Mando Rayo: from Taco Talk to Trailblazing

Taco journalist, food explorer, street ethnographer and podcast host Mando Rayo.

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, we wanted to highlight a true soul citizen and hermano of soulciti. Armando “Mando” Rayo has pretty much always been a man of the people, whether he’s filling you in on the best places to get real, authentic Mexican food or helping share the stories of underrepresented people and communities. He’s always had a passion for storytelling and bringing people together.

Originally from El Paso, Texas, Mando Rayo feels like he grew up in Austin because he’s been here for over 20 years, including the most impressionable years of his young adulthood. “East Riverside feels like home. I’ve seen all the changes,” he commented.

Mando is driven by building and connecting the community. He always wanted to see his culture represented in media while also sharing culture and experiences, as well as leading people to the right places to eat. So his friends encouraged him to write a blog. Understanding the issues around food, like accessibility, taco gentrification, etc., Rayo wanted to talk to mom-and-pop shops and authentic Mexican restaurants to give them the advertising spotlight they needed but maybe couldn’t afford. Since then, he’s written books and has worked with the University of Texas at Austin for Tacos of Texas, his podcast which is currently in its third season.

Part of the process is connecting the issues to the food because we can’t separate the food from the culture.

Mando also chose to cover issues around immigration. In fact, Tacos of Texas just won the Gold Award in the Activism category at the Signal Awards for the podcast’s episode focusing on migrant farm workers. “Part of the process is connecting the issues to the food because we can’t separate the food from the culture.”

Mando’s self-termed “taco journalism” isn’t the only way he helps the community, though. He also started a nonprofit organization called The New Philanthropists (TNP). Rayo has worked a lot with and in nonprofits over the last 10-15 years. During that time, he noticed that a lot of nonprofits have diversity at the entry-level, but at the executive level, it’s mostly white men who may not be as connected to the communities they serve. TNP’s goal is to bring diverse executive representation to the people of color being helped. The organization’s goal is cultivating leaders of color and playing as a matchmaker, helping place them on boards they can truly contribute to, going beyond tokenism.

I wanted to bring people who look like me to the table.

Mando says he was motivated to start TNP because of his first-hand experience being a recipient of services. “I wanted to bring people who look like me to the table.”

Currently, Rayo is finishing the final episodes of Tacos of Texas’s third season. On the podcast, they travel across Texas to San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, etc., exploring the best authentic tacos in the state while also learning the story of the people there. An upcoming episode features Black Mexicans: Black Seminoles who escaped slavery and migrated to Mexico. He and his team were able to follow the decedents of the tribe and learned that they have massive Juneteenth celebrations in Mexico and Brackettville, Texas.

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Mando is also the voice of United Tacos of America, where he explores tacos and taco culture across the entire United States.  For the foodies, National Taco Day was last week, and Mando was gracious enough to share his top five tacos in Austin. Be sure to save this list!

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for November 12 as the Tacos of Texas Podcast is having a party. Make sure you’re following @unitedtacosofamerica for details when it’s officially announced. Also, get your tickets now for Kickin’ it with TNP on December 6.

You can find Mando Rayo all over the internet, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, through his podcast.



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