Marketing Identity: Places of Business and the Business of Place in Mexican Immigrant Food
This research was presented at the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference in San Francisco in October of 2012 as part of a panel of undergraduate researchers studying immigrant groups and food. That groups research was sponsored by the University of Georgia’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities.
Abstract: Even in the midst of restrictive immigration policy and an ongoing debate of a physical or metaphorical “great wall of Mexico,” Mexican immigrants continue to flow into the United States. But the process of border crossing is hardly complete upon reaching U.S. soil. In this globalized 21st century, there are any number of ways in which immigrants maintain contact with their homeland and its culture, be it via internet, specialized television and radio stations, or as a part of immigrant communities. In a sense, Mexican immigrants are constantly straddling the border between two homes, crossing it many times a day. Understanding this complex intersection of identities in a comprehensive way, rather than in broad, statistical strokes, will be crucial in forming effective immigration policy and general attitudes toward Mexican immigrants in the coming years, and this effort will require innovative means of examining the issue. This study, conducted over four months in early 2012 in Athens, GA, concentrated on these immigrant identities through a means well regarded in anthropological literature, if considerably less so in policy debates. Claude Levi-Strauss famously compared culinary habits to a language, equally as critical to a culture and perhaps even more illuminating of the nature of a people. If cooking is comparable to a language, grocery stores must be considered the dictionary from which we draw our various nouns and verbs. In these terms, this study asks how immigrants make decisions in regard to the culinary language they choose to speak and how those decisions influence their identities as immigrants. Utilizing traditional anthropological methods such as participant observation in combination with cross-discipline methods of survey and market research, this research finds that in the constructed spaces of grocery stores, be they small ethnic stores or international chains, Mexican immigrants make choices that both reflect and form their transnational identities.