Taco Bell perfectly embodies the authenticity/conformity contradiction of America by walking a fine line between the two ideals. Authenticity, or at least the appearance of its existence, is important to Americans, especially in food. Taco Bell attempts to maintain authenticity through its use of the Mexican language and an ode to Mexican Missions. Inside the store, traditional Mexican words are used for most of the menu items as well as in half of its slogans. Outside the store, the architecture is reminiscent of Mexican Missions featuring “adobe-like tan brick exterior walls, a red clay-tile roof, and … a simple, Mission-style bell.” [source] Additionally, the brand’s company overview on Facebook reads, “Taco Bell is the nation’s leading Mexican-style quick service restaurant chain.”
As for conformity… the taco that most Americans come into contact with today is an American invention popularized by Glen Bell during the 1950s when competition was heating up for fast food burger joints. [source] Bell altered the traditional Mexican fare to suit American tastes (a different mixture of toppings) and to make it easier to eat on-the-go (trading a soft, corn tortilla for a crunchy, flour tortilla). [source] Doing so would launch his chain to McDonald’s level fast food stardom. Not only is the Taco Bell taco very unlike traditional tacos, so is everything else on the menu. The items have been Americanized for our palate. After the jump, Mexicans can be viewed trying various items from Taco Bell’s menu for the first time. Their reactions, and Taco Bell’s failure to open in Mexico, say it all.
But what about all this makes Taco Bell so American? Aside from its American invention, Taco Bell resonates with the American ideal of the melting pot. There are many cultures here; we accept everyone. Look! Mexican food is the 6th best quick service restaurant, following McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Wendy’s, and Burger King. In reality, it’s not Mexican food at all. It’s just altered traditional items, and items made up altogether. So, in reality, we accept cultures as long as they conform to the current mainstream cultural values and behaviors. As Americans, we love to feel like we’re the cosmopolitan example for the world, but it’s not easy to be an immigrant here. The country that’s built on immigration has a hard time letting go of where people came from. Both positively and negatively.