By Steven Robert Allen
Love him or despise him, Albuquerqueans have paid close attention to the inflammatory wisdom of Gustavo “The Mexican” Arellano since we began running his column last year. He just published a new book called ¡Ask a Mexican!—a hilarious compendium of his finest columns. He's traversing the solar system on a monster tour to promote his new baby.
He'll invade Puccini's Golden West Saloon on Wednesday, May 9, in an event sponsored by Bookworks and the Alibi. Whether you want to shake the man's hand or slap him across the face, it will be a night to remember. Festivities begin at 8 p.m. To give you a small taste of his spicy book, we've reprinted the prologue for your reading pleasure.
Cultural Understanding via Wetback Jokes
by Gustavo Arellano
Mexicans! Spicy, wabby, drunk, dreamy. The downfall of the United States. Its salvation. Mexicans mow our lawns, graduate from college, fleece us dry. They're people with family values—machismo, many kids, big trucks. Our neighbors south of the border. Our future. Tequila!
Who doesn't love Mexicans? Whether they're family, friends, or the gold-toothed wetbacks you (heart) to hate, Mexicans have been the focus of America's obsession from the days of Sam Houston to today's multinational corporations. We give them jobs, ridicule them, and devour Mexican food as quickly as they do our social services. But we never bothered to know Mexicans. There never was a safe zone for Americans to ask our amigos about their ways, mainly because we never bothered to learn Spanish. Besides, how exactly would you ask a Mexican in person why, say, so many of them steal or why they use accents without earning a kick in the cojones? A word, by the way, that no Mexican uses.
With this in mind, OC Weekly editor Will Swaim called me into his office in November 2004. OC Weekly is my home: an alternative newspaper based in Orange County, California, that's the best damn rag outside of Weekly World News. Seems he saw a billboard on the drive to work that featured a picture of a cross-eyed Mexican DJ wearing a Viking helmet.
“That guy looks as if you could ask him any question about Mexicans and he'll know the answer,” he excitedly told me. “Why don't you do it? Why don't you ask readers to send in questions about Mexicans, and you answer them?”
My editor is an urbane, tolerant boss, yet he obsesses over Mexicans like all other good gabachos. I had entertained many of his questions about Mexican culture in my five years at the Weekly, from why Mexican men live with their parents until marriage to the Mexican affinity for transvestites. Will turned to me not just because I was the only Latino on staff, and [I] trim his trees on the side, but because my background—child of Mexican immigrants (one illegal!), recipient of a master's degree in Latin American studies, a truthful beaner—put me in a unique position to be an authority on all things Mexican.
I snorted in disbelief at Will's request: while it was fun to answer his questions, I didn't believe anyone else would care. My boss persisted. We were desperate to fill our news section the week he saw that Mexican DJ billboard. Besides, he promised, it was a one-time joke that we would scrap if no one sent in questions.
That afternoon, I slapped together the following question and answer:
Dear Mexican, Why do Mexicans call white people gringos?
Dear Gabacho, Mexicans do not call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos gabachos.
We named the column ¡Ask a Mexican! and paired it with an illustration of the most stereotypical Mexican man imaginable—fat, wearing a sombrero and bandoliers, with a mustache, stubby neck, and a shiny gold tooth. My dad in his younger days. We laughed.
Reaction was instantaneous. Liberal-minded people criticized the logo, the column's name, its very existence. Conservatives didn't like how I called white people gabachos, a derogatory term a tad softer than nigger. Latino activists called Will demanding my resignation and threatened to boycott the Weekly. But more people of all races thought ¡Ask a Mexican! was brilliant. And, more surprisingly, the questions poured in: Why do Mexican girls wear frilly dresses? What's with Mexicans and gay-bashing? Is it true Mexicans make tamales for Christmas so their kids have something to unwrap?
We still weren't sold on the idea until about a month into the column's existence, when we held ¡Ask a Mexican! one week because of space constraints. The questions swamped us anew: Where's the Mexican? Why did you deport the Mexican? When will the Mexican sneak back?
The Weekly has run ¡Ask a Mexican! every week since, and the column smuggled itself across America. Universities invite me to speak about it. I expanded it to two questions per week in May 2005 and began answering questions live on radio. The column now comes out in more than twenty papers and has a weekly circulation of more than one million. More important, questions keep invading my mailbox: Are Mexicans into threesomes? What part of illegal don't Mexicans understand? And what's with their love of dwarves?
¡Ask a Mexican! has transformed in the two years since its first printing from a one-time joke column into the most important effort toward improving U.S.-Mexico relations since Ugly Betty. But there is much work to do. The continued migration of Mexicans into this country ensures they will remain an exotic species for decades to come. Conflicts are inevitable, but why resort to fists and fights when you can take out your frustrations on me? Come on, America: I'm your piñata. As the following pages will show, I welcome any and all questions. Shake me enough, and I'll give you the goods on my glorious race. But be careful: This piñata hits back.
This book offers the fullest depiction of Mexicans in the land—not the same tired clichés of immigrants and mothers but a nuanced, disgusting, fabulous people. I answer not so much to inform but to debunk stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths about America's spiciest minority in the hope that Americans can set aside their centuries-long suspicion of Pancho Villa's sons and hijas and accept Mexicans for what they are: the hardest-working, hardest-partying group of new Americans since the Irish.
The Mexican Comes to Albuquerque!
Arellano will be at Puccini's Golden West Saloon (620 Central SW, 242-2353) Wednesday, May 9, in an event sponsored by Bookworks and the Alibi. If you're under 21, you can enter through the back door starting at 7 p.m. The Mexican will sign his new book in a room where drinks will not be allowed. If you're 21 or older, enter through the front door (imagine that!). The fabulous Le Chat Lunatique will play music throughout the evening (tip generously!). Come with questions for The Mexican, because at some point, Arellano will take the stage to answer queries he pulls from a hat. This event is free! For more information, call 344-8139.
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