Tortilla Flap

You have to figure a university president for the PC crowd, but University of Arizona honcho Peter Likins went beyond the pale when he linked the humble tortilla with racial politics.

The college jefe could have just said he thought it was tacky that Wildcats heave the food products like Frisbees at their graduating ceremonies. But instead, he played the race card. Likins warned that he'd cancel commencement exercises unless the tortilla tossing stopped, claiming that the practice demeaned Hispanics and Native Americans.


Tortillas have been tossed around Arizona at public events for more than a decade. In 1992, this Peoria High School alum remembers seeing students and parents -- mostly Latino -- flinging the tasty disks every time the Panther football team scored. Later, ASU students adopted the same tradition at Sun Devil home games.

But Likins sees things differently. Somehow, a flying burrito skin is an affront to the sensibilities of la raza. In a terse e-mail, he told students that if they wanted to fling the food products, they should do so at home.

Hey, plenty of food gets thrown around at my place. But you just don't get the same satisfaction seeing a tortilla arc gracefully through the air unless it's going to have some distance to fly.

That said, it wasn't hard to find someone besides Likins who doesn't like to see tortillas go into the air instead of into mouths.

"What's becoming of this world? Tortilla is a food item," says Joe Hernandez, owner of Carolina's restaurant in south Phoenix and maker of arguably the best tortillas in town. He's not happy that tortillas are flying, but he says it has nothing to do with his ethnicity. "I'm not thinking of race, I'm thinking of food. You just don't throw food," he says. "Why don't they throw a loaf of bread? If it falls apart, they can toast it."

Hernandez is clearly not thinking aerodynamics here. Your typical Roman Meal loaf has the flight properties of a sack of flour. The tortilla's flavorful, uneven exterior, however, must have some of the same effect as the dimples on a golf ball, because it really soars. And warmed up with a little butter? Can't be beat. Still, Hernandez isn't buying it. He's flat against seeing his creations launched instead of lunched.

"It's not a race issue at all. My grandmother would be turning in her grave!"

Grandma's sensibilities notwithstanding, the tradition apparently survived Likins' crackdown. During UofA's commencement, a few test missiles were heaved, and when it became clear that no university storm troopers would be sweeping down on offending grads, tortillas were launched en masse.