Ask a Mexican
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2007
If you like your humor smooth as flan or comforting as a big abrazo from your abuelita, do not read Gustavo Arellano's first book, "¡Ask a Mexican!" (Scribner, $20 hardcover).

However, if biting satire is your cup of canela tea, Arellano is the man for you.

In his book, he brings together the best of his nationally syndicated column of the same name, with some new material thrown in for good measure.
For the uninitiated, Arellano lives in Orange County, Calif., and is a staff writer and a news editor for the OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper serving the region.

Arellano's column began almost as a joke a few years ago between him and his editor, Will Swaim. Swaim, it seems, had an idea for a one-time column (to fill some space) in which Arellano would answer questions about Mexicans. As Arellano explains in his characteristically in-your-face introduction to the book, Swaim turned to him "not only because I was the only Latino on staff and mowed the lawn on the side, but because my background -- child of Mexican immigrants (one illegal!), recipient of a master's degree in Latin American studies, a truthful beaner -- put me in a unique position to be an authority on all things Mexican."

So Arellano "slapped together" the first Q&A:

Question: "Dear Mexican, Why do Mexicans call white people gringos?"

Answer: "Dear Gabacho, Mexicans do not call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos gabachos."

It was an immediate hit with readers, and questions started pouring in -- much to Arellano's amazement. This one-time lark became a regular column.

Since then, Arellano's irreverent style, fueled by the often-asinine queries, has resulted in nothing short of a social and publishing phenomenon. "¡Ask a Mexican!" is now nationally syndicated and won the 2006 Association of Alternative Weeklies award for Best Column. Arellano has been the subject of press coverage on "Nightline," "The Colbert Report," "The Today Show," the Los Angeles Times and the San Antonio Express-News.

Many of the questions Arellano receives are mean-spirited, designed to get a rise out of him. But he mixes humor with social analysis (and sometimes with a dash of government data) to do three things: point out the ridiculousness of the question, educate us, and make us laugh.

An example:

Question: "Why aren't more migrant Mexicans taking advantage of the English classes made available instead of relying on their children to translate?"

Arellano's answer runs too long to be reprinted here but he responds, in part: "The first generation of immigrants commit themselves to a lifetime of labor, not assimilation -- that's the job of the children." He continues: "Sure, - hilarity can ensue when you have an 8-year-old trying to describe a father's diabetes to a doctor, but what better way to teach Mexican kiddies that life in America is brutal and filled with beans if you have immigrant parents?"

Another question: "Why are Mexicans always selling oranges on street corners?" Arellano's answer begins: "What do you want them to sell -- Steinways?"

Not all questioners are non-Mexican. Arellano takes delight in describing the culture to self-proclaimed pochos (assimilated Mexicans) who truly feel they have lost much of their heritage.

And many questioners want explanations for Spanish cuss words and phrases that cannot be reprinted in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that if you are not prudish, Arellano's answers will have you on the floor laughing.

The book includes essays, as well, in which Arellano digs deeper into the sociological and cultural complexities of readers' queries and all things Mexican.

Throughout history, literature's greatest social satirists were both criticized and embraced. Could Gustavo Arellano be the Mexican Jonathan Swift? Es posible.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The premise of this book is simple. Gustavo Arellano writes a nationally syndicated column where readers ask him the questions they have always wanted to ask about Mexicans. The questions range from the predictably racist to the naive and well intentioned. With great wit and confidence, Arellano answers the questions in the spirit in which they were sent.

In this age of political correctness, there is something refreshing about a journalist who is not afraid to speak his mind. In an odd way, the publication of Arellano's weekly column shows a maturing of ethnic relations in the United States. Throughout our country's history, the people at the bottom have always been the recipients of the majority's distain. Not content to be some noble victim, Arellenao believes giving some of it back is the classic way of dealing with this type of petty oppression. Guastavo Arellano is as "All American" as Don Rickles and Jackie Mason.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2007
Growing up in Orange County, I must sing Gustavo Arellano's praises! His knowledge, understanding and quick wit when explaining in depth everything we are all too afraid to ask about Mexicans is BRILLIANT! Each and every week offers new surprises in his OC Weekly column "Ask A Mexican" - nothing is too off-colored, "weird" or offensive - GUSTAVO KNOWS ALL and this book blends perfectly, each and every "delicious" and "meaty" question as if it were a critical ingredient in the most AMAZING Mexican taco! Tasty! Also check out his restaurant reviews! Gustavo is an amazing writer - quick witted, sarcastic, intuitive and potent! Truly a voice for our generation! Amazing book! Get it!
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2007
I came across this book looking for something less serious to break things up a bit. You know, a piece of intellectual candy. It seemed innocent enough: Ask a Mexican a question about Mexican culture and get an answer. Maybe I can get a perspective about our immigration problems from the Mexican viewpoint? I expected some light-hearted responses, perhaps a few jabs at Los Estados Unidos, and not much more.

For starters, Sr. Arellano begins by listing a dictionary of Mexican slang terms. For example, did you know that Mexicans do not call those of us north of the border 'gringos' like most of us believe? Instead they call us 'gabachos'. Though not explicitly stated, something tells me that this is a derisive term. In fact, most of the slang dictionary, as short as it is, involves Mexican verbiage for rather vulgar invectives! Imagine that! Who would've thought that about our 'south of the border' neighbors?

