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Shawn Vestal: Taco can be the way to answer region’s racists

Matt Anderson stopped for lunch at El Chiludo taco truck in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday. An Aryan Nations group picketed the stand recently. (Kathy Plonka)

Matt Anderson grew up not far from the old Aryan Nations compound.

He’s seen all the haters have to offer, but he didn’t necessarily expect them to come out against lunch. So when he saw the Wonder Bread – those hateful bags of spotless white – waving signs outside one of his favorite taco trucks last Friday, he declined the opportunity to “Honk If You Want Idaho White!!!”

And this week, he struck a little blow against racism. A minor blow. A tiny, tasty blow.

Matt Anderson ate a burrito.

“I love the food,” said Anderson, a 23-year-old tow truck driver, while waiting for his order at El Chiludo in Coeur d’Alene. “I love Mexican food generally.”

If we’re casting about for a fresh rallying cry in support of equality, we could probably do worse than that. We Love Mexican Food Generally.

I don’t want to suggest that we’re complacent about human rights in these parts. Or that we need a tasty morsel to lead us into battle against hatred. But maybe we’re a bit complacent about human rights in these parts – a little too eager to recall that one time we read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and felt the right way about it. Maybe we’re a little too persuaded by the self-congratulatory narrative that a few strongly worded speeches, some invigorating marches, one killer lawsuit, and voilà – we’re all good here in the former white homeland.

Next thing you know, the Wonder Bread is back. And they’re after lunch.

Or, say, a bomb gets left at a human rights parade.

Maybe what we need – and by we, I mean most of us white people, not the tireless leaders or march organizers or people of color who live here in the white sea, but the rest of us, whose “commitment” to human rights is more like an opinion, much like our opinion about the health care bill or gay marriage, as opposed to a principle that influences our lives in a tangible way – maybe what we need is a super tasty, super easy way to take a stand.

Well, then. Here it is.

Eat a taco.

I’m late to this bandwagon, which has been rolling on Huckleberries, an S-R blog run by Dave Oliveria. The two recent Aryan protests already prompted plenty of people to show their support, one taco at a time.

The man taking orders at El Chiludo on Government Way – the target of two recent protests – said business was booming during Friday’s picketing. He didn’t want to do an interview without his boss’s permission, and I couldn’t reach his boss, but he said that apart from that day, things have been unfortunately slow.

It sounds like business has been a bit brisker a few blocks away at Taco Works, where owner Oscar Magdalena said lots of people tell him they’re coming in “to prove we are on your side.”

It’s a super tasty side to be on. Not to be glib, but it’s hard to think of a more satisfying bit of cross-cultural enrichment than the taco. If you’re against tacos, you’re out on some extra-insane frontier of racism – I’d have thought even the bigotiest bigot would have room in his worldview for carnitas.

The fact that they don’t makes our duty that much easier. Eat a taco. Throw a little business to El Chiludo or Taco Works, or any of the other fine Mexican food establishments in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.

I joined the fray this week and gave it my all, and my all turned out to be five tacos. Plus a soda. Plus a to-go order. Just doing my part for the dream – for the vision of a future in which the Wonder Bread will be forced to see a taco truck in every town, on every corner, in every parking lot and abandoned block, on the very streets where their children live.

A taco truck everywhere they turn. Satisfies the stomach and the heart.

Jim Lindenfelser, a heating and air conditioning worker, took his parents to El Chiludo on Wednesday. A regular, he said he came by during the first picket several weeks ago – but found El Chiludo closed. I despair to think a crew of sub-literate hillbillies can block the community’s access to campechanos, which is a mind-bogglingly delicious combination of steak and chorizo.

I had never eaten campechanos before Wednesday, though I have done my damnedest to chow through street tacos from Mexico to Idaho. Campechanos enriched my life. I’m tempted to say they made me a better person, though they probably just made me a happier one, briefly.

I can take the high road on human rights as well as the next guy, and I don’t mean to be glib about serious stuff. But if you scour your heart and can’t find any other reason to fight the Wonder Bread, let me suggest: campechanos tacos. Buck and a half at El Chiludo, 3000 N. Government Way, Coeur d’Alene.

Go eat some.

At Taco Works this week, owner Magdalena said things have been steadily busy. Last Friday, police notified him to expect the Wonder Bread.

“We were waiting, waiting,” he said. “They never showed up.”

Magdalena waved his hand, as though flicking away a pest.

“We’re not worried about it,” he said, before turning to help a customer at the window.

A big truck idled nearby, waiting on a big order. Another customer arrived, and Magdalena greeted him warmly: “Hey, amigo, como estás.”

The amigo replied, “Como estás, buddy.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or

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