2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Is This A Crime Against Tequila Or A Crime Against Coca‑Cola?

Is This A Crime Against Tequila Or A Crime Against Coca‑Cola?

Coquitas in Capilla de Guadalupe

We are driving around the quaint, cobblestoned streets of Capilla de Guadalupe, a tiny town in western Mexico. Around us, blue agave fields stretch out as far as I can see, and the sun is starting to dip behind the mountains. We both smile broadly as we catch each other up on our respective lives.

The last time I saw Isidro was nine years ago, when we worked together at an Italian restaurant in Toronto. I was a 30-year-old, broke, well-educated waitress and he was a 23-year-old Mexican working under the table as a cleaner. One night after work we sat in my dank, windowless basement apartment drinking a bottle of Jose Cuervo. “This isn’t real tequila,” he had said with disdain. He went on to explain in broken English that he was from a small town in the state of Jalisco, where blue agave grew everywhere, and pure tequila was enjoyed by all. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I had said. “Just shut up and drink!”

It’s almost a decade later and here we are. Now he speaks to me in perfect English and I am the one struggling with my broken Spanish. I find myself wishing I had been more patient with him back then, not just with the English but with other things too. He asks me if I want to stop and try the town’s famous libation, a coquita. I am game for anything, I say, already intoxicated with the excitement of seeing a familiar face in a foreign land. We pull up to a small tienda and get out of the car. Isidro’s friends are already there, hanging out on the corner.

Isidro goes into the shop and comes back out with a bunch of tiny bottles of Coke. He lines them up on a bench and then brings out a bottle of local tequila to carefully top each one off with the clear white spirit. Everybody grabs a bottle. “You have to drink it fast!” they all warn me. We down the coquitas and soon I am feeling the heady rush of caffeine, sugar, and booze. Glossy-eyed, I look around and wonder aloud why he ever wanted to leave such an idyllic town.

“When I was a teenager I got into trouble here, doing lots of little jobs for the narcos,” says Isidro. “It was mostly out of boredom, but one day I did something that really pissed them off. They chased me, pulled out guns and shot at me. I escaped in time but that was what made me decide to go to Canada to try and create a better life.”

By now the sun has long since set and the energy shifts from day to night. Isidro ducks back into the shop and returns with another round of coquitas. We drink them and soon we are all talking quickly and laughing loudly. The owner of the tienda brings us out a plate of chicharron and salsa and we gratefully dig in. In the middle of it all, Isidro turns to me, his blue eyes sparkling under the streetlamp, “I can’t believe you are actually here, in my town,” he says. “Me neither,” I respond with a goofy, coquita-drenched grin.

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