Gustavo Arellano on a Roll

Author to present his newest book "Orange County: a Personal History", September 16 at Borders in Pico Rivera

By Lisa Zion, contributing writer
Published on LatinoLA: September 15, 2008

Gustavo Arellano on a Roll

Editor's note: Contributing writer Lisa Zion had a recent chat with Gustavo Arellano, writer for the OC Weekly's "Ask a Mexican" column and restaurant reviewer, and author of the upcoming the "Orange County: a Personal History".

LZ: I don't get the "OC Weekly" in my area, and I'm not really certain how I found you, but I was glad that I did. I enjoy watching your videos on You Tube.

GA: Thank you

LZ: believe your background and your degree in Latin American studies gives you a unique understanding of what it is to be a Mexican in America today. I picked up your book "Ask a Mexican" and found it interesting that the idea came from your editor and you took that idea and just ran with it.

GA: The way the column started was my editor, Will Swaim, saw a billboard on the drive to work that featured a Mexican DJ. He suggested that I start writing a column where folks could ask a Mexican questions. This column really took off but it would have been nothing without the readers asking the questions they submitted. I was lucky enough to have an editor who supported and encouraged me to take this idea and make it my own. He was so right and here we are four years later.

LZ: Thank you for putting the Language section at the beginning of the book. I think we all learned something.

GA: Language, the study of words, is by far my favorite topic. The most immediate reaction that people have with Mexicans is language, is Spanish. In Southern California, even the Americans, the gabachos know a little bit of Spanish because this is the original language of the land. If people can learn something from the language portion of the book, I'm happy. That's my own way of making sure that people get along with each other a little bit better.

LZ: How do you receive these questions, are they emailed to you?

GA: Almost all of the questions I receive are by email. Occasionally, I will get a hand-written or typed question but 95% of my questions are sent via email. That reminds me, I'm going to get a post office box for those who don't have access to email.

LZ: It seems that you enjoy debunking stereotypical myths with humor and yet, one wonders if there is an element of truth to your answers. In your book, a gabacha wrote that she is seeing a Mexican guy and he was very nervous about dating her. And your advice was to perform oral sex on him. I mean really, is that really the way to soothe a man's ego?

GA: Yes. The column always keeps you on your toes. And I know it sounds a little crass but sometimes I'm going to go for the easy punch line. I want to surprise people, want to make sure that they are reading my column every week. Ask any guy that question, and if he's honest, he'll tell you the exact same thing.

LZ: You quoted some statistics for Mexicans marrying outside their own race. What do you think Mexicans feel when there is a beautiful Mexicana with a gabacho?

GA: Mexican families are much more welcoming about their children marrying outside of their race. I think the parents realize that this is a country that is very diverse. It's better to find someone outside of your race that treats you good than to have someone in your race that treats you like crap. But then, I think a part of us thinks you should find yourself a nice Mexican boy or girl.

LZ: I think you know how important a good education is to succeed in this country. Why don't more Mexicans get a college degree?

GA: A lot of them don't have the immediate role models to teach them that a college education is necessary. They don't have those folks to tell them this is how to get ahead. So most people just follow what their parents did. They immediately go into a job. They don't realize that having a job that their parents had is difficult. It takes years from our life; it's much more stressful than getting a job with a college education. Somebody really needs to tell us and remind us that getting a college education is the way to success. And the best way to do it is by example. It's an evolutionary process. We're still at the beginning of that.

LZ: Why aren't there more Mexicans on TV and in film? I know in your book you stated that it wasn't necessary, because of the Simpson's but I disagree. The Simpson's are animated characters, after all.

GA: The Simpson's is the most successful Latino show on television. The reason that there aren't many Mexicans on television is because the top level positions, the folks that make those decisions, aren't Latinos. Before we get more Mexicans on television, we'll need more Latino producers and executives. I think it's great that Selma Hayek created the series, Ugly Betty. Selma Hayek is a force in Hollywood. A lot of independent Mexican producers may have ideas but they don't have the connections and they don't have the money. Without the money, those shows aren't going to be made. Hollywood speaks the language of money. Besides the I Love Lucy show, the next most successful show was the George Lopez show, which was produced by Sandra Bullock. Until we get more Latinos in those positions, we won't see more Latinos on television.

LZ: How are you adjusting to your overnight success of your book, Ask a Mexican! And what is your reaction when speaking to the college campus crowd in Middle America?

GA: I never imagined that the success of this book would go outside of Orange County. Since 2006 when the column was syndicated, my whole world changed. Sometimes I can't believe it, it's been such a joy. Going to the college campuses has mostly been a positive reaction. Sometimes I'll see someone in the crowd who looks like they may not like what I do but by the end of the lecture they are laughing and enjoying themselves. Every speaking engagement I have is an opportunity. I think I convert them.

LZ: Please tell me about your new book, Orange County: a Personal History

GA: The book comes out on September 16, which is Mexican Independence Day. It is the history of Orange County as seen through four generations of my family going back and forth between Anaheim and Mexico. One half of the book is the history of Orange County and the other half of the book is the history of my family.

I also wrote that to tell the history of Mexican migration. These people came from Mexico just like my family. They only spoke Spanish at home and with their children. But they eventually learned English and they eventually became successful. They found a place in the community, they purchased homes, and they became tax payers. Some went onto college and earned their degrees while others started working. They became successful American citizens. My family's history is not an exception. It's the rule to understand Mexican migration.

My book is going to make the most shocking assertion that you will hear in the United States this year. That Mexicans learn English, that Mexicans do succeed, that Mexicans buy their own homes. Some people refuse to believe that but I want them to refuse to believe that in the face of my family. Sometimes people say that my family is different but I tell them no, my family is just like all the other Mexican families I've ever met. And one more thing, for the readers in Southern California, I also give a city by city guide of the best restaurants in Orange County. I am also the food editor for the OC Weekly too, so take this book with you and check out these restaurants.

LZ: And finally, as a Mexicana I must ask: Boxers or briefs?

GA: Boxer briefs. My girlfriend demanded boxer briefs. Before that it was boxers.

LZ: aSo when can we expect to see your new book, Orange County: a Personal History

GA: I will read from my book at the Yost Theater, 307 N. Spurgeon in Santa Ana on Thursday, September 18 at 7 PM. The reception will be immediately following the book reading. The reception will be at the Book Store & Art Gallery located at 1110 N. Main Street Santa Ana.
For more information call (714) 973-7900

Thank you so much! And if you go, tell them Lisa sent you!

Info on book readings, click here and here

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