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A new 'Great British Bake Off' episode stereotypes Mexican culture, viewers say

<em>The Great British Bake Off</em> hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas opening the "Mexican Week" episode while wearing sombreros and sarapes.
The Great British Bake Off hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas opening the "Mexican Week" episode while wearing sombreros and sarapes.

Reception for the latest episode of many people's favorite comfort show was sour yesterday, when The Great British Bake Off aired a "Mexican week" episode that some viewers say was anything but sweet.

The British baking competition series pits amateur bakers against one another to impress two judges, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood. Their most recent episode had contestants tackle Mexican staples such as pan dulce, tacos, and a tres leches cake. While the episode has not yet aired in the U.S., people on social media were already skeptical when Leith promoted the episode's title on Twitter.

The episode began with hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding wearing sombreros and serapes. In the scene, Fielding tells Lucas, "I don't feel like we should make Mexican jokes, because people will get upset." Lucas then responds with, "Not even Juan?" The joke, which was shared by the show's own Twitter account, was not received well on social media.

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, a professor of Mexican cultural studies at Washington University in St. Louis, told NPR via email that while he's yet to view the episode, its social media campaign is not surprising

"The fundamental issue is that the episode and its campaign follow a script on Mexican culture that us Mexicans, from either side of the U.S.-Mexico border, see very frequently," he said. "The use of cartoonish serapes and sombreros as props and disguises, the misidentification of Mexican food with the stuff sold in Taco Bell, the borrowing of beloved dishes like tres leches to make versions that have little recognizability to Mexicans, this is something that we see every Cinco de Mayo and every Hispanic Heritage Month."

<em>The Great British Bake Off</em> host Matt Lucas playing the maracas.
/ Channel 4
The Great British Bake Off host Matt Lucas playing the maracas.

Apart from the show's social media campaign, the episode itself also contained various Spanish mispronunciations, maraca-playing, conversations about tequila and a cake donning a mustache. And although the word "bake" is in the title, the episode's taco-making challenge threw viewers for a loop since it involves cooking.

"British viewers, from what I have seen online, appear to be puzzled by the fact of having a taco challenge, which in fact has nothing to do with baking," Sánchez Prado said. "That is pure laziness. What if they have instead looked into wedding cookies? Or empanadas? Or made something with bolillos and teleras?"

Sánchez Prado said the episode was ultimately a missed opportunity for the show to do its due diligence and explore some of the the intersections between European and Mexican baking traditions, such as pastes Hidalguenses.

"It would have been deeply meaningful if they had actually done work in researching actual Mexican baking traditions...Instead, they have incensed Mexicans, because once again a major global outlet insults us by reiterating stereotypes and reductions against which we fight."

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Pablo Valdivia
Pablo Valdivia is an Audience Editor at NPR who is focused on elevating and telling Latino stories across digital, radio and podcast. He also develops strategies to help call in the community across the network and works to ensure that Latino voices get the visibility they deserve.