Oral History: Bluegrass & Birria

An array of sauces at The Ville Taqueria in Louisville, KY. Photograph by Delilah Snell.

It began with annual trek from Southern California to Russell Springs, Kentucky. Gustavo Arellano and his wife, Delilah Snell, took their annual trip to the 127 Yard Sale, which is considered by many to be the world’s longest yard sale. They found themselves in nearby Cave City, tired, hungry, and frustrated at a double-booking of their hotel.

My wife and I decided to drown our frustrations in goblets of margaritas and massive plates of fajitas at El Mazatlán, which stood like the proverbial Mexican restaurant on a hill, overlooking Cave City’s hotel row, writes Arellano. The restaurant was hopping—sombreros and fried ice cream and burritos reigned. And, outside of the restaurant workers, we were the only Latinos in the room.

Homemade tortillas at Tortillería y Taquería Ramírez in Lexington, Kentucky. Photograph by Delilah Snell.

In 1990, Latinos in Kentucky represented 0.6 percent of the Bluegrass State; the 2010 Census saw them make up three percent—about 132,00 people, the majority Mexicans. And more come every month.

In our Bluegrass and Birria oral history project, Arellano and Snell document restaurant owners in Louisville and Lexington “representing different parts of the Mexican experience: recent immigrants, pioneers who arrived in the 1980s, second-generation owners, celebrity chefs, people who first migrated elsewhere in the United States but found their home in Kentucky.”

Listen to these stories of El Sur Latino.