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How an Anti-ICE March in L.A. Exposed the Anti-Immigration Sentiment Behind This Tequila and Mezcal Brand

[dropcap size=big]L.A.[/dropcap] Taco recently published a photo essay about the anti-Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE) march in LA. Whether or not the march itself accomplished its goal, it attracted some forms of criticism. While some critics raised valid questions on social media about the march imposing on the #BLM momentum, others took it to defend ICE’s actions towards undocumented immigrants. 

One of these ICE defenders was an Instagram user by the handle @brandon_gram. He mentioned that ICE agents were just “doing their jobs.” An argument often used to excused lawful, but morally wrong actions.

The comment was published under L.A. Taco’s Instagram post on the coverage of the anti-ICE march. Gilbert Marquez, brand ambassador for Ilegal Mezcal notice that @brando_gram was part of the spirits community. @brandon_gram is Brandon McCullers, a Florida native who was affiliated with Noble Coyote Mezcal. In an interview with Void, McCullers said that he “Fell in love with mezcal” when he moved to Mexico to work along with Noble Coyote Mezcal. Marquez made an Instagram video where he reflected on McCullers’s comment, saying, “There is no room for racism” in the spirits community.

Bernado Sada, founder and partner at Noble Coyote Mezcal, replied to Marquez’s video saying that McCullers no longer works for the company and apologized for the comments made by McCullers. Sada reiterated in an official Instagram post that Noble Coyote is a 100 percent Mexican company made in Oaxaca de Juarez and it would have never worked with McCuulllers if they would’ve known his stance on ICE. 

In the same post, I congratulated Marquez for speaking out on xenophobia and racism, especially because I am Oaxaqueño and mezcal is my part of my culture. To my surprised, a tequila brand Instagram page replied to my comment.  

The Wall Tequila replied with, “Oaxacos do not get offended like babies.” The word “Oaxaco” is often used as a racist slur by non-Oaxacaqueños to describe Mexicans with indigenous features. Some Oaxaqueños use it as a term of resilience and pride. 

According to their website, The Wall Tequila is a border wall inspired tequila that celebrates “the Mexican-American friendship which is as strong as The Wall.” Like its name, the tequila brand faced a wall and backlash for its comment. Marquez and many others in the post turned their focus from the Noble Coyote Mezcal to The Wall Tequila. On a live video on Instagram, Marquez mentioned that the tequila brand called their only dark mixed drink “lazy,” a racist caricature connotation that started in the late 1800s to falsely describe how Mexicans were not ready for a full workday as the industrial revolution was taking off. 

This would not be the only time this politically aligned tequila brand would post devised rhetoric. In a different post that has now been deleted, they wrote All Lives Matter, a racially charged slogan to opposed the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Marquez wrote to Passion Spirits, a distributor that carried the tequila brand (Nom 1437). Passion Spirits does not condone the comments made by The Wall Tequila and decide to take the product down from their online store and physical shelves. “We are strong advocates for inclusive practices and stand strongly against any kind of racism and/or inequality,” they wrote back to him.    

Soon thereafter, The Wall Tequila deleted their Instagram page off platforms and continued their posts on Twitter. Questions about who owned the brand stated circulating until once again, Marquez made new revelations. According to Marquez, the brand is owned by a Mexican man named Oscar Navarro Leaño of Guadalajara. Marquez was able to track down Navarro Leaño by looking up The Wall Tequila trademark information—which is publicly available. 

This act of pro-ICE sentiment in the agave spirits industry that unfolded over the course of a few days is the latest example of selective or performative activism. When a brand or person enjoys the perks of a culture but not the struggles that the culture had to undergo to get to this point. 

Whether Navarro Leaño made those comments or not, Marquez stands firm on his position of denouncing anti-immigrant rhetoric and calling Navarro Leaño’s actions “shameful.” Omar “Oaxacking” Alonso,  Oaxaca’s most notable culture liaison and mezcal expert, is not surprised about the recent events involving The Wall Tequila. 

He tells L.A. Taco that racism and erasure of culture often happen in the mezcal industry as well. According to Alonso, there are people who get into the mezcal business and lie about the authenticity of their product. In his words, mezcal is "the new gold” and “everyone wants it and they’ll do anything to get their hands on it.” He says when talking about outside investors who often don’t know about the culture, coming up with unusual gimmicks like what the folks behind The Wall Tequila tend to happen. 

That is why his focus has been to assist small mezcal business so that they thrive without a racist middle man. After all, the master mezacaleros are the ones who distill the “liquid gold” just as they have been doing so for generations, gimmick or not. 

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