While doing my research for Taco USA, I came across a fascinating sub-chapter: presidential encounters with Mexican food. Some of our commanders-in-chief lived for the stuff–Richard Nixon, LBJ, and Bill Clinton, especially. Others helped elevate it in status–Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama come to mind.
And then there was John F. Kennedy. I couldn't find a single reference to JFK and Mexican food, even though I knew he had a huge Latino volunteer base. But now comes not only proof that Kennedy encountered Mexican food, but in an even better way that places him in the embarrassing category of presidential Mexican food encounters ala Gerald Ford (who ate a tamale with a husk) and Jimmy Carter (who made a joke about Montezuma's revenge during a luncheon with the Mexican president): a letter by his mom, Rose Kennedy, trashing Mexican food.
The letter is just one of thousands of items up for auction in a couple of weeks, from the collection of a Kennedy confidante. The letter, date June 1962 and written by Rose to her son. “I am sure you know that the food in Mexico is very difficult for people like you and me to eat,” the letter reads.
“You and me?” This, of course, makes no sense. As I noted in my book, Mexican food was firmly entrenched in the East Coast by the 1960s in the form of chili con carne and tamales (which had existed in those regions for decades), and even hard-shell tacos were in vogue for American housewives. One wonders what was the food that messed up Rose's innards so–a beef tamale? Some mezcal from her bootlegging philanderer of a husband? Wow, as if people needed another reason to prefer Nixon…
The letter's opening bid is $700, which places it far beyond the reach of this humble Mexican. Hey, how about we all gather our pesos together and buy it?