By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
If you ask Gustavo Arellano why his ¡Ask a Mexican! column is so popular, he’ll tell you that’s because everybody in the United States is interested in Mexicans.
“Even if it’s because they like them or they hate them, Americans love everything Mexican, especially today,” Arellano said from his office at the Orange County Weekly.
In the introduction to his book, a collection of some of the best columns published in the first two years of ¡Ask a Mexican!, Arellano writes: “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.”
¡Ask a Mexican! has become a national phenomenon and media such as The New York Times and Reuters have featured profiles on Arellano and his column.
He tackles issues such as racism, culture, immigration, and sex, in a direct, honest way, even if that means using stereotypes, slang, and in-your-face commentary.
Arellano, who’s 28, has syndicated the column and it now runs in 31 alternative weeklys across the country.
La Prensa San Diego is the only San Diego newspaper that carries ¡Ask a Mexican! and has been publishing the column for about a year now. Ever since it began publishing it, the newspaper has gotten a bunch of letters and e-mails both praising and rejecting The Mexican.
Either way, it has become one of the most popular sections in La Prensa San Diego.
“I think the column is relevant because Gustavo addresses some important issues in a way that young Hispanics/Chicanos can relate to, understand, and get a chuckle from reading,” said Dan Muñoz Jr., editor of La Prensa San Diego. “Also, I think it has become popular because the column is out of the box in regards to traditional columns.”
Arellano, who has a master’s degree in Latin American Studies, said he has a lot of avid fans in San Diego.
“I’ve been getting great reactions from La Prensa readers,” he said. “A lot of them had been inviting me to visit San Diego to present the book.”
In August, Arellano had a booth at the Fiesta del Sol festival on Imperial Ave.
He said that it was an informal presentation and he sold about 25 copies of the book.
On Wednesday, November 28, Arellano will visit Love Library at San Diego State University to present his book and answer questions from the audience.
“It’s not going to be a lecture,” he said. “It’s going to be more interactive.”
Arellano said that for the column he gets many preguntas in Spanish and he then translates them to English.
The ¡Ask a Mexican! book is currently being translated for publication in Spanish, although Arellano admits that “the humor is going to be different.”
¡Ask a Mexican! readership is very diverse, Arellano said. It includes Mexicans and other Latinos, gabachos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans.
“Some of my critics think that only racist White people read my column, but I have a very multicultural audience,” he said.
In addition to ¡Ask a Mexican!, Arellano also works as an investigative reporter and food critic for the OC Weekly.
He said he’s currently working on his second book, a history-memoir of Orange County told through the eyes of his 4th. generation naranjero family.