Gustavo Arrelano’s ¡Ask a Mexican! column won the 2006 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for the best column in a large circulation weekly. He’s a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times and has appeared on Today, Nightline, NPR’s On the Media, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, and The Colbert Report. And he’s published two books: Ask a Mexican and Orange County.
So I thought he’d be kind of a dick when I called him.
“Heyyy, what’s up, half-Mexican?” Arellano said when he picked up the phone. He sounded happy as a clam, probably because he wasn’t washing a white person’s car or running through Compton with a hubcap—a successful Chicano brother, indeed. Of course, my Mexican half was proud, but my resentful white half wanted to call immigration right away.
Well, I know you’re not, but do you ever feel half-Mexican, like I am?
I think any child of Mexican immigrants in the United States is always going to feel that he’s not Mexican enough—usually because his parents tell him he’s not Mexican enough. For instance, my dad wanted me to wear a Tejana [a Stetson], and I wouldn’t do it because I’d look like an idiot. I wear glasses, and when was the last time you saw a cowboy with glasses? Because I wouldn’t do that, it pained my father to no end. I had it even [worse] than most Mexicans because I’m also a nerd. Apparently, there was no such thing as Mexican nerds.
Were you a nerd throughout high school?
Dude, I was a nerd from the day I was born. I was reading in kindergarten. I got humungous glasses that covered half of my face in second grade. I’ve been living the nerd life ever since. And it’s doubly tough when you’re a Mexican nerd.
Do you ever cringe when white people pronounce Spanish words correctly?
Yeah. Now the white people are turning Mexican. They’re going to be more Mexican than us, and they’re going to take us over again.
Is it irony that everything in California is named in Spanish, yet we’re trying very hard to keep Mexicans out?
Absolutely. Down here, in the ritziest part of Orange County, all the street names are in Spanish—and that’s where the most virulent anti-Mexican sentiment in the county exists. If anything, it just proves that God has a delicious sense of humor.
Who would win in a fight, you or Cheech?
I wouldn’t fight him. He’s a god of all Mexican-Americans. Every Mexican kid in this country grew up watching [Born in East L.A.] and loving it because it had the Dodgers, and it had an orange fight. It was the standard.
I don’t feel Mexican most of the time. Is there anything I can do to feel more connected to La Raza?
If you get [Chuck Taylors], almost immediately your Mexican points go up tenfold. And … oh, offer amnesty to someone. Yeah, get an illegal-immigrant Mexican woman [and] say, “Hey, I’m a citizen. I’ll marry you,” and you will be a god in the Mexican community.