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Fronteras: New documentary examines social justice and the American dream through food trucks

From traditional Mexican street tacos to gourmet BBQ — food trucks and trailers have become a global industry.

But these mobile restaurants aren’t just places to grab a quick bite for lunch or dinner; they have been vessels to uplift the voices and experiences of immigrant communities.

The 2021 documentary “Backstreet to the American Dream,” explores social justice issues through the lens of food, highlighting both immigrant-owned “loncheras” and gourmet food trucks.

The documentary follows personalities like Doña Guillermina Vella Rio, who started her food truck after immigrating to the U.S. to provide for her family, and of Chef Ryan Harkins, a college dropout who found his calling with his gourmet food truck, Grill `Em All, a venture that got national attention when Harkins and his team won Season One of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race.

Patricia Nazario, the film’s director, producer and award-winning radio and TV journalist, spoke about her inspiration behind the documentary.

Patricia Nazario (1).jpg
Karla Henry
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Patricia Nazario directed and produced the documentary "Backstreet to the American Dream." She is also an award-winning radio and TV journalist, formerly with NPR and Marketplace.
Patricia Nazario directed and produced the documentary "Backstreet to the American Dream." She is also an award-winning radio and TV journalist, formerly with NPR and Marketplace.

“It's a story about something that's so common to our humanity — food and eating and family and tradition and basically celebrating street food as this ultimate ambassador,” she said. “[It’s] just a way for people to come together.”

The film is also executive produced by 92-year-old civil rights activist and icon Dolores Huerta.

The documentary screened Aug 3. at the San Antonio Film Festival and has been screened in film festivals across the world. Nazario says other distribution options are also being explored.

Updated 8/11: "Backstreet to the American Dream" won the award for Best Food Film at the San Antonio Film Festival.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.