The sign at Ambassador Auto's used-car lot in Moscow, Idaho, is advertising a 1993 Mazda Navaho (sic) in stock for $18,487. Seems like a lot of cash, but then I remember the glossy magazine ads: "Navajo: It knows the land." Just down the street, Taco Time has launched their new "Navajo Taco," for only 99 cents. Now that I can afford.
But just what is a Navajo
taco? What is it about this food that makes it distinctly Navajo?
Is this like Mormon bread, Swedish meatballs or Jewish rye? Is this
a culinary flashpoint in politically correct dining? Maybe Idaho
isn't so conservative after all. Maybe the state is promoting
diversity. Maybe pigs fly.
Because I want to
learn more about different cultures, and I have a journalism
degree, I contact both the Moscow and Pullman, Wash., Taco Time
restaurants to find out.
I call Moscow first.
"Hello, Taco Time!'" Young female voice. Sounds familiar. Talks
fast. I actually smell perfume and see a brand sold at Wal-Mart,
like Lady Angus.
"Yes, what is
a Navajo taco?"
"OK. It's on
like a deep-fried scone, and we put beans (in it), and we used to
use chili, but now we use like beef, and sour cream and cheese.
It's really big." Did she mean to say like
"But why is it called a
I detect a giant sigh. She is
exasperated. Why doesn't this guy get it? I hear the distant
metallic buzz of people in cars ordering into a box: "Does the soft
taco come with Mexi-fries?"
"OK. It's like a
Mexican-Indian dish? I guess it's from like Texas and Nevada?"
Pause. Deep breath. "Oh, I see ...
"It's like Navajo bread, and
they used to put a lot of stuff in it?" Although her geographic
sense of history is weak, she is doing her marketing job well. She
My next phone call is to
"Taco Time." Male
voice, young, without much enthusiasm. His voice says, "This is
Spring Break and I'm not in Florida."
"Yes, could you tell me what
a Navajo taco is?"
well, it's Indian fry bread with sour cream, cheese, onions,
lettuce, meat inside."
makes it a Navajo taco?"
"Well, they were called ...
See, it's an Indian version of a taco. I have some friends over in
Puyallup and they say they have something like this there, although
things are different over there."
"Sounds good," I lie.
In just two phone calls I have traced this
ethnic food from Puyallup, Wash., to Nevada and Texas. I'm still
So I call Steve Bunch, assistant
attorney general in the Department of Justice for the Navajo Nation
- in Arizona. I ask him if the Navajo government has given
permission for the use of their name on cars and tacos. He said he
knew about Mazda, but not about Taco Time. Neither have the tribe's
consent, he says, nor does the trucking company Navajo Freight, an
offender that has used the name for 20 or 30
"As a child I remember
the Navajo Freight trucks. I didn't think much about it then, but
now I am more attuned to those issues. I don't know where their
headquarters are, but there sure are a lot of their trucks on
Interstate 40," he says.
He didn't know what the
Navajo Nation would do about Mazda or Taco Time. A group in Dallas
about to launch "Navajo Jeans' has approached Bunch's office
recently, a gesture Bunch says "the people from the Navajo
We move on to the real
reason I called. I ask him The Question.
says there actually is a Navajo taco made locally using fry bread
as a base for a variety of meat and beans. But it's open-faced, he
says, "like a tostada."
I tell him how the word
Navajo is misspelled at the used car lot in Moscow. He says that's
not uncommon. "Of course, neither spelling is correct. That's the
name the Spanish gave us."
Stephen Lyons writes in Pullman, Washington.