Theology of a taco truck

The author's taco truck (Provided photo)
This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

One day in 1958 on a street corner in Louisville, Ky., Thomas Merton had a mystical experience that he recounts in his book Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Fast-forward to Sept. 2, 2016, when I, Sr. Rose, had a mystical experience on Facebook. I realized that I, too, loved all people, but taco truck owners and all the people they represent, in a special way.

The day before, Marco Gutierrez, the founder of Latinos for Trump, told MSNBC that his Latino culture was a dominant culture and "If you don't do something about it, you're gonna have taco trucks [on] every corner." And there it was on Facebook, a proclamation for the ages, for all the world to see.

At the moment I read this, a feeling of sheer delight transcended my being. I felt joy and love for every man and woman in America who already owned a taco truck and wondered where the nearest one might be (though I live across from two of Los Angeles' most famous taco stands, Cinco de Mayo and Tito's Tacos.)

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How delicious would it be on so many levels to have a taco truck on every corner! Good, tasty food for everyone, a decent living for the owners and their families, people living and working and contributing to society. Taco truck owners building businesses to support and sustain their families and strengthen the fabric of the good old U.S. of A., taco truck people who are loved unconditionally by God who makes no distinctions.

A taco truck on every corner? Why not? This is where we can look deeper. For Gutierrez to use "a taco truck on every corner" as a threat to America's well-being means he doesn't respect his own people, culture and culinary art very much. As for fronting for a certain presidential candidate, well, Gutierrez sure didn't do him any favors. A taco truck on every corner? That would be great!

To disparage taco trucks is to disparage those who own them and work in them. They are most probably immigrants to the United States and like those who came before them, it is their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who now serve in the U.S. Senate and Congress, who have fought and died and are fighting in America's wars, however illegitimate those conflicts were and perhaps are. The children of immigrants make our movies and television shows, run our IT systems, cure diseases, nurse and doctor us, care for our elderly and babies, share faith with us and teach new generations of Americans to be citizens who respect, even love, their neighbor.

Newcomers and perhaps the undocumented pick our food in subhuman conditions and clean up after us and tend our gardens. Watch Sergio Arau's 2004 satirical and so truthful film "A Day Without a Mexican" and you will see what Gutierrez and all those who are against immigrants and immigration refuse to acknowledge: immigrants are essential to what the American way of life has become.

For days after I would look at my own taco truck sitting here in my office and just … laugh with delight.

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Sr. Rose Pacatte took her taco truck with her to the pharmacy and then back home. (Provided photo)

Then came the final debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 19. There it was on Facebook: the news of a glorious wall of taco trucks setting up outside the debate venue (and some marking up the prices). Ah, such delicious glee! I carried my taco truck all over the house with me that day, and even to the store. I documented this on Facebook – and on Twitter – because I wanted to be in solidarity with all those taco truck owners who make and bring us such delicious food. Taco trucks, the very idea of taco trucks, are good for America.

The threat would be if taco trucks and other such enterprises were forbidden and America deprived of the gift of tacos and the people who bring them to us. See, tacos and people go together and I think this pleases God who made us all. It tickles me.

I hope Merton doesn't mind, but I have adapted his mystical moment of love for humanity, for the year of the taco truck:

On Sept. 2, in Los Angeles, on Facebook, right there on my computer, in the center of the news feed, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all taco truck owners and workers, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I literally laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being a human person, a member of the human family in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me in this nightmare campaign season, now I realize that because of what a political surrogate said, what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! And I can explain! I can use the Internet and social media to tell all taco truck owners, workers and their families that they are all driving around, parked on every corner, shining like the sun.

[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]


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