A couple of months ago I was excited to read this article about how Chipotle was going to incorporate short stories and essays from prominent writers on their cups. I thought this was the coolest idea ever. Although I rarely eat at Chipotle, putting literature on cups seems like a great experience and provides the average Joe with an opportunity to read something interesting and new. The cups feature contributions from Jonathan Safran Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and others. Some writers would contribute short stories and some would contribute essays for Chipotle’s cups and bags. This all stemmed from a bored Foer eating a burrito without a thing to read in proximity. He reached out to Chipotle’s CEO and the movement to put words on cups began.
The literary burrito eating experience sounded to me like a great idea. Then I read this article and I completely changed my mind. Although this is a great idea, it seems that Chipotle missed a valuable opportunity here to reach out to its Latino customers. Chipotle labels itself as “Authentic Mexican Grill” but failed to have a Mexican, Chicano, or Latino represented on their cups. It should also be mentioned that Chipotle is owned and operated by McDonalds, so their Latin influence is as authentic as McDonalds is to Scotland.
I am not a big fan of playing the “race card” in things like this, but it does seem a bit insensitive to me. As a Mexican-American, I think it would be nice to see a Latin name on one of these cups. After all, it is Mexican food. This reminds me of a movement I saw in college where people were trying to get rid of certain ethnic labels in bookstores like “African American Literature” or “Latin American Literature” and hoping to group everything for what it is: just literature. But there is some meaning behind these labels. Labels can give a sense of pride, it can be specifically relevant to a culture or group, it can be a way to categorize literature that specific groups find interesting. I don’t really see the malice in that argument. This cup thing, on the other hand, is different. Although there is no malice behind it, it definitely says something about how “invisible” we (Latinos) are made to feel in this country. Which is strange because in many cases, we are the majority. Maybe it’s like this video posted by The Huffington Post about “Columbusing.”
Maybe Foer is unaware of the abundance of Latino talent within the literary community. Lisa Alvarez and Alex Espinoza took it upon themselves to launch a campaign acknowledging Chipotle’s misstep. They started by creating this Facebook page entitled “Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle’s Missing Mexicans” which is a play off the “Cultivating Thought” campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Chipotle. Well, their burritos are overpriced and although they are more authentic than Taco Bell, they are still miles away from authentic Mexican food. But I do think they make good food, and they do have a cool unique style. This was a great idea that needed a little more thought put into it, and a little more feedback. As far as I can gather, this was Foer’s baby. He took full control of this project from getting the writers to editing their work. Maybe an extra set of eyes or an extra brain would have contributed a little more culturally responsive attitude towards what seems to be a wonderful way to spread literature.