[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]ow do you fold a taco?
This is a critical question that Naibe Reynoso, an Emmy Award-winning Los Angeles born-and-raised journalist and book author, really stopped to think about one day. And in her quest to find out the proverbial answer to this seemingly easy question, she produced a bilingual children’s book!
How to Fold a Taco: Como Doblar un Taco is Reynoso’s fourth children’s book, self-published under her independent publishing house named Con Todo Press.In it lies the answer to this existential Taco Life question, along with whimsical illustrations by Ana Varela, and a recipe for her mom’s very own Zacatecas-style tacos de papa (potato tacos). The book’s release date is October 27, but it is now available in ebook form.
L.A. Taco caught up with her to find out more about the rollercoaster of emotions known as the book writing process, how important it is to have characters who look like us in children’s books, and most importantly what is her favorite taco in Los Angeles. (Hint: It’s also the unabashed favorite taco of her primo, Memo Torres).
L.A. Taco: Where is your favorite taco in Los Angeles?
Naibe Reynoso: For the sake of nostalgia alone, I would have to say Tito’s Tacos. Yes, I know they aren’t the most traditional or authentic tacos but growing up in the Culver City area, Tito’s was a place we went to often. When I was growing up, Tito’s was our version of fancy dining! To this day, even with the consistently long lines, I still make an occasional Tito’s run. Every bite brings back fond memories of my tía’s ordering us tacos after a long day playing with my cousins or after a fun Santa Monica beach day.
How do you think the Taco culture has evolved in Los Angeles compared to other cities? One of the best parts of living in Los Angeles is that it is a true melting pot, and Tacos are a prime example! Tacos, a dish that came from Mexico, have made it into the menus of other ethnic restaurants and I am all for it! I’ve had Thai tacos, Korean (Bulgogi) tacos, Kosher tacos, and even creole tacos at Sky’s Tacos, a few blocks away from my house. I think Los Angeles is a safe space for chefs of all cultural backgrounds to exchange ideas and create unique dishes that blend the best of all worlds.
As a mom, I felt a call to action.
Where is your family from? Are you from Los Angeles? I am a Westside girl. Born in Santa Monica California, raised a little east of Culver City. I went to Venice High School and then to UCLA and my first TV job was on Channel 22 which used to be on Sunset Boulevard, so I am as Angelino as they come. My roots in Los Angeles are very deep. Currently, I live in the mid-Wilshire area, only eight minutes away from the original house I grew up in! My parents are from small towns in Zacatecas. My mom is from El Remolino and my dad from Moyahua.
What inspired you to write a children's book? How to Fold a Taco is my fourth children’s book. There were a few things that inspired me to write books. First of all, I have been a journalist for over 25 years so I have always had a passion for writing. In fact, through much of my career, I have written stories about my Latino community, highlighting our contributions and telling our inspiring stories.
Secondly, I was so saddened by the disparaging way our community was being referred to in mainstream media during the 2016 elections that it lit a fire under me to get these books out there. I couldn’t believe the words that certain political ‘leaders' (Trump) were used to describe our community, like “bad hombres,” “criminals”, and “drug dealers.”
As taco culture keeps growing and is becoming part of mainstream culture, I also wanted to make sure that my book included a brief history of the taco that reflects the deep roots of it.
Thirdly, as a mom, I felt a call to action. I know that children cannot filter negative messages that are out there floating around in the media, so I knew I had to create books that showed my children and other Latino children all the amazing, incredible, groundbreaking things our community has done and how much they have contributed to this country. That is why I wrote my first books, Be Bold, Be Brave, and Fearless Trailblazers books that feature Latino leaders like Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. My new book How to fold a Taco was dedicated to all immigrants who bring with them their delicious dishes, and I pay tribute to this beloved Mexican dish throughout the book.
Tacos are a huge part of Angelino culture but most importantly of Mexican culture. As a proud Mexican-American, I wanted to write a love letter to the taco by way of a children’s book. My books always honor my heritage and culture, and tacos are one of our most beloved dishes. As taco culture keeps growing and is becoming part of mainstream culture, I also wanted to make sure that my book included a brief history of the taco that reflects the deep roots of it, such as the fact that the indigenous populations of what is now central Mexico developed what we now know as corn, the basic ingredient of the tortilla. Although the exact date and location of when the first taco emerged are still up for debate, what we do know for sure, is that our Mexican ancestors created this delicious dish that millions of Americans eat today.
Where are your favorite kid-friend taquerías or activities in Los Angeles?
Right now it's tough because of COVID-19 but near me here in Culver City, there is a cool Latina-owned kid community social space that emphasizes Spanish immersion via classes and activities called Chiqi Social. The owner Lizet is a Latina mom who wanted to make sure her kids incorporated Spanish in their play and social activities. For kid-friendly taco places, we enjoy Chicas Tacos in Culver City because of the vibrant colors and they also have a cool little marketplace with kids' books. (They've sold mine there.)
What inspired the illustrations?
Since this book is fantastical and whimsical, I wanted the illustrations to feel magical and colorful. The entire book is written in both English and Spanish and it rhymes in both languages. The book is all about How to Fold a Taco” and there are illustrations of Mexican wrestlers, magicians, dinosaurs, and even dragons trying to fold the taco. So the illustrations had to match that fun and adventurous spirit.
What was the first taco you fed to your children?
I honestly don’t remember. My oldest daughter is 17 and my son is eight, but the first taco they probably had was a simple, soft one like a taco de frijoles or taco de queso. Currently, for dinner we have “Taco Tuesdays” every week, my son looooves his tacos.
How would you describe the book-writing process?
I have always loved writing so for me the book writing process is fun, but it is a bit of a roller coaster ride. The first stage is exciting because you have that initial idea. The second stage is establishing the routine or discipline to actually write the book. As a mom, I am always juggling so many things, so I have to schedule a time to write. The third stage is nervousness and doubt as you don’t know if the book will resonate with your audience or how it will be accepted. And lastly, once you publish the book, its relief and a sense of accomplishment as the book is out there in the world.
Only five percent of characters represented in children’s picture books were Latinx in 2019. We need to fill more libraries and schools with our stories, told from an authentic perspective. We cannot continue to be invisible.
How about the translation to Spanish? I handle translations in two stages. Since I am fully bilingual, I do the first pass on the translation. After I translate it, I hand it over to a professional Spanish translator so that the second set of eyes can check it for accuracy.
What kind of advice would you give to anyone else out there who wants to publish a children's book?
I would say we need more Latino voices! It has never been a better time to write books because now the barriers for entry have been lifted. In other words, you can self-publish if you don’t find a publishing company that takes your manuscript. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), only five percent of characters represented in children’s picture books were Latinx in 2019. We need to fill more libraries and schools with our stories, told from an authentic perspective. We cannot continue to be invisible.
Thank you for speaking with L.A. Taco.
Order How to Fold a Taco: Como Doblar un Taco here.
This L.A. Taco profile is part of a series highlighting the Latinx community in Los Angeles, published in collaboration with Discover Los Angeles, in honor of Latinx Heritage Month.
Editor for James Beard Award-winning L.A. TACO. Associate Producer for JBA-winning Las Crónicas Del Taco. Former restaurant scout for Jonathan Gold. Co-Author of "Oaxaca: Home Cooking From the Heart of Mexico (2019, Abrams) and "Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling" (2023, Abrams).
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