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Ask a Mexican Paperback – April 22, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Arellano's popular Orange County Weekly column "¡Ask a Mexican!" now widely syndicated and gathered in this acerbic volume, he answers serious, curious, and sometimes hateful but mostly irreverent questions about Mexicans. This book compiles what are presumably the best question-and-answer exchanges over the past two years, under topics including language, sex, immigration and food. Arellano wittily defuses bigotry and mocks stereotypes with his often well-researched replies. To the inquiry on the authenticity of flour vs. corn tortillas, he explains that the Spaniards created the former. "Why do Mexicans wear their clothes when swimming?" is a recurring question among Arellano's readers; his answer: good manners. In response to the vitriolic "What is it about the word illegal that Mexicans don't understand," he points out that U.S. employers don't understand the word either. The author's relentless irony and reclamation of derogatory terms (e.g., "wab," the Orange County version of wetback) is not for the faint of heart, but this approach is a welcome reprieve from common tiptoeing around the fraught subjects of race relations and immigration. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A welcome reprieve from common tiptoeing around the fraught subjects of race relations and immigration." ---Publishers Weekly
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 56893rd edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416540032
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416540038
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel Olivas on June 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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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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