Los Angeles Times columnist and author Gustavo Arellano, best known for his syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican!, says Latinos are coming to the defense of Richard Montañez, a former Frito-Lays janitor who says he is the inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, for two reasons.
“Their frustration…isn’t so much about Montañez rather than a microcosm of two big issues that continue to plague Mexicans in the United States: historical erasure and the continued yearning for heroes that white America can also embrace,” Arellano writes.
Montañez’s claim was seemingly debunked recently by Arellano’s colleague Sam Dean, who investigated Montañez’s story and received a statement from Frito-Lay that says that “none of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market.”
If the story Montañez has been telling for the last 20 years turns out to be false, Arellano admits he, too, was fooled since he repeated his claims in his 2012 book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. In a radio interview, Arellano stated: “When it comes to Mexican food, there [are] so many origin stories…and almost all of them are just a bunch of lies. The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos origin story is one of the very few that has actually been verified.”
A year ago, Arellano says Dean came to him and asked if there was a chance that Montañez wasn’t telling the truth about his involvement in the creation of the spicy chip.
“I told Sam that, while I didn’t see any reason to discount Montañez, he should see if there was a there there,” Arellano writes. “There was.”
Arellano feels the people who are dismissing Dean’s reporting are hurt and upset that Montañez’s story was “crushed … like a toddler squeezing a Cheeto into dust.”
“Mexicans can stretch the truth to fit a convenient narrative as well as gringos when it comes to our food,” he writes.