Jersey Burgers

By Carlos E. Cortés –  Univision INsights

My wife spotted it before I did.  “Look, sweetheart, they’re serving menudo at Jersey Burgers.”

There it was.  A mailer from Jersey Burgers advertising burgers, fries, omelettes, waffles . . . and “Menudo Saturday & Sunday.”

And that’s Jersey Burgers, not Jalisco Burgers.  Yet here they were, selling menudo, the delicious Mexican tripe soup that my wife and I feast on nearly every Saturday after we work out at the gym.

What gives?  In one word, change.  In two words, cultural change.  In three words, inevitable cultural change, something that inexorably happens in a dynamic multicultural society.

It’s quite natural for cultures to want to retain their purity, resist being tainted, and maybe even try to influence other cultures.  However, particularly in a multicultural society like ours and in a globalizing world, cultural purity is virtually impossible to maintain.  Change is the coin of the realm, but what kind of change?

Cultural change tends to be mutual and multidirectional, although certainly not always equal.  Such change occurs in the world of cuisine, where products of cultural interaction sometimes receive the label “fusion.”  While Jersey Burgers serving menudo hardly qualifies as fusion cuisine – nor does the presence of American hamburgers on menus of U.S. Latino restaurants – these do serve as indicators of change.  Also indicative of change is the growing revenue of ethnic supermarkets, 25 percent over the past 10 years compared with 2 percent for the overall supermarket industry.

For Latinos, as for other ethnic groups, the challenge of such change is powerful, although sometimes worrisome.  Being part of the United States means adapting to mainstream American ways.  However, this does not have to mean turning your back on all traditional Latino national-origin ways or, for that matter, resisting the current U.S.-born movement toward a pan-Latino identity.  The challenge is how to deal with these inevitable cultural balancing acts.  In some respects this parallels our nation’s ongoing balancing act of maintaining a cohering societal Unum while simultaneously respecting an enriching cultural Pluribus.

Two articles ago I wrote about the growth of Latinos of mixed ancestry.  Last time I wrote about the rise of the sport of futsal and its taking over of athletic spaces once reserved for such sports as tennis.  This time it’s about Jersey Burgers serving menudo and Taco Bell introducing Waffle Tacos, thus placing themselves in direct competition with traditional Mexican restaurants.  The operative process in all of these examples is continuous change.  In a complex multicultural world, tradition should not be ignored, but its heavy hand cannot prevent change.

Because of such factors as hemispheric geographical proximity and increasingly internally-driven demographic expansion, Latinos — 55 million and growing – are destined to play a central role in the ongoing American story of continuity and change.  It’s a role we need to embrace, with all of its challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Dr. Carlos E. Cortés is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Riverside.  He can be reached at


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