NB Film Fest Documentary Highlights Two Sides of the Food Truck Industry

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Scene from Backstreet to the American Dream

By Langley Turcsanyi | Special to the NB Indy

Food trucks have become a fixture of the culinary arts. Many people walk just steps outside their office building to find their lunch at one of several food trucks parked on the street. Colleges scatter food trucks across their campuses, and people even hire food trucks for festivals and parties.

“Backstreet to the American Dream” compares and contrasts the two vastly different sides of the food truck industry. The documentary refers to the first group as the gourmet (the grilled cheese, burger, funnel cake, etc.) trucks that have grown in popularity over the past decade.

The second group is the traditional loncheras often owned by Mexican families and other immigrant groups selling fresh tacos and seafood. The relationship between the two sides of the industry has had its issues as they each face different problems.

The documentary features the winners of The Great Food Truck Race that drive their “Grill ‘Em All” burger truck around Los Angeles, but really focuses on Doña Guillermina Villa Rio, who has been running her traditional Nariyit lonchera in South LA for decades. Doña represents the entire immigrant population that runs these loncheras in LA and around the United States.

The film keeps a strong focus on the immigrant-run loncheras in predominantly Latino neighborhoods and the discrimination they have faced from the health department, police, parking officials, and Los Angeles city mandates.

The film also features a four-minute two-dimensional animated history lesson of the history of food trucks dating back to ancient Mexico. As a matter of fact, Backstreet to the American Dream was featured in some film festivals’ animation category for this small fraction of the film.

The history lesson can really stand entirely on its own. It explains the natural progression of the celebration of food in the Latino cultures to the predominantly Latino lonchera food truck industry still thriving today.

While it is great that the film is bringing this very unique lens to immigration stories, some of the tangents relating food trucks to other historical and cultural events stray a bit too far from the primary food truck storyline.

As the documentary emphasizes, loncheras are a food staple for many low-income families so they can get healthy, inexpensive food. The issues that loncheras have faced have threatened the livelihood of these communities.

Since food has always been a cornerstone of culture, it is essential that loncheras, and even gourmet food trucks, can continue to help their customers connect with the places they come from while giving them a convenient way to get food.

The documentary paints a beautiful and authentic picture of this sentiment.

“Backstreet to the American Dream” screens on Sat, Oct 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Starlight Triangle Cinemas. Visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com for tickets.  

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