It’s late on a Friday night at Kutsi in downtown Santa Ana, and I’m the only one at the bar. I order a shot of Ilegal Mezcal and ask the bartender to leave the bottle.
“A la chingada con Donald Trump,” I say as I knock back un caballito. The smoky, complex taste of Mexico’s most ancient spirit overwhelms my palate; I cough, and bartender Joaquin “Joe” Valdovinos laughs.
This isn’t just a knock on the United States’ most reviled presidential candidate; this is a ritual being carried out in bars across the country. It’s called “A Shot at Donald”: you order a shot of Ilegal, post it to social media with the hashtag #AShotAtDonald, and Ilegal Mezcal donates money to immigrants’ rights groups.
Ilegal’s brand ambassadors for Southern California, Valdovinos and Gilberto Marquez, are both Anaheim boys and well-known and well-loved bartenders in Southern California, as well as both steeped in social activism. Marquez was in a punk bank called Venganza, which specialized in politically charged music meant to tear at the roots of xenophobia in Orange County; Valdovinos was a MEChistA at Loara High in Anaheim, participating in the student walkouts against Proposition 187 back in 1994. They got into bartending by lying about their previous experience and good old-fashioned hard work, but they wanted to be able to express their political views.
It was a natural fit with Ilegal; social activism is at the core of the brand. Started by John Rexer, an American traveling in Central America after 9/11, he named the brand after the many trips he made across the Guatemala-Mexico border to smuggle it into Antigua, where he ran a bar. The inspiration to go against Trump happened after a poblano busboy in New York corrected Rexer’s anti-Trump sentence last year that he scribbled onto a cocktail napkin, “Donald es un pendejo” (“Donald is a pendejo“) to “Donald, eres un pendejo” (“Donald, you are a pendejo“). Inspired, Rexer took the napkin to an artist; a few days later, huge posters, stickers and T-shirts rolled off the presses and were splattered everywhere from New York to Los Angeles.
Though already happy to promote Ilegal, Marquez and Valdovinos have spread the word of the anti-Trump campaign with extra enthusiasm. Now, wherever they make cocktails, Valdovinos and Marquez hand out stickers featuring the slogan and a black-and-white cameo of a sputtering Trump, suggesting to drinkers they join the chingazos against him.
“Mezcal is an indigenous Mexican product, it’s growing in popularity here in Southern California, and its moment is just about to happen,” says Marquez. “No wall can keep it out,” adds Valdovinos. “We’ll still be here with our message and our mezcal.”
So head out to Kutsi or any other bar with Ilegal on the shelf, order a shot, take a selfie and take #AShotAtDonald.