Monday, July 21, 2008

Pugnacious, Learned & Mocking: Gustavo Arrellano

What started out as a column for the Orange County Weekly is now the Everyman handbook on the cultural clashes and misperceptions between Mexicans and well, everyone else.

In addition to his usual journalism assignments with the paper, Gustavo Arellano has penned a weekly column that typically starts out with, Dear Mexican. Ask A Mexican! is syndicated in newspapers across the country and has a following of those who understand irony, and others to whom it simply falls flat. Some questions are curious about Mexican culture or history.
Gustavo Arellano, Photo from OC Register
Others are meant to be rude and degrading. Some are just bizarre:
"Dear Mexican, Why don't Mexicans like Science-fiction movies?"

Here's his answer in his typically sharpshooting manner:
"Dear Gabacho, One of my favorite ethnic jokes goes like this. Why aren't there any Puerto Ricans on Star Trek? Because they don't work in the future either." But Mexicans don't like alien films because they're always thinly veiled allegories about Mexicans if you believe University of Texas professor Charles Ramírez Berg."
No matter how someone tries to plot to throw Arellano off, he goes off into the archives of history or through volumes of books to find a quasi-historical/academic answer for the person he'll address as Dear Gabacho or a variant of. Arellano uses his brains and words as a billy club. He handles the questions deftly and with humor, and the voice that comes through is often irreverent --to both sides.

His book, which was published this year by Scribner, will go down as a classic. Not only is it funny, pugnacious and mocking, but it demands we look at perceptions of race and culture, questioning what it is to be an American.

Here he is in an interview at the Los Angeles Press Club: