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Mexican, Asked

Gustavo Arellano on Hispanics, chile and panocha

November 6, 2013, 12:00 am
Gustavo Arellano wears many hats.

Or in his case, sombreros: alt-weekly editor, author, feather-ruffler and perhaps his biggest claim to fame, the mastermind behind the ever popular syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! 

Since the feature’s inception in 2004 as a one-off parody to its current incarnation as a mainstay in close to 40 publications nationwide, its purpose has been the same, he says, “To debunk and deconstruct the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about Mexicans.”

This weekend, the noted foodie arrives in Santa Fe to take part in FUZE.SW, a first of its kind, 3-day gastronomic bonanza that, through a series of conferences, panel discussions and tastings is sure to make a tasty splash.

With a keynote titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Panocha,” the author of Taco USA promises to deliver an experience filled with a dose of history, gubernatorial cravings and rallying cries from the forthcoming sopaipilla revolution.

You don’t argue with panocha. Ever.”

SFR: What have been some of the most memorable questions you’ve received over the years?

Gustavo Arellano: Oh my God, let’s get to the crazier ones: ‘Why do Mexican men like to rape so much?’—that was a classic; ‘Is it true that George W Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, stole the head of Pancho Villa?’; ‘Why are Mexicans always so damn happy?’ I’ll answer any and all questions that people have about Mexicans. It’s been a lot of desmadre and a lot of just insanity. And that’s why I love doing it. 

Why are we so damn happy? 

Because! What is there to be sad about? Those of us here live in a country that hates us; those of us in Mexico live in a country that also hates us. Life’s one big shit storm for us, so what do we do? We laugh! It’s like that old Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song, ‘I Gotta Dance to Keep From Crying.’ In this case, we gotta laugh, and that’s the great thing about working-class culture—the humor that comes from it is the best—like Jewish humor. 

How so?

Jewish humor was created from this world of oppression. The Jews, they compensated by telling some of the funniest jokes around. Us, it’s all about double entendre—the sexier the better. 

You also get a lot of questions in regards to Mexicans and our love of Morrisey or Depeche Mode. What is it about new wave pop that moves us so?

It’s not even just new wave pop, it’s like, ‘Why do Mexicans love…’ and then you have a blank and insert whatever English-language music there is. I’ve gotten everything from, ‘Why do Mexicans love Led Zeppelin?’ to ‘Why do Mexicans love Tupac?’ People think we don’t listen to anything other than banda or mariachi, even though they don’t know what the fuck banda is. In regards to new wave, if there is one style of music that Mexicans are hooked into when it comes to English-language, it is the music of the 80s. The reason why is because the 80s were really the first decade of this reconquista of ours. We had a lot of Latinos coming of age during that time and it was really the music of their youth. Also, the music of the 80s is just great. 

A big debate that you’ve challenged head-on on social media is this preference of Hispanic versus Mexican.

Oh my God.   

I’m not saying that ‘Mexican’ is a dirty word in New Mexico, but…

Yeah it is. If you won’t say it, I will. Mexican is definitely a dirty word. Whatever people want to call themselves is fine. If you want to call yourself Hispano or Hispanic, God bless you. Good for you. However, what drives me nuts are these people’s insistence that they have no Mexican blood in them; that New Mexico was a colony of Spain and had nothing to do with Mexico whatsoever. The Spaniards called the land ‘New Mexico’ and not Nuevo Andalucía or Nuevo Granada, because Oñate and all of those people were Mexicans! They were born in Mexico and a lot of them were mestizos or mulatos and those who weren’t were still the scum of Spain—conversos or people from Extremadura—all the loser regions of Spain. That’s what drives me crazy. When they call themselves ‘Hispanos,’ they’re trying to assert their purity or superiority over Mexicans or surumatos and it’s historically false. Again, call yourself whatever you want, but please don’t say you come from pure Spanish blood when your tía looks like mine: dark, fat and Mexicana

And probably diabetic.

[Laughs] Exactly!

That leads us to the topic of food, which is what’s bringing you to town. What are some of the more unique aspects of New Mexican food you’ve discovered through your writing?

All of this said, New Mexicans are not Mexicans. They’re part of the Mexican family but they’re not Mexican-Mexican. So, New Mexican food has a relation to Mexican food, but it is it’s own trip. The first couple of times I went there years ago, it seemed familiar to me—I know what burritos are, I even know what carne adovada is, because we have that in Zacatecas—but this whole obsession with red or green, I didn’t get that. Sopaipillas? We don’t have those out here in Southern California. The same thing with bizcochitos. Then there’s the legendary panocha; we have a lot of great panocha here, but not that kind of panocha.  

Can you describe your first encounter with New Mexican panocha?

I was doing research for [Taco USA] a couple of years ago, research that took me, literally, all the way across Lake Arthur where I tried to see Jesus on a tortