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Cuestiones con Cruz: What are the origins of some of your favorite Mexican foods?

Mexican food in the U.S. has been popular for decades. Especially among college students, tacos and margaritas are often coveted meals. However, what are the origins of these staples?

According to the National Museum of American History, Mexican-inspired food has influenced American cuisine for centuries, but it was only in the last few decades that these foods became part of mainstream American food.

Of course, Mexican food in the U.S. looks much different than Mexican food in Mexico. Mexican-American food, or Tex-Mex, is a combination of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo influences, according to the JSTOR Daily. Many of these foods are not exclusively "Mexican," but in the U.S., they are usually associated with the country of Mexico. These foods have many variations, but I will specifically talk about the "Mexican" versions. 


Perhaps the most famous Mexican food, the taco, has somewhat of an unknown history. There are many theories of how the tasty, portable food came to be, with the most common attributing the invention to Mexican silver miners in the 18th century. The gunpowder the miners used was wrapped in a paper that they called a "taquito." 

Since tacos were known as the food of the working class, the name caught on, specifically a type called "tacos de minero," or miner's tacos, that still exist today. The tacos back then, of course, were not loaded with lettuce and sour cream but were rather a simple corn tortilla with a spicy filling. The taco was introduced to the U.S. in 1905 by Mexican migrant workers working on the railroads. Taco stands in cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio were run by women, known as the "Chili Queens."


First, it should be acknowledged that "burrito" literally translates to "little donkey." Of course, then not called a burrito, there are accounts that Mesoamerican cultures have consumed this concoction for centuries. However, tacos and burritos are not that different, so it is hard to say which is which. More recently, a theory exists that a man named Juan Méndez was the inventor of the burrito, as he sold tacos in Chihuahua during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. Méndez supposedly rode around on a donkey and wrapped his tacos in larger flour tortillas to keep the tasty food warm. Hence, the burrito was born, also known as "the food of the donkey." 

However, there is another slightly altered version of the origin story of the burrito. Allegedly, another street vendor in Ciudad Juárez would sell the nameless burrito to schoolchildren on their way to school. The unnamed vendor would affectionately refer to the children as "burritos," slang for words such as "dimwitted."

The final theory is that burritos were invented in Sonora, a region in northwest Mexico. The food was created for travelers and named after their travel companions. According to Gustavo Arellano, the author of "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America," this theory is the most plausible since Sonora is known for growing wheat, the key ingredient for flour tortillas.


Enchiladas were invented by the Aztecs, as told in an account written by Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Díaz recorded his amazement at the richness of Aztec cuisine in his book, "Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España." In this book, he chronicled the earliest description of an enchilada. Although new to Díaz, they were not new to the region, with corn tortillas, or "tlaxcalli," having been made for thousands of years. 

A variation of the enchilada could have been found in another Meso-Amrerican Civilization: the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula. The Mayans would dip corn tortillas in pumpkin seeds, roll them around in diced hard-boiled eggs and cover them in a rich tomato sauce. 

However, it is said the Aztecs developed the first "true" enchilada, then called "chīllapīzzali," which can be translated to "chili-flute." In this dish, the chili peppers were ground up into a spicy paste then tortillas filled with fish, squash, game, eggs or beans were dipped into it. 

According to Díaz, the early enchiladas were enjoyed by everyone, including nobility and common people of the civilization. As time went on, the enchilada evolved, eventually including meat such as beef and chicken and being eaten with a tomato sauce rather than chili.


Although not a food, margaritas are a staple of every Mexican restaurant. The simple combination of tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau or Triple Sec is a tried and true staple. The drink has a controversial history, with many people claiming to have invented it. One of the most popular theories is that restaurant owner Carlos Herrera developed the drink in Tijuana around 1938. According to the legend, Herrera wanted to make a cocktail for one of his most loyal customers, an actress named Marjorie King, who was allergic to all hard alcohol except tequila. To make the liquor taste better, he combined all the elements of a tequila shot into a drink. 

Another theory is that a Dallas socialite named Margarita Sames was known for drinking margaritas at parties. Present at these events, Tommy Hilton, added the drink to the menu for his hotels. It should be noted that Margarita is a common Hispanic girl's name that translates to "daisy." 

With that notion enters our third and final theory of the margarita's invention, which is that the first importer of Jose Cuervo used the tagline "Margarita: it's more than a girl's name" in 1945. When all is said and done, regardless of its origins, it is safe to say the margarita has impacted American culture, with $2.9 billion being spent on the beverage every year, according to Forbes.

Although the foods have evolved, it is important to know their humble origins. So next time you purchase an overpriced burrito bowl at Chipotle or down your fair share of margaritas at El Tenampa, think of the fact you're sharing a "mouth memory" with a Mexican revolutionist or famous actress!

Alyssa Cruz is a sophomore studying journalism and Spanish at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Alyssa by tweeting her at @alyssadanccruz.

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