Q&A: Asking a Mexican

Controversial columnist Gustavo Arellano talks about going on the offensive

| September / October 2006

A couple of months ago my boss, one of the owners of Alibi [an alternative newsweekly in Albuquerque, New Mexico] handed me samples of a column called ?Ask a Mexican! The first clipping was an analysis of Mexican attitudes toward group sex. Another was a primer on Mexican cussing. A third was about why newly arrived Mexicans enjoy American public restrooms so much. My boss wanted to know if I thought the column would be appropriate for our newspaper. My initial reaction: 'Are you out of your pinche mind?'

The author of ?Ask a Mexican! is journalist Gustavo Arellano, a staff writer at the OC Weekly, an alternative newsweekly in Orange County, California, that's been running the column since late 2004 and now offers it up for syndication. And while what I read was hilarious, I couldn't help but think that if we ran his column an angry mob would storm our offices (our little Burque has a conservative streak, after all). After my initial horror subsided, however, I realized that beneath Arellano's offensive stereotypes and penchant for vulgarity there lurked a smart, subversive social critic who deserved space in our paper.

One of the qualities I admire most about ?Ask a Mexican! is that Arellano doesn't skate across the sugary surface of the immigration debate. He doesn't pretend we're a nation of good-natured, bleeding-heart liberals. From day one, his column, which now appears in seven alternative newspapers, has embraced the full, terrifying scope of the immigration debate, ramming into it head-on, sometimes with what seems like reckless abandon.

During our interview, Arellano spoke convincingly about the intent behind his work, the reaction it's sparked across the country, and why a profane platform might be just what's needed to explain Mexican culture to ignorant Americans.

How do you respond to readers-both Latinos and Anglos-who say you're promoting hate speech and negative racial stereotypes?

I tell readers who e-mail me and say they can't believe that I'm promoting racism, 'I respect your opinion, but just read the column a little more and then you will see what I am trying to do.' Then they read a couple of [columns] and respond by saying, 'Wow, thank you so much, now I get the column, and I think it's so great. Keep up the good work.'

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