Next time you stop by a taco truck for a quick lunch, budget a few extra minutes into your break because you might be able to sign up to vote.
Starting this week, taco trucks all over Houston will hand out voter registration cards to customers in an effort to raise voter turnout in the upcoming election. The idea for the initiative, which is a partnership between the local design firm Rigsby Hull and Mi Familia Vota – an organization that aims to increase Latinos' civic engagement – came from an unlikely place: a hashtag, #tacotrucksoneverycorner.
A few weeks ago, Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump, appeared on MSNBC to warn about the apparent “problems” that his culture might bring to the United States. “My culture is a very dominant culture. And it's imposing and it's causing problems,” he said. “If you don't do something about it, you're going to have taco trucks [on] every corner.”
The phrase quickly went viral, as many on social media bashed Gutierrez using the hashtag #tacotrucksoneverycorner.
“We thought it was an unfortunate statement but rather funny, because in Houston we do have taco trucks everywhere, and food trucks of all kinds,” said Thomas Hull, of Rigsby Hull. The firm had been interested in getting involved with the election, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity – why not turn those taco trucks into voter registration booths?
So Rigsby Hull reached out to Mi Familia Vota and, within only a few weeks, the initiative launched. “It perfectly fits with what we do,” said Carlos Duarte, Mi Familia Vota's Texas state director, explaining that Mi Familia Vota staff often travel everywhere from parks to churches to try to register voters.
Many taco truck owners were enthusiastic about the idea, Hull said. “We're selecting trucks in areas that we knew would reach out to the Latin community, so they were parked in the areas where we figured that would have the impact on the community we're trying to reach the most,” Hull explained. “Others were kind of high-traffic areas.”
However, because Houston is so diverse, the initiative is intended to reach more than just Latino potential voters, Duarte said. “I had the opportunity to man one of the taco trucks and I had people of Asian descent, African Americans that had moved from California, a couple of white folks and, yes, a couple of Latinos.”
Unfortunately, people can't just fill out the voter registration form, hand it back to the taco truck employee and – ta da! – become registered voters. Instead, workers at the trucks hand out voter registration short forms that potential voters will have to fill out and turn in to a mailbox on their own. That makes it tough to track the initiative's impact, Hull and Duarte said, because it's hard to know how many people actually mail in those forms.
But the taco truck initiative isn't just about handing out forms anyway. It's also about starting a conversation about the voting process. “We knew that the voter registration card was half the battle,” Hull said. “Helping people understand how voting works after that…is the other half of the battle. Texas has the second-lowest voter turnout in the country. We're terrible.”
On Tuesday, which was National Voter Registration Day, Mi Familia Vota staff worked at the trucks during peak hours. They talked with customers about the importance of voting and answered questions about how to vote in Texas. Since Mi Familia Vota staff can't always man the trucks, Hull said that Rigsby Hull also designed flyers with information about early voting and Texas's voter ID law, among other things.
Duarte hopes that this taco truck initiative will change pervasive stereotypes about Latino communities' lack of political involvement. “Normally when people think Latinos, they think, 'Oh, they don't participate; they don't engage,'” Duarte said. “So what I hope is that just as naturally as you think, 'Okay, Latinos eat tacos,' [you think,] 'Yes Latinos participate, yes Latinos are registering to vote, yes Latinos are raising their voices through the ballot box.'”
“Nationwide, there are certain groups of people that…don't value the contributions that Latinos and immigrants make to the nation,” Duarte added. “So I'm hoping that just as people value our gastronomy, they will also value our civic engagement.”
Check out the list of taco trucks participating in the initiative today, below. (The exact number of trucks fluctuates, Hull said.) Many of the trucks will participate until October 11, the last day to register to vote in Texas.
Tacos Tierra Caliente
2003 W. Alabama Street
Houston, Texas 77098
El Ultimo Taco
1743 Jacquelyn Drive
Houston, Texas 77055
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Taqueria Las Glorias
7410 Long Point Road
Houston, Texas 77055
1111 S Shepherd Drive
Houston, Texas 77019
10510 Beechnut Street
Houston, Texas 77072
905 Edgebrook Drive
Houston, Texas 77034