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The third annual event is being accused of cultural appropriation.

On any given weekend in a Milwaukee summer, the city plays host to a cultural celebration of some sort. Now, a newer celebration is being criticized for “cultural appropriation.”

Milwaukee Taco Fest made news last week when it was announced that the third annual event would be held for the first time at the Harley-Davidson Museum on June 5. The ticketed event, organized by Swarmm Events, features several local restaurants, a margarita bar, live music, lucha libre wrestling, a taco-eating contest and a “Chihuahua Beauty Contest.”

Local sous chef Gil Amador-Licea has taken issue with event. He wrote a long piece titled “Milwaukee Taco Fest; I’m not your sidekick,” that accuses the event of “cultural appropriation of Mexican cuisine, traditions and adjudication of faux paraphernalia such as culturally inaccurate sombreros and adorable chihuahuas with tiny colorful Spanish Flamenco dancer dresses.”

Amador-Licea says his goal in writing the piece — which also involved a first-person story about his own Mexican heritage and moving from Mazatlan, Mexico, to Milwaukee in 2006 — was to “have a voice, and perhaps convince people that Mexicans can be more than a sidekick.”

The message has resonated, with several people sharing and discussing the piece online.

Amador-Licea responded to several questions via email.

Q: What has the response to this piece been since you posted it?

A: Very supportive. I’m surprised, but I also have some people attacking me, which I’m OK with. It’s part of the conversation.

Q: What do you find particularly offensive about this event?

Mocking Mexicans, the exaggeration of the culture and appropriation.

Q: Do you think this kind of “cultural appropriation” is common in Milwaukee? Are there other examples that stand out to you?

A: No, I actually love that Milwaukee is a festival city. The difference is that the cultures that make Milwaukee organize their own events, and I think that’s remarkable. I do remember Nomad Favelas, and had the same backlash from the community.

Q: You mentioned you’re “all for having a Taco Fest.” This current event aside, in a best case scenario, what would a “Milwaukee Taco Fest” look like? 

I mean, the south side already has some events like independence day (Sept. 16) and even Mexican Fiesta.

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.:

Michael Sampson, owner of Swarmm Events, which also organizes the Shamrock Shuffle, responded to our request for comment via email.

“The event was created to help promote local restaurants serving tacos. We contact every single restaurant in the Milwaukee area that does so and ask if they would like to be a part of the event. This includes south side venues, as well. We encourage those restaurants to promote their tacos and even give coupons to the taco lovers that attend to help drive traffic back to their business. The restaurants get $1 from every taco they dish out with some making over $900 last year. We will personally be inviting Gil, who appears to be a chef Downtown, in hopes he makes some amazing tacos and represent his place of business like the rest of the restaurants involved.”

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