How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The chimichanga as symbol of a new Arizona?

Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Oh Arizona, you give and give. The latest news with a Phoenix dateline involves not a recall election, a strict new bill or immigration sweeps, however, but the chimichanga. The New York Times reports that a Phoenix-based Mexican food chain is circulating a petition to make the deep-fried burrito the official state food.

It would be in interesting company among official state items. Among the other things Arizona has made state icons are the bolo tie as the official state neckwear, the saguaro blosson as the official state flower, and the Colt revolver as the official state gun.

Now for the good part:

Some state lawmakers see naming the chimi as the official food as a good way of helping Arizona refurbish its tattered image, while others argue that the state has more pressing priorities. Gov. Jan Brewer, who would be the one to sign a chimichanga bill if it cleared the Legislature, has told reporters that she enjoys chimis but has not declared whether she would be willing to immortalize them.

Chimichangas as an antidote to the legacy of SB 1070? Many have called last week's recall election defeat of the trendsetting anti-illegal immigration bill's sponsor, Sen. Russell Pearce, a milestone that has shifted the political tide in Arizona, with his successor calling for more lenient, less enforcement-heavy immigration reforms. Perhaps the timing is right for the chimi after all.

Of course, the chimi is no culinary immigrant. Its invention is claimed by two Arizona restaurants, Macayo's Mexican Kitchen in Phoenix, which started the petition drive, and the El Charro Cafe in Tucson, said to be the oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in the country. While it has Mexican relatives, the chimi is likely as American as apple pie and Tex-Mex.

Wherever it was invented, the native-born greasebomb is clearly well-loved. The Times story even cites the recent case of a convicted murderer who, upon ordering his last meal on Arizona's death row, requested a double cheeseburger and fries - and a chimichanga.

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