Tasty answers

Tasty answers

‘Ask a Mexican' columnist Gustavo Arellano discusses his book ‘Taco USA' Monday at the Altadena Library

By Carl Kozlowski 09/26/2013

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For the past eight years, Gustavo Arellano has been answering questions large and small about Mexicans and Mexican culture through his humorous yet informational column "Ask a Mexican" in the LA Weekly and dozens of other newspapers nationwide. He has also been kept busy as the editor of the LA Weekly's sister paper, the OC Weekly, for the past several years.

Yet he still felt there was a burning desire for information about a topic that, as a food lover, was near and dear to his heart: tacos. So Arellano threw himself into the obsessive task of documenting the history of the taco in America and finding the best ones in the nation for his book "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America", which he'll discuss Monday night at the Altadena Library.

"My agent gave me the idea because he said you like food a lot, why not try Mexican food?" Arellano said. "I said there probably had been one, but I researched and no one had done a history of Mexican food in the US. I'm a reporter who likes to do something nobody else has done, and since Mexican food is hugely popular in this country and has a long history, I dove in."

The son of Mexican immigrants himself, Arellano grew up with a passion for film and majored in that field in college. His original ambition was to be an archivist for a film museum, but he was redirected into journalism in 2000 after an editor liked a humorous letter he wrote to his newspaper and invited him to try reporting professionally.

"I was a regular reporter for awhile, but then ‘Ask A Mexican' started as a joke column in 2004 when my editor said there's a lot of people in Orange County who are ignorant about Hispanic culture," recalls Arellano, who grew up as the son of Mexican immigrants himself. "It was supposed to be a one-time joke but then peoplee started sending in questions. Nine years later, the questions have never stopped: ‘Is it true that George W. Bush's grandfather stole the head of Pancho Villa?' ‘Why are Mexicans so damn happy?' It always amazes me how much that one comes up."

Arellano spent three years researching the book and another year writing it, but he had plenty of fun along the way. He also offers a history of the burrito and his choices for the five best Mexican meals in America, a search that took him on a journey to places like Tucson and El Paso.

"You gotta work, I'm a reporter and news doesn't sleep for you," says Arellano. "You've just gotta roll with it, but it's worthwhile to share the story of our food. First we conquer your stomach, then your heart, then your brain." n

Gustavo Arellano discusses and signs his book "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America," with snacks from Mota's Mexican Restaurant for guests, at 7 p.m. Monday at the Altadena Library, 600 E. Mariposa St., Altadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 798-0833 or visit altadenalibrary.org.



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