Well, I found myself pretty well entertained with Gustavo's Mexican candor until I got about a third of the way through the book. I then realized that all of the Q/A involved some variation of the theme:

Q: Can you explain some particular aspect of Mexican culture?
A: Mexicans do what ever they want to do and if it annoys you gabacho's, so much the better!

Throw in some vulgarity in the response and you get the idea. While the above mentioned format became somewhat tedious, I did find myself drawn to read on. And, as I did, I began to understand how the Mexican mind set works. They are pretty much a culture bound together with the common goal to find a better life here in the U.S., or wherever, with whatever it takes. They refuse to be brought down by any admonition of ours and are committed to enjoy the life they have and to work for a better one in the future and for their children.

So the basic idea presented by this book can be summarized by the statement "What do you expect from people trying to find a better life for themselves"? Perhaps we can learn from this culture. Their commitment to family, their desire for a better life, and their 'devil-may-care' attitude can serve as a model for Americans entrenched in our various ideologies. Maybe we should lighten up and be grateful for what we have.

I am giving the work 3 stars, because while it explains Mexican attitudes and brings light to various aspects of their culture, it does contain elements of prejudice (Guatemalan's should steer clear of this book) and gutter-mentality along with a format that is somewhat repetitive. On the other hand, it does educate the reader in Mexican street talk. So the next time you hear some cabrón doing the Woody Woodpecker whistle at you on the street corner, you'll know which digit to use in response.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2007
Though I live in California, I wasn't aware of the stereotypes people had about Mexicans. This book was an eye opener. Gustavo answers questions with a good sense of humor.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 23, 2008
Gustavo Arellano's "Ask a Mexican" is a brilliant book. What's obvious when reading a book's length worth of his answers is how well-researched they are. It's a nice balance of referenced scholarship, combined with the observations of a street-savvy guy. First-time readers beware though: Arellano's work is culled from columns that appear in alternative weeklies, and it's got the language to prove it. It can be jarring and off-putting at times. However, most times it works, because the questions match in tone.

Arellano's main role here is as myth debunker and as one who tries to put Mexican immigration in a historical context for his readers. I've selected this passage from p. 40 as emblematic of his approach. A reader writes "Why don't Mexicans want to assimilate and accept our way of life?" The Mexican answers (in part) that "(i)n the case of reverence for one's roots, it boils down thusly: gabachos long-removed from Ellis Island can love their ancestors without shame because they're the descendants of immigrants, and immigrants made this nation great; Mexicans can't because they _are_ immigrants, and immigrants are turning America into the Third World."

Like that opinion or not, you have to give Arellano credit for superbly crafted sentences like that. The book is rife with them. It makes for a great read.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2007
Gustavo Arellano has a regular column in the Orange County Weekly here in southern California. He also appears once a month on radio locally on the Al Rantel Show on talkradio KABC in the evening. When you hear him talk about the Mexican culture and what kind of letters he gets from people (Mexicans included)it's funny and can stretch your eyes a bit.

His book "Ask A Mexican" is a compilation of letters he gets and a summary of the terms and slangs that go around the southern California communities which may even apply to areas far away. The book is a great bargain, a barrier breaker and best of all fun to read. Gustavo plays no favorites, he hits hard but with fun and humor. Buy it, read it and see for yourself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2011
I started out really enjoying this book. I liked that Mr. Arellano seemed to have a sense of humor and, while attempting to destroy some negative Mexican stereotypes, still was able to poke a little fun at all groups of people.

However, this book quickly got repetitive and tiresome. A lot of Arellano's answers were based solely on his own personal opinion, and his defensiveness went a little too far. On the other hand, some of his answers were too flippant on the other side. For example, whenever someone asks him, in one form or another, why so many Mexicans come to the United States, his reply is, "There are too many Mexicans in Mexico!" That schtick got old fast. So did the constant defense of the patriarchal culture.

Overall, this book was hit and miss. There was some interesting information about historical reasons for parts of Mexican culture that I really enjoyed.

Interestingly, I picked this book up because I thought it would be funny, but I ended up enjoying the factual information more than the tiresome humor.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2007
This "gabacha" LOVES this book!!!

I came across Gus Arellano's column in the Orange County paper by chance when I was in the area some time back. It was hilarious and I've been hooked on his column ever since. In fact, he was the first one I looked up and requested on myspace when I signed up so that I could keep informed of any book deals, new columns or TV show appearances. I've been waiting for him to come out with a book and I was so excited when he finally did!! The book met and exceeded my expectations.

Living in the same hispanic neighborhood in Southern California that I was born and raised in, I could relate to some of the book. It's been a long time since I've had to put a book down several times while reading.. only because I was laughing hysterically.

Gus is a BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT writer. If you enjoy the wit, humor, satire, and sarcasm that shines through his columns and TV show appearances, this book is a must have!

In light of the recent and intense stirs about immigration, this book is definitely a breath of fresh air that I believe can be enjoyable for friends and foes of the debate alike. And whatever your ethnicity, this book is enjoyable and can have you pondering questions about your own culture.

First chapter starts off with language and gives the reader a whole glossary of terms including curse words to enjoy and learn about. Book covers hilarious Q&A for everything.. culture, food, immigration, fashion, work. Gus holds nothing back and answers questions from the curious, questions from the obviously angry or rude, and questions that people are normally too embarrassed to ask.

I wish every culture had a Gus Arellano!

One of the most entertaining books I've read!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2007
Great book with a mix of humor, sarcasm and truth. Don't buy if you are a card-carrying Minuteman, though.
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