Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer with OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, and a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Op/Ed pages. He is a familiar presence in Southern California radio as a frequent guest on liberal and conservative talk shows, where he discusses local and national issues. Arellano also writes “¡Ask a Mexican!,” a nationally syndicated column and winner of the 2006 Association of Alternative Weeklies award for Best Column in which he answers any and all questions about America's spiciest and largest minority.
¡Ask a Mexican!—which will be published in book form by Scribner Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) on Cinco de Mayo 2007—has been the subject of press coverage in the Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, San Antonio Express-News, Mexico City's El Universal newspaper, The Today Show, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, Nightline, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Hour, The Tom Leykis Show, Utne and The Colbert Report.
Arellano 's commentaries on Latino culture appear regularly on National Public Radio's Day to Day and Latino USA program, the Los Angeles Times, The Glenn Beck Show and Pacific News Service. He was a finalist for the 2005 Maggie Award's Best Public Service Series or Article category for his work on the Catholic Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal, a topic for which he was the recipient of the Lilly Scholarship in Religion from the Religion Newswriters Association. Arellano was also a finalist for the 2005 PEN USA Literary Awards for Journalism for his profile on a disabled Latino veteran of the Iraq War. He makes his home in Anaheim.
Arellano will appearing today at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA:
Panel 2034 - 2:30 PM
Crossing the Border: Immigrant Lives
Moderator: William Deverell
Panelists: Gustavo Arellano, Sam Quiñones and Gabriel Thompson
Arellano kindly agreed to answer a few questions from La Bloga.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that your column would land you a book deal and guest shots on TV and radio?
GUSTAVO ARELLANO: No way. I figured the column would only appeal to those of us in Orange County that find hilarity and a sense of mission in our civic sport of Mexican-bashing. And, really, the column would've remained a naranjero secret if it wasn't for Daniel Hernández, currently of the LA Weekly but a member of the LA Times when he did a profile of me last spring. I can boast about the column's appeal all I want, but I'd be just another hard-working, unremarkable Mexican without the Times—they made me acceptable and brought forth the book that's out on sale May 1st.
OLIVAS: Ever get a question you simply couldn't answer?
ARELLANO: My boast is I can answer any and all questions about Mexicans, and I can—anyone can. The column format allows me to research answers more fully and also grants me the luxury of holding off on more difficult questions—it took me months to find enough material to properly answer why Mexicans use such seemingly ridiculous nicknames (Chuy for Jesús, for instance). But I'll answer a question off the top of my head if I'm on the radio—might not be the best one, but it'll be an answer. That said, why some Mexicans have such an affinity for Thalia will always remain a mystery to me.
OLIVAS: Are there any answers you've given that you now regret?
ARELLANO: Nope. Journalists aren't allowed to regret what they've written—if you do, it's called a retraction, and a good yelling is in store for said scribbler. Though perhaps I shouldn't have uttered the term "butt slut" when I addressed the girls at Smith College last spring...
OLIVAS: Were you sent to the principal a lot when you were a kid?
ARELLANO: Come now! Just because I'm a mocoso now doesn't mean I've always been one. My only sin during los school days was talking too much during class—oh, and one time I threw up in the quad after drinking a gallon of Tampico too fast.
OLIVAS: You've gotten flak from some gente basically accusing you of being a trained monkey for the entertainment of Mexican-hating gabachos. Response?
ARELLANO: People who hate ¡Ask a Mexican! would love to think that only racist gabachos read the column. But those PC pendejos ain't reading me. I probably get as many questions from wabs (the Orange County term for wetback) as I do from gabachos, and a surprisingly large number of queries from Asians and African-Americans. The questions span all topics—rude, intellectual, sexist, ridiculous, perfect. But even if I was a mestizo Bonzo, my trainer (himself a quarter-Mexican) did a bad job—there's a reason why most of my hate mail come from folks who call me an apologist for the Reconquista, and it ain't for my heroic use of pinche.
I want to elaborate on your question a bit further. There's an unfortunate virus in the minds of many educated Chicanos that tells them to call any Latino who doesn't adhere to a blindly leftist, loyalist ideology a vendido—and few Latinos get more grief than journalists. Daniel Hernández received a lot of flak for his coverage of the South Central Farm fiasco even though his reporting was spot-on. Agustin Gurza of the LA Times—himself a critic of my column—once told me that people called for his job after his stories on the financial troubles of the Ricardo Montalban Theater. Apparently, they were offended that Agustin dared expose their problems. Those Chicanos/Latinos/mexicanos/whatever-the-hell-they-want-to-call-themselves who whine at the slightest hint of a different public take on a Latino issues come off as the moronic nationalists that the Right portrays all of us as. Criticize us for the wrong facts, not for seeking a truth that sometimes may be ugly.
OLIVAS: Which questions do you prefer: those from Mexican-hating gabachos, or those from smart-ass pochos?
ARELLANO: Both and neither. The best questions are those where I can debunk long-held misconceptions about Mexican culture, from whether George Bush's grandfather really paid a bounty for the skull of Pancho Villa to what part of illegal don't Mexicans understand. That said, it's rather fun to put racists in their place. The smart-ass pochos are merely trying to "catch" me; the Barbara Coes of the world really, truly believe their bigoted drivel and wither away upon facing the light of truth.
OLIVAS: Have you met any of your questioners? Were they sober at the time?
ARELLANO: They were; I wasn't.
OLIVAS: Have you thought about franchising your column to cover other ethnic groups?
ARELLANO: There are already some "Ask a..." columns that cite me as inspiration, namely Ask a Korean and Ask a Cuban-American, while others like Radar Online's "The Ethnicist" and "Ask a Chola" seem like rip-offs to me. Good for them. But contrary to popular belief, ¡Ask a Mexican! isn't my career. Sure, it's garnered me the most fame, but I'm perfectly content telling OC Weekly readers where to eat for the rest of my life in my guise as the paper's food editor.
OLIVAS: Are you secretly writing a Mexican version of The Great Gatsby in your spare time?
ARELLANO: Actually, it's the Zacatecan Grapes of Wrath mixed with Me Talk Pretty One Day and City of Quartz. I'm currently working on a project tentatively titled Orange County: A Memoir. It'll tell the history of Orange County and its significance to America in various regions—political, cultural, etc.—through the saga of my family's four generations in la naranja.
OLIVAS: What question do you want to be asked?
ARELLANO: I get them asked all the time. If I requested a particular question, it would never match the mad, disturbing genius of the Mexican-obsessed American mind.