What's so cosmic about a burrito? Everything. It says something about us that Taco Bell makes billions of dollars in sales each year, that Koreans in this country are making millions of dollars by stuffing barbecue in tortillas and selling them from fancy food trucks — and it's a good thing. Anyone who dismisses this reality as not indicative of something seismic in the American story is more deluded that someone who thinks refried beans are actually fried twice. It has been conquest by a thousand tacos, a million tamales and a hell of a lot of salsa, which surpassed ketchup as America's top-selling condiment back in the 1990s and only continues to grow. Through interviews and archival material, via chronological and thematic chapters, and never ever losing focus that we are, after all, talking about food, behold the story of the best cuisine on Earth, one now set on taking over the world. The U.S. is on the losing side of this Mexican-American War — and boy, are we grateful.

One final point: My book is not about the history of Mexican food in Mexico. Mexican cookery is as multifaceted, if not more so, than its American cousin, with each state offering unique culinary practices slowly trickling into our country, as I mentioned earlier. But those who dismiss Taco Bell, the taco pizza, even a church enchilada booth as somehow not Mexican because Mexicans aren't the main consumers or creators miss a huge point. We must consider the infinite varieties of Mexican food in the United States as part of the Mexican family — not a fraud, not a lesser sibling, but an equal.

As I've driven and flown around the country and come across a mild salsa, a mutated muchaco (a ground-beef taco served in a pita bread by the Midwestern Taco Bueno chain) and other items I immediately wanted to decry, I remembered the concept of what the legendary Chicano scholar Américo Paredes deemed Greater Mexico: that the influence of Mexico doesn't cease at the Rio Grande. Wherever there is something even minutely Mexican, whether it's people, food, language or rituals, even centuries removed from the original mestizo source, it remains Mexican.

Mariano Martinez, creator of the frozen margarita machine.
Mariano Martinez, creator of the frozen margarita machine.

Even in outer space.

Gustavo Arellano is editor-in-chief of OC Weekly, Riverfront Times' sister paper in Orange County, California. The preceding excerpt is adapted from his forthcoming book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (Scribner; hardcover; 320 pages; $24.95). Available April 10 at your finer bookstores, online retailers and swap meets selling pirated goods everywhere.

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