¡Ask a Mexican! Columnist Coming to Tucson to Talk Taco

April 6, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Gustavo Arellano

Readers who get to the back of the Tucson Weekly have gotten a sense where Gustavo Arellano is coming from with his weekly ¡Ask a Mexican! column.

More often than not, he’ll open responses to reader questions with “Dear Gabacho,” and his persona foresees a Reconquista by Hispanics.

¡Ask a Mexican! has some 2 million readers at 38 alternative weeklies and enough of them got reader outrage and demands to have the column removed. Instead, it’s grown only more popular since its launch in 2004 and quickly won Arellano the best column in a large circulation weekly from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in 2006.

“It’s a satirical take on a very important issue,” Arellano said in an interview with the Downtown Tucson Partnership. “The purpose is to debunk and deconstruct the stereotypes people have about Mexicans.”

He will be in Tucson on April 15 for “A Night with Gustavo Arellano: Tacos, Satire and Cultural Commentary.” This takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. in the sylvan environs of La Concina at Old Town Artisans, 201 North Court Avenue. Admission is $25, which includes a taco bar.

In truth, it’s doubling as a book signing for Arellano’s book just getting released April 10, “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.”

More truth: it’s a fundraiser for Tucson Meet Yourself. Notice the repeated food theme around all of this?

“Obviously, I’m going to be talking about food, my book,” Arellano said. “Mexican food has been pervasive in the U.S. for over 125 years. That surprises a lot of people. Me being me, I’m not just going to be able to talk about food. I will be more polite about my thoughts, not as much a firebrand as I am in a different setting.”

Such as his thoughts about Tucson Unified School District dropping Mexican-American studies under pressure from the Legislature.

“There’s nothing right about it,” he said. “It’s vile. It’s people scared of actual history. What’s so wrong about actual history? Those people are not Tucsonans. All these problems aside, I love Tucson.”

He reckons he’s visited Tucson five to 10 times, most recently last year and also for the Tucson Book Festival in 2010.

“The Tucson I know is Sonoran dogs, cheese crisps, good activist Mexicans fighting the good fight,” Arellano said.

Arellano is coming to Tucson through Maribel Alvarez, a folklorist and program director for Tucson Meet Yourself. Alvarez got to know Arellano while he was researching his book and came upon the sleeping Mexican image commonly used by restaurants. He found Alvarez, who happens to be an expert on the sleeping Mexican image.

Alvarez is featured in Arellano’s book, and now Alvarez asked him to come to Tucson to benefit Tucson Meet Yourself.

“We’re starting to go in a direction where we’re evolving into lectures and comedians and more interesting dimensions during the year, not just one weekend in October,” Alvarez said. “It should be fun, the history of Mexican food. He is steeped in the culture he’s writing about. We hope to achieve a greater understanding of the relationship of the Mexican community and how they fit into the American picture.”

It’s quite the unlikely story that got this Anaheim, Calif., native and current inhabitant the President’s Award from the Los Angeles Press Club, an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a 2008 Latino Spirit Award from the California State Legislature’s Latino Caucus.

As recently as 1999, Arellano saw himself destined as a film archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, armed with his bachelor’s degree in film studies.

His trajectory to infamy started with a mock angry letter to his local OC Weekly in response to a piece in the April Fool’s issue called “Five Latinos We Really Like.”

“The editor liked it enough to keep corresponding,” Arellano recalled.

That led to an invitation for Arellano to write freelance articles for OC Weekly in 2000 and in 2003 he became a staff writer after finishing his master’s degree at UCLA in Latin American studies.

“I have no (journalism) credentials whatsoever,” he acknowledged. “All I had was a passion for the stories I pitched. Eventually, over time, with the great writers we have, they were my mentors.”

He wrote a one-time spoof called ¡Ask a Mexican! in 2004. Little did Arellano know that a little spoof in an Orange County alt-weekly would evolve into a weekly column and get national media attention with appearances on Today, Nightline, NPR’s On the Media, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, the Glenn Beck Show and The Colbert Report.

Meanwhile, Arellano rose to managing editor at the OC Weekly, and on December 2, 2011, he became its editor, all while still delivering weekly jabs at gabachos.

“The same approach I take for ¡Ask a Mexican! I take for being the editor of OC Weekly: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Arellano said. “More than anything, I’m just the lunatic in charge of the asylum.”