Saturday, May 19, 2018

Comments to city council: "Let’s talk about Develop New Albany’s second edition of the Taco Walk."

Let's all eat at Israel's Delicias de Mexico Gourmet on Saturday, May 19.

Today is the second iteration of the Taco Walk, now a "signature" Develop New Albany event, and accordingly, non-agenda public speaking time at Thursday's city council meeting was devoted to reading the following summary, which also has been sent to the city clerk for inclusion in the official minutes of the meeting. 

This way, in the absence of public dialogue (and with the newspaper predictably AWOL), at least there's a permanent record of sorts. We're hoping nothing happens today to compel revisiting this topic -- at least until next year. 

Of course, DNA might begin to show responsiveness to reality by removing the sombrero from the "official" event poster, but even this lies beyond the organization's ability. 

It's sad. Very, very sad.



Let’s talk about Develop New Albany’s second edition of the Taco Walk, coming this Saturday (May 19).

There are two fundamental problems, neither of which the organization has been willing to address openly – although let me tell you, I’ve tried, but in New Albany, the anchor seal of approval apparently means never having to answer e-mails, admit errors, say you’re sorry or turn mistakes into useful teaching tools – which is what should be happening here if we can just un-circle the wagons.

First, cultural appropriation, which is defined as “a concept dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power.”

As for imbalances, the most recent numbers show that the population of New Albany is 85% White, 8% African-American and 3% Hispanic/Latino.

So, Taco Walk was brought to DNA in 2017 by a citizen volunteer named Kelly Winslow, as a way of showcasing any and all downtown restaurants willing to fashion a taco, without reference to ethnicity, including Japanese tacos, vegan tacos, fudge tacos or any other creative flourish.

As it turns out, local memories are short. In 2015, then-president James Ramsey of the University of Louisville was photographed with university administrative workers dressed to party in sombreros, serapes and fake mustaches. There was a tremendous scandal, and the university was compelled to apologize.

Less than two years later, DNA’s brain trust repeated Ramsey’s mistake, with the governing committee itself, minus Winslow (the volunteer, who was horrified) bringing sombreros and maracas to Taco Walk, then adding the creative twist of parading through the streets while singing the Frito Bandito corn chip theme song, and posing for photos in the News and Tribune – which also failed to notice what was happening.

Really? Do any of them pay attention to internet essays each year during Cinco de Mayo warning against bad behavior?

By the way, the Frito Bandito song was written by a New York City ad agency in the late 1960s. There’s nothing Mexican about it. There are good reasons to wear a sombrero, but cultural appropriation is when you borrow the symbols and use them to reinforce a stereotype, which in this instance is the view that while Mexicans are happy napping while using a sombrero as shade, and rising from their naps to sing and dance, it’s unlikely they’ll do any useful work – and this, as most of us should know by now, is really, really dumb.

I’m hoping that DNA’s brain trust knows better than to stage a minstrel show in blackface, or have a wet t-shirt contest, or indulge in preening lisping stereotyping of gay Americans of the sort that used to be Hollywood caricatures, and if they know better in these cases, then the sombrero-wearing, maraca-shaking misbehavior should be left to the ticket-buying public; if Joe Six Pack wants to make a complete fool out of himself, fine, but DNA itself shouldn’t encourage it.

The second issue has to do with Winslow, who brought the idea to DNA in the first place, thinking she’d found an organization to partner with, but was very disappointed in the way Taco Walk went down. She decided to take her idea and decline further participation, to which DNA said nope, it’s ours now.

It may not have been intellectual property rights enforced by written contract, but if you ask me, that’s still thievery. From where I’m sitting DNA has been bullying and trolling Winslow ever since, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.

I’d like to ask at what point this organization, which I believe still receives a funding tithe each year from the city, is held accountable for matters like these – like cultural appropriation and infringement of intellectual property rights, or is it fine so long as that mayoral anchor seal of approval is hanging around their necks?

Last year, seeing a Taco Walk board member wearing a sombrero, shaking maracas and singing the Frito Bandito song made one employee of a downtown eatery cry.

When does DNA apologize, not just to her, but to us all?

Thank you.

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