L.A. Times writer Agustin Gurza throws down in a recent critical piece on Gustavo Arellano's new book ¡Ask a Mexican!.
Gustavo Arellano is like the Paris Hilton of the Latino journalism world. He pops up everywhere, the media love him, and he thoroughly relishes the attention.
The difference is he's no airhead and he's not going to jail, though some consider his celebrity an offense. Arellano has capitalized on the novelty of his syndicated column, "¡Ask a Mexican!," in which he fields often racist questions about Mexicans with answers that are often racist themselves...
Arellano's shtick is to be the lightning rod for Mexican haters and for the politically correct critics he calls Chicano Yaktivists, admittedly a funny term. I once debated him in a meeting of L.A. Latino journalists, some of whom dismissed our disagreements as generational. Apparently, I'm too much of an old fogy to get how cool and hilarious The Mexican is.
That's not true. I get it. His satirical comedy is a cross between Andrew Dice Clay and Don Rickles. (Ooops, did I just date myself?) The problem is, one man's joke is another man's insult. Besides, I was born in Mexico (unlike The Mexican, who's actually an Anaheim native) but I rarely recognize myself in his answers: I don't wear street clothes while swimming in the ocean, I'm not especially attracted to women with large derrieres and I'm not a big fan of Morrissey.
After a while, his answers start to sound formulaic. There's an insulting retort, an endorsement of the stereotype in question, an outrageous explanation that makes the stereotype worse, and a Google search to provide journalistic cover with related factoids to sound informed.
Ouch. For the record I think Arellano is great. His sly and knowing confrontation with stereotypes is refreshing and, yes, admitteldy doesn't always work. But the guy's well thought-out opinion on sacrosanct Latino subject matter (like this provacative op-ed on the recent immigrant marches) is always a welcome, and necessary, point of view.
As Arellano's fame spreads amongst the Latino intelligentsia nationwide, it's interesting to watch the battle lines form, those who hate his work and those who admire it. Updates as the vato's book tour continues.