I like tacos, you like tacos, we all like tacos but at Gustavo Arellano’s book signing for his new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, I learned there was more to the taco, and for that mater Mexican food, then taste.  As a student of Gustavo I expected his talk to focus on food diversity but what I did not expect was the diversity of the standing room only crowd that filled the Fullerton Public Library.  Among the ethnically, culturally and racially diverse crowd were members of Gustavo’s family, a Gringo Bandito hot sauce representative who was giving out free samples and an aspiring Mexican lucha libre who dawned his black mask for a picture with the author.  Then there was the florescent red face dude, in faded jeans and red Lacoste shirt, running around snapping pictures of everyone and everything.  At first I thought this giselle looking clown was really excited to see Gustavo but then I got a whiff of that stale, been sitting in the sun all day, Budweiser and knew there was more to this story then I would ever want to know. Anyways, back to the assignment, which has nothing to do with drunks or with Gustavo’s position as the editor of the OC Weekly or that this is the third book he has written. Instead, the assignment called for me to get a sense of what some attendees felt about the event.

As I walked towards the center of the battleship size conference hall, I bumped into a five foot four, dark skinned girl named Carla.  She was a student from Long Beach State and was rocking a bright blue sweeter with “ITALIA” written across the center. Her professor Kelly, she only knew by her first name, had required her to attend.  Even though the threat of a poor grade compelled her to come to the event she had a good time and enjoyed Gustavo’s sense of humor. For Carla, the increase in digital media meant this book signing would be her first and last. As for her favorite food, she adamantly proclaimed it was the chile relleno, which reminded her of growing up in Santa Fe Springs.  With her boyfriend calling I asked if she happened to be Italian, after all her sweatshirt had the nation’s name on it, laughingly she assured me she was not.

“Did you just ask her if she was Italian?”  A lanky old timer, who looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, asked me.  “In case you did not notice her sweatshirt had the word Italy plastered on it.” I replied.  My next thought was to tell Shaggy to kick rocks but then I realized he could be of use.  “Hey buddy, you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Hesitantly, he accepted my offer.

Example of “haute cuisine.” The food of the elites.

Shaggy, whose real name was Carlos, told me he was in attendance because, like everyone else, he loves food. In fact, he loved food so much he watched the culturally diverse food shows that appear daily on PBS.  He told me the title of the book gave him a vague understanding of what Gustavo would talk about.  And even though he enjoyed the event there were a few things that bothered him.  For one, he did not appreciate the “huckster” stuff from Martinez, the owner of Libreria Martinez bookstore in Santa Ana. Also, he wished there was more discussion on “haute cuisine.”  “What the hell is haute cuisine?” I asked.   Shaggy then went on to explain how French cooking can be broken up between haute cooking, which is upper class, “like opera.” And low class cooking, which is like a “subway performer.” He advised me if I wanted to get a taste of elitism I should try Rivera restaurant in Los Angeles. Furthermore, Shaggy, who looked as upper class as an impoverished peasant, wished Gustavo’s discussion would have addressed other forms of cooking.  He wanted there to have been more talk on restaurants other than shacks.

I thanked him for the French food lesson and then he proceeded to give me a history of his favorite food, the Anaheim Chile.  He started by racking his brain over the chiles original name and then assured me it was first cultivated by a man named Garcia in the Southwest of the United States . “Oh, that Chile.” I said.   He wondered if it was in Gustavo’s book and promised to notify me when he remembered the original name.   I thanked him for his time and scurried off.

After a few deep breaths and a quick search for the drunk who I hoped had a few airplane shots to calm my nerves, I found the perfect candidate for my last interview.  Standing in line, waiting to get signed a book she did not have, was little ten-year-old Veronica. With the confidence of a politician she addressed my questions.

Veronica who heard about the event from her parents and grandpa—I assumed they accompanied her but I did not see them—told me she knew Gustavo from his “Ask a Mexican” column and wanted to hear him speak.  For her, the event was a lot of fun and she really enjoyed Gustavo’s speech, especially the part about how Taco Bell is salty and how Del Taco is better.  “So you like Del Taco?”  “Yes” she replied. When I asked what her favorite Mexican food was she immediately stated, “All tacos from Taqueria De Anda.” “That sounds good. Can you tell me where it’s at?” She informed me there was one in Santa Ana and one in Fullerton.  Unbeknownst, to me Gustavo’s sister was standing in line behind us and she let me know Veronica knew what she was talking about.


About ocbarrios

Professor for Cal State Fullerton's Barrio Studies class for Fall 2011 semester

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