Part One of this article profiled landowner Steven Lippman and his history of gentrification and displacement in the DTES. We now present Part Two, a look at the cultural and racial appropriation at work in Cuchillo’s marketing strategy. Together the two-part series reveals that restaurants like Cuchillo are up against a community of resistance, defined by its long history of political struggles against racism, colonialism and urban displacement.
Food without soul
“Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili, was a harbinger of things to come for Mexican food. It was a Mexican dish, made by Mexicans for Mexicans, but it was whites who made the dish a national sensation, who pushed it far beyond its ancestral lands, who adapted it to their tastes, who created companies for large-scale production, and who ultimately became its largest consumer to the point that the only thing Mexican about it was the mongrelized Spanish in its name.”
–Gustavo Arellano, Taco, USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America
Cuchillo hawks a modernized “Anglophone” amalgamation of assimilated “pan-Latin” cuisine, cocktails, art and architecture, created for the palates of Vancouver’s most privileged. Those who can afford it are invited to experience an exoticized dining experience, and to revel in a gentrifying lifestyle in the “dangerous” underbelly of the Downtown Eastside. It’s a tiki bar for the 21st century.
But Cuchillo is much more than just another edgy dining spot: it marks a new bourgeois cultural and socio-spatial shift in the Oppenheimer district. “We’re here and we’re taking over,” is the entitled refrain from the new colonizers, like Big Lou’s butcher shop next door. Vigorously denying their complicity in displacement, these wealthy new arrivals instead proclaim themselves saviours, parroting claims by the likes of Lippman: “We rehabilitate, we re-energize, we reinvigorate, we re-use, we recycle.” Overseen by police yet safe from being stopped, frisked, or ticketed for jaywalking, just across the street from the courthouse, restaurant patrons can “stomp and spend” as if Vancouver’s last low-income neighbourhood existed solely to be their playground.