Today you can find Mexican food all across New York City, ranging from food trucks and taco stands in the back of bodegas to up-scale dine-in restaurants. However, this plethora of Mexican restaurants is a recent development. A new website uses interactive maps to historicize the city’s Mexican restaurants and the Mexican New Yorkers who brought this cuisine.
Lori A. Flores, Ximena López-Carrillo, and Fernando Amador II, latinx historians at Stony Brook University, created the website which Flores describes as a “digital love letter to Mexican food.” The historians aimed to show four aspects of Mexican food history: the proliferation of Mexican restaurants in New York over time, the location of Mexican enclaves relative to the location of Mexican restaurants, the historical price levels of Mexican food, and the spread of Mexican food trucks. The site’s interactive maps allow users not only to see how these aspects of Mexican food culture changed over time but also geographical across the city.
As the website explains, Mexican food did not take off in New York until the 1980s. Towards the middle of the decade and into the 1990s, more people from the Southwest United States began to relocate to New York. International crises, such as the Central American civil wars, the devaluation of the Mexican peso, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), also spurred immigration to New York from Latin American countries during this period. Many of these new immigrants established food businesses, eventually leading to the Mexican restaurant scene of today.
The creators aim to keep refining the site and include more of the city’s Mexican restaurants. Part of the site allows visitors to submit the names of Mexican food businesses to be added to the site. The historians are also seeking chefs and owners to participate in oral histories.