A taco truck on every corner. Imagine that. Imagine that a taco truck on every corner is now a symbol for how big a threat Mexican immigrants pose for Americans. This is the rhetoric from the campaign of a major party candidate for president of the United States.
The "specter" of such a phenomenon rose its "ugly" head this week when a Mexican-born American who now supports Donald J. Trump went on a cable news show and, when asked what he was so opposed to when it came to other Mexicans immigrating to the U.S., he said Mexican culture is so dominant that it would lead to a taco truck on every corner. His name is Marco Gutierrez. It all but blew up Twitter courtesy of the hashtag #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner. Why? It seems it's because most Americans who like food and like their neighborhoods and country diversified because, after all, this is a nation of immigrants, found the statement to be another sign of an unhinged candidacy, though it's hard anymore to pin down just exactly where the bottom is for Trump and his supporters.
But speaking of a taco truck on every corner, this leads me to another story that took place this week in America. It took place, actually, in Houston, on a thriving neighborhood about a mile from downtown Houston called Montrose. This spring, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Houston while covering the U.S. women's national soccer team's victory tour. Between practices and the game, I did a fair share of exploring in this Texas city, which I had not visited since I was a kid. There are many museums, including the Menil collection, the Rothko chapel, a small gallery dedicated to one of my favorite artists, Cy Twombly. There was redevelopment of downtown, particularly around the three new sports stadiums for baseball, football and soccer, leading to new townhomes and condos being built, streets repaired. And, as with so many U.S. cities, the outer ring of neighborhoods have seen new residents buying homes, fixing things up and opening great new restaurants.
However, one of my favorite finds were the icehouses. These are old corner lots with a ramshackle structure dating back to before refrigeration, when ice was sold to keep food cold. After ice became less important a daily item in people's lives, the icehouse owners started to sell and serve beer as a way to generate income. One of the most lively icehouses I found was the W. Alabama Icehouse in the Montrose neighborhood, and after the U.S. women's soccer game and en route back to my beloved Marriott, I stopped in for a beer and to experience a night at the icehouse.
An entire culture and community was born in these informal watering holes and continues to thrive. All kinds of people come in to hang out, to have a beer or mineral water or soda. The W. Alabama Icehouse, like all of them, is pretty open air, with overhangs and canopies providing some shade or cover. Fans blow but do little to stave off the Houston humidity. There are picnic tables, dart boards, pool tables in the garden. Strings of lights decorate the place like Drunk Uncle's Christmas. Usually, there's a resident dog that takes its place on a table. No one cares.
That night at the W. Alabama Icehouse, I met a lot of people and had a great time talking and learning about Houston. The barkeep was lively. A local architect sitting next to me gave me the lowdown on hot neighborhoods and what locals were doing to remodel homes and upgrade neighborhoods. Then, around 10 p.m., with no food served at the icehouse, the mood shifted towards anticipation. This was around the time that a local restauranteur would stop in with the nightly load of tamales. Sure enough, he walked in with a container heaped with these fresh-made tamales, which were sold out in a matter of seconds. The picante sauce, the barkeep said, was to die for, and she was right. Nothing had ever been so perfect -- except, my architect friend pointed out, for the tacos that you could get in the morning and throughout the day from the truck parked right behind us.
We turned and he pointed it out: "Stop there on the way to the airport tomorrow. Two of those breakfast tacos and you will never want anything else for breakfast ever again.''
I did not stop at the taco truck the next morning on the way out of town. However, that night in Houston is one I will never forget. What a lucky person I have been to be able to travel and spend time in so many American cities. It is one of the blessings of my life and has filled me with so many memories and thoughts about how Americans live, what they think, how the differ and how they are so much the same.
This week, on Facebook, I noticed that my Houston friend had posted a Go Fund Me item. This philanthropic site allows people who need money to solicit from strangers for issues or events that have made them in need of cash. Well, it turned out that the owner of the taco truck on the corner of W. Alabama in Houston -- the taco truck parked next to the W. Alabama Icehouse -- had just lost her daughter. Maria Victoria's 22-year-old daughter, also named Maria, succumbed to a brain tumor. Now the family that owns Tacos Tierre Caliente needed money to bury her. Someone at the Icehouse started to Go Fund Me page. They sought $5,000 to help with the burial costs.
The moment I saw this, I whipped out my Marriott Rewards Visa card and tapped out my $20 contribution. I scrolled through the list of other names of people who had contributed and watched throughout the day as the $5,000 goal was reached, then exceeded. I got a few alerts from the Go Fund Me site saying updates were posted. The fund was now up to $16,000, on its way to almost $17,000. The Go Fund Me drive was going to be closed, since the goal had been met and exceeded.
Again, I read through the comments on the page. The contributors flooded in with messages of sorrow and love and condolences. One of them had been Maria's teacher. She was heartbroken. She said what a great student Maria had been.
An entire community reached out with thoughts and prayers and money for this family. They are one of the clan. They are part of the neighborhood. These people who put a taco truck on a corner in Houston were not going to be dealt this blow and go it alone. A taco truck. In America. It's Mexican owners. Beloved.
The final tally for the funeral and burial was $17,903. It was raised in a single day.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.