an email from a Chipotle rep telling a critic, "It would be pretty awesome to have some Mexican-American or Latino authors included. We'll keep that in mind in the future, should we continue this campaign!" The implication is that Chipotle never bothered to think of the possibility that maybe there were Latino authors out there.
But earlier this week, a Chipotle rep told the press that the company had indeed invited Latino authors–and they said no.
"To get the slate of 10 authors we currently have, we reached out to a diverse pool of more than 40 writers that included Latino authors," Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold said. "Many more authors declined our request to submit a piece than accepted, including well known Latino writers."
Likely story, right? Maybe some Xicano authors out there would reject the chance to be on cups out of principle–but they wouldn't be on the radars of most readers, let alone Chipotle. I'm more inclined to side with essayist Michele Serros, who told Fox News Latino. "Chipotle's response that they 'reached out' to 'more than 40 writers that included Latino authors' is suspect. Our literary community has heard nothing of this so-called outreach to Latino authors."
So where are you, rejected authors? I'll buy you a burrito de al pastor from Taquería Tapatía if you step forward!
Oh, and a special shoutout to syndicated columnist Esther J. Cepeda, who fashions herself the female version of Ruben Navarette with her laughable, contrarian dribble. She recently wrote a column deriding Chipotle critics, whining about "upset Mexicans" and offering this gem to us: "Why not instead vow to become voracious readers, arbiters of contemporary literature, and drivers of book sales out of all proportion to the Hispanic percentage of the U.S. population?"
¡Tan pendeja! Cepeda, like most columnists, didn't do her research and thus didn't realize that the creators of Cultivating Invisibility, Irvine Valley College professor Lisa Alvarez and Fresno State's Alex Espinoza, have essentially spent their lives creating authors and readers out of non-traditional students, especially of the Latino variety. But the coup d'grace follows, when Cepeda challenges those critics to "actively cultivate…authors notable for the beauty of their words or the power of their journalism and not simply for their racial or ethnic backgrounds."
In other words, writers who aren't like Cepeda.