Many studies of ethnicity focus on the attempt to preserve individual group identity through various cultural media including food. In this paper we focus on the diffusion and assimilation of one ethnic group's signature foods into areas occupied by other groups. The goal is to identify the interval of time when an ethnic food makes the transition from "exotic ethnic other" to "common ethnic American." In this study we focus on Mexican food (or more accurately, Tex-Mex food) in Omaha, Nebraska. We use a combination of U.S. Census data, restaurant listings in Omaha telephone directories, a targeted questionnaire, and interviews with Mexican restaurant owners to examine the growth and spread of Mexican restaurants from historically ethnic Mexican population centers to the mostly non-Mexican portions of the city. We suggest that, after a period of experimentation and eventual acceptance by various European ethnic immigrant groups, the restaurant market in Omaha was prepared for the diffusion of Mexican restaurants (and Tex-Mex foods) sometime between 1965 and 1975. We demonstrate that the growth and spread of Mexican restaurants was not related to Mexican or Hispanic population growth in Omaha. Hence, our data suggest diffusion and assimilation of Mexican foods across various ethnic groups, rather than simple proportionate growth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Geography, Planning and Development