…it’s proven quite the opposite in fact. While most would consider it a common fact that Mexican food is extremely popular in the United States, our untrained eye could never see the magnitude with which our neighbor’s cuisine has altered American eating forever. Luckily, for us common-folk, we’ve got the insight and guidance provided by comida aficionado himself, Gustavo Arellano. While a great number of OCWeekly readers may only be familiar with his witty and seemingly controversial column ¡Ask a Mexican!, as the editor of the greatly acclaimed publication, Arellano is a well-trained writer in the ways of investigative and hard hitting journalism. Having worked with questionable politicians and neo-Nazis alike, he has an eye for the truth and a thirst for proof. After spending countless hours buried in information, Gustavo has recently turned his questioning eye toward a more delicious culprit; Mexican food. In his most recent book, Taco USA: How Mexican food Conquered America, Arellano scoured the states in search of Latin love in the form of food. Having sacrificed his time and palate to the many variations of burritos and more traditional meals, Arellano includes a detailed and surprising account of the migration of Mexico’s food from across the border to our kitchen tables.
While on a pit stop for his book’s U.S. tour, Arellano and friends provided a show an a lesson. The show, including hot sauce swag and humorous readings from his book, served as an outstanding show of who Arellano is as a writer, professor, and son. His words were only as swift as his sarcasm and his family members could no better hide their pride than the sun could hide it’s rays. The lesson was found within the passages, dated back from Anaheim’s earliest encounters with Disneyland, and even earlier establishments of Latino communities. The earliest of businesses set to mass produce Mexican food could not have predicted the crave endured reactions, and it seems that only a mister Gustavo Arellano could tell it’s story.
After being introduced by Ruben Martinez, a man well known in his community as a bookstore owner and educational advocate, the crowd knew that they were in the presence of a great mind, an insightful mind, and a strong voice for the Chicano community. While disputing stereotypes and even less supported food-related myths, Arellano used his passion for food to connect every listener to one another. We were no longer strangers but people who loved food, wanted to hear the truth, and enjoyed a good read almost as much as a quality burrito. We were a group hungry for knowledge…and tacos.

Immediately following the event, I was given the opportunity to speak with three very different fans, all of whom had may not have been avid readers of sustenance related history, but had been drawn there regardless. The first, an older woman seated in the very front row, had appeared outspoken and critical throughout Gustavo’s discussion. When approached, and quickly diverted by the husband, I was compelled to understand what would bring an older anglo-woman to such an event. Her responses, which were provided with an air of all-knowing knowledge toward the Mexican community, were wrapped as though a gift. While my sarcasm my not be quickly understood, I can assure you, the reader, that she was hoping to communicate her well-travelled experiences rather than her interest in Taco USA. The respondent, or Tina, said that she had only been brought to the signing by her husband, after hearing about the event on NPR and appeared to have been intrigued despite the apparent coercion. Her reaction was excited to say the least when asked what her opinion was of the event, and she expressed that “Of course, [she] loved all of it.” She most especially enjoyed the background provided on some of her favorite foods. While it wasn’t her first book signing, obviously (sarcasm again), she could hardly handle the long wait in the line to get her book signed. Although our interview had long since ended, she made sure to catch up with me and critique not only my interview, but the organization of the event and the rate at which she was advancing toward the front of the line. In between complaints and expressions of superiority, I was informed that she had been to every region of Mexico, frequently travelled, and enjoyed cuisine at a place whose name she surprisingly could not recall. Similarly, her favorite dish was an item which she could not recall the name of, but started with a chiles el…something-or-other.

[With all sarcasm aside, I would like to say that I rarely react well to the rude, and was forced to include her in this post lest I lose credit for our assignment.]

The next, and definitely unlikely interviewee, was Shuji, or better known as Arellano’s cameraman. During the chaos of the event, I was left with little opportunity besides the questioning of an employee of the writer himself. While his reason for arrival, and all other logistical information was moot, it was most assuredly fascinating to gain insight into the world in which writers may live. Shuji seemed jovial despite being questioned while working, and appeared to be a happy member of “The Mexican’s” team. His favorite dish, then, would be tacos acorazados, or anything with tripas.

Lastly, my final interview was with an accidental attendee whose interest had most definitely been sparked by all of the topics discussed. As he awaited his wife’s return from speaking with her professor, Julio could hardly retain his excitement when asked what his favorite parts of the signing had been. While he hadn’t been drawn there purely by his need to hear about hamburger burritos, Julio seemed more than happy to have accompanied his wife to the signing. He considered the event to be funny as well as informative, and especially appreciated the research presented, the “silly facts”, and the story regarding Taco Bell and the Doritos Locos Taco. What appeared most interesting to him though? He could not, for the life of him, think of a favorite Mexican dish of his. When posed with the question earlier in the evening, he had thought continuously for an answer and was still at a loss. His only requirement or a dish to be tasty is that it be authentic and healthy. As a man who is hoping to maintain his cholesterol and his taste for home-cooking, Julio asks only that he be fed the foods of our neighbors the way our neighbors had intended.

With all foodie fun and sarcastic comments aside, the signing proved inspiring and informative. As a Mexican-American student in a financially despairing time, it has been tempting to give into the pains of society. But, after seeing and hearing the accounts presented by Martinez and Arellano, I am reminding of my duty to myself as well as those I represent. Whether we like it or not, all Mexican American students become examples of others in our culture, and are thus made open to ridicule and encouragement alike. It took only a few words from some peers to remind me that our people have affectively changed American cuisine and culture forever, thus proving the importance of our presence in it’s future.

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About ocbarrios

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

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