Understanding the human perspective allows for a deeper connection to the social, economic, and political conditions that affect the world. One must disregard the individual perspective and shift towards a view that surpasses legal boundaries and analyzes the global system. This allows migrants to live a life that surpasses boundaries and “bring two societies into a single fold.” (Weber, 39) Transnationalism affects a culture’s food, since food is a large part of a culture’s identity. A transmigrate is someone who simultaneously belongs to two or more different cultures. The connection migrants maintain to their homeland, while living in these “transnational” communities, though geographically separated, remain imagined as one. Many immigrants settle in areas that maintain a similar social and cultural structure to the one back home. The United States became a country full of eager and hopeful immigrants; what is now known as “the melting pot” is a result of persistent transnationalism. During the 20th century, many immigrants from different cultural backgrounds arrived in the US and maintained intense ties to their home communities.
Emphasizing on Mexican immigration, this paper will discuss the relationship Chipotle has to the Mexican culture and the role it plays in non-Mexican cultures. Chipotle is a chain of fast food restaurants that serve Mexican-style food. It was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and since then, the chain has expanded overseas. The restaurant is more prevalent in larger cities such as New York City. Areas closer to the Mexican-American border have a higher Mexican immigrant population and a richer Mexican culture. One thing that allows for transnational cultures to thrive is the advancement of technology. It is easier to maintain close ties to your homeland when you can easily facetime or call someone there. However, not all migrants are transnational migrants. Not all who come from a different culture or country continue to practice their original traditions and not all who do practice it, do so all the time. “At some stages in their lives, some people are more focused on their countries of origin while at others they are more involved in their countries of reception.” (Levitt) Then there are those that climb the social ladder while alternating between the two cultures.
There are many who believe that balancing the American and home-country traditions lead to a clash of civilizations. Hispanics, as Peggy Levitt points out, are less likely to assimilate and adopt pre-established Anglo-Protestant culture. This topic of assimilation is prevalent in the lives of Mexicans that aim for the American dream but also the dream of their homeland. Ethnic food has long been a staple of authentic American food. Aside from burgers and hot dogs, the country that holds countless different cultures holds as many types of culturally different foods. As the waves of immigrants came into the country, so did their food. However, as Roberto A. Ferdman said in his 2016 Washington post, “our palette has undergone something of a renaissance over the past century, evolving to incorporate the cuisines of the immigrants who have made the United States their home. But we have incorporated these foods on our terms — not on theirs. We want ‘ethnic food’ to be authentic, but we are almost never willing to pay for it.” (Fredman) Since people want their food fast and cheap, the authenticity of the “ethnic food” is given up. Chipotle serves as such. Chipotle does not serve authentic Mexican food, but authentic Mexican-American food. The ingredients used to make the “authentically” Mexican food are not only American but also imported from Australia. In 2014, Chipotle CEO stated the company was importing Australian grass-fed beef since “the U.S. supply [wasn’t] growing quickly enough to match [their] demand.” (Douglass) Does Chipotle lose its ability to call its food Mexican if the ingredients are not from that country and the food is made by machines and not Mexicans?
In a society composed of hundreds of different cultures, the defining line between appropriation and appreciation is not clear. The CEO and founder of Chipotle is not of Mexican descent but managed to create a successful chain of restaurants that serves food from that culture. However, many Americans that start these “ethnic” food restaurants don’t usually aim or end up selling to the population from whom they gained inspiration. When I asked a few of my Mexican-born relatives what they thought of Chipotle, the most common statement they said was “inauthentic” or “not real Mexican food.” Chipotle’s largest demographic is young adults between the ages of 18-33. The older generation is less likely to eat out; millennials are also more likely to eat at a restaurant that serves ethnic food or culturally different food from what they are used to. Eating ethnic food is a part of the American identity. The difference between appropriating a culture and appreciating it is being able to experience it rather than claiming it. Solely because someone has eaten, cooked and has specialized in Mexican cuisine for ten years, does not make them Mexican.
It is not enough to look at the local connections Chipotle has, but to examine its now global relations. Chipotle is now a global restaurant chain, having locations in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France- all these countries having a majority Caucasian population. Since Chipotle is very popular, its food seems authentic because that’s what it advertises itself as. The food served in Chipotle is not Mexican, but Mexican-American. However, people are slowly convincing themselves that this is what authenticity tastes like. The Mexican culture is in a sense erased and replaced by an Americanized version.
Weber, Devra. “Historical Perspectives on Mexican Transnationalism: With Notes from Angumacutiro.” Social Justice. Vol. 26, No3. JStor. Fall 1999.
Levitt, Peggy. “Transnational Migrants: When “Home” Means More Than One Country.”Migrationpolicy.org. Migration Policy Institute, 02 Mar. 2017. Web. 16 May 2017.
Ferdman, Roberto A. “How Americans Pretend to Love ‘ethnic Food’.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 May 2017.
Douglass, Adele. “9 Disappointing Facts About Chipotle.” Certified Humane. N.p., 02 July 2014. Web. 16 May 2017.
Lutz, Ashley. “5 Ways Millennials’ Dining Habits Are Different from Their Parents’.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 May 2017.