Someone Please Tell Jill Biden Latino Culture Isn’t Just About Tacos and Bodegas

Jill Biden - Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP
Jill Biden - Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP

First Lady Jill Biden drew flak Monday after giving a speech in which she distilled the diversity of American Latino and Hispanic communities down to breakfast tacos and bodegas.

The comments while Biden was giving a speech at the annual conference for UnidosUS, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. Biden introduced the poorly planned metaphor in an misguided attempt to highlight the many nuances of Latino culture, saying that “the diversity of this community — as distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the blossoms of Miami, and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio — is your strength.” While Biden’s comments drew some applause, audible groans could also be heard from the audience. (We’ll give the New Yorkers a moment to cringe extra hard at Biden’s overly accented and completely incorrect pronunciation of “bodega.”)

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Intentional or not, the First Lady’s reduction of Latinos — an extremely racially and culturally diverse group that comprises nearly 20% of the total U.S. population, according to 2020 census data — and Latin American culture to “things white people recognize” gives off major “Donald Trump talking about taco salad on Cinco de Mayo” vibes. (As a Cuban-American, this journalist is befuddled, but somewhat thankful, Biden decided to shoehorn Miami’s Latino community into a comment about flowers instead of a tired, predictable reference to Cuban sandwiches.) Recognizing the multitude of Hispanic and Latino communities that exist in the U.S. is one thing, but to fall back on reducing the Latino identity to food — especially a dish that was birthed primarily by Mexican American diaspora and holds no other connection to any other Latino group — is yet another way in which Latino culture is routinely stereotyped and misunderstood by Americans.

Biden’s comments were immediately seized upon by right-wingers and Latinos alike. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a professional organization for Hispanics and Latinos working in news media, immediately seized upon Biden’s tone-deaf remarks, issuing a statement on Twitter. “Using breakfast tacos to try to demonstrate the uniqueness of Latinos in San Antonio demonstrates a lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity to the diversity of Latinos in the region,” the organization wrote. “We are not tacos. Our heritage as Latinos is shaped by a variety of diasporas, cultures and food traditions, and should not be reduced to a stereotype.”

Navigating how to approach Hispanic and Latino voters is a challenge for both Democrats and Republicans — especially as American-born Latinos tend to support more liberal causes than those of their parents, a 2013 study by Pew Research found. As reported by The Hill, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 26 percent of Hispanic voters surveyed approved of President Biden’s job performance — the lowest mark of any demographic group.

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