The purpose of this paper is to account for the remarkable proliferation of Mexican restaurants and tequila bars in contemporary urban Australia, in the absence of any geographical contiguity, historical connection or cultural proximity between Australia and Mexico.
The paper traces how the particularities of direct cultural contact, interpersonal networks and grass-roots entrepreneurism can open up new markets, and how the ground is, thus, prepared for subsequent large-scale international corporate entry to those markets. This research is based on interviews with key figures in the development of the Mexican food industry in Australia, interpreted in terms of the extant literature on cultural globalisation. The first-hand accounts of these participants have been interpreted in the light of available secondary sources and relevant theory.
The most striking theme to emerge in the study is the relative absence of Mexicans, or even Mexico-experienced Australians, in the making of a market for Mexican food in Australia. Rather, initially, Americans were prominent, as entrepreneurs and in forming a consumer market, while in later decades, entrepreneurs and consumers alike have been Australians whose experience of Mexican food has been formed in the United States, not Mexico. The role of hipster subculture and travel is seen as instrumental. Also of interest is the manner in which the personal experiences and interrelationships of the Americans and Australians have shaped the development of the Mexican food industry. This is not to ignore the much more recent participation of a new wave of immigrants from Mexico.
While the scope of the study is national, the sharper focus is on the experience of Melbourne; it would be useful for future researchers to investigate other major cities, even if Melbourne has been the most pivotal of Australian cities in the history of Mexican food in Australia. The study has conceptual and theoretical implications for debates around cultural globalisation and “Americanisation”.
The paper provides a close-grained and suitably theorised account of how a particular consumer trend has become extended on a global basis, with particular attention to both individual experience and agency, and corporate activity.