WASHINGTON – First Lady Jill Biden apologized for comparing the diversity of Hispanics to that of breakfast tacos, a comment that drew widespread ridicule, and not just from Republicans eager to embarrass the White House.
“The diversity of this community – distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the blossoms of Miami, and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio – is your strength,” she said Monday in San Antonio at a conference of UnidosUS, a major gathering of Latino advocates and leaders. “And yet, it’s when you speak with one voice—unidos—that you find your power.”
Unlike some of her husband’s most cringeworthy bloopers, the taco comment was scripted – included in the prepared text released by her office before she began speaking at the Grand Hyatt Riverwalk.
The Republican pile-on was relentless.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose father emigrated from Cuba, retweeted a video clip of Biden’s comment with a droll quip, followed by three taco emojis: “Personally, I’m a chorizo, egg & cheese.”
The party’s House campaign arm tweeted out an image of Dr. Biden in a hail of tacos with the label “Taco Tuesday.”
“The First Lady apologizes that her words conveyed anything but pure admiration and love for the Latino community,” her spokesman, Michael LaRosa, said Tuesday morning on Twitter.
The First Lady apologizes that her words conveyed anything but pure admiration and love for the Latino community.
— Michael LaRosa (@MichaelLaRosa46) July 12, 2022
Gov. Greg Abbott retweeted a video clip, adding, “Breakfast tacos? This is why Texas Hispanics are turning away from the Democratic [P]arty.”
An editor at Human Events, a conservative news site, shared a photo depicting Jill Biden as Marie Antoinette, but with a sombrero, and the tagline “Let them eat tacos.”
But it wasn’t just partisans who chastised the first lady.
“Using breakfast tacos to try to demonstrate the uniqueness of Latinos in San Antonio demonstrates a lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity,” the National Association of Hispanic Journalists said in a statement. “We are not tacos. Our heritage as Latinos is shaped by a variety of diasporas, cultures and food traditions, and should not be reduced to a stereotype.”
Some defended the comment as an inartful attempt to pay respect to the diversity of 62 million Latinos in the United States, and blasted Republicans for faux rage over a faux pas.
The UnidosUS annual conference was titled “Siempre Adelante: Our Quest for Equity.”
The taco comparison overshadowed her mangled gringa mispronunciation of the term for small neighborhood grocery stores (she said “BOW-guh-dahs,” mixing up the syllables and the emphasis, rather than “bow-DAY-guhs”).
Some Republicans complained that the news media wasn’t treating Dr. Biden’s offense seriously enough, asserting the uproar would be far greater if a Republican said such a thing.
Conservative comedian and author Tim Young called it a sign of “liberal privilege” that she has not been “canceled.”
Liberal privilege is Jill Biden telling a group of hispanic people that they’re “as diverse as breakfast tacos” and not being canceled for it. pic.twitter.com/VlaISXy8Pl
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) July 11, 2022
“Trump ate a taco bowl on Cinco De Mayo and they went crazy for YEARS,” tweeted Matt Whitlock, a Republican strategist, recalling Donald Trump’s tweet during the 2016 campaign, a photo of himself enjoying a taco bowl at his desk with the message: “The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”
“We welcome Jill Biden to come back to Texas so she can continue to remind us how out of touch the Biden administration is,” said Macarena Martinez, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
“I want to thank you for showing everyone what utter racists you, your husband and your party are. You’re absolutely disgusting,” tweeted Irene Armendariz-Jackson, the GOP challenger hoping to unseat Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso.
NAHJ encourages @FLOTUS & her communications team to take time to better understand the complexities of our people & communities.
We are not tacos.
Our heritage as Latinos is shaped by various diasporas, cultures & food traditions.
Do not reduce us to stereotypes. pic.twitter.com/KQIq5gwsht
— NAHJ (@NAHJ) July 12, 2022
Later Tuesday morning, Dr. Biden escorted the first lady of Mexico, Dr. Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller de López Obrador, on a visit to the Library of Congress as their husbands met in the Oval Office.
During eight years as second lady and 18 months as first lady, Dr. Biden has largely avoided the sort of verbal blunders that have been something of a signature for President Joe Biden during his five decades in Washington.
Largely, but not entirely.
In April 2021, she butchered the rallying cry Sí se puede! during a speech to farm workers in California honoring labor leader Cesar Chavez, as some of those taunting her for the taco comment reminded social media: “Cesar Chavez understood that no matter the obstacles, when people come together united in a cause, anything is possible. Yes we can. Sí se pwodway!” she said.
“Pwodway” is not a word in Spanish or English.
But she is hardly the first first lady to say or do something that prompts the White House to send a cleanup crew.
In 1998, Hillary Clinton ascribed reports of Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, to some “vast right-wing conspiracy,” an allegation that would forever haunt her own political career.
During the 2008 campaign, soon-to-be first lady Michelle Obama told a rally in Milwaukee that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country — and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”
When Melania Trump boarded a flight to McAllen, Texas, in June 2018, for a visit to a detention center for immigrant children, she wore a military style coat with large graffiti lettering on the back that read: “I really don’t care. Do u?”
President Trump insisted she was trolling the “fake news,” not projecting disinterest in migrant children. She backed him on that days later.
But Stephanie Grisham – a senior aide to the first lady at the time and later, White House press secretary – recounted in a tell-all book that the president called his wife to the Oval Office when she returned from South Texas and demanded, “What the hell were you thinking?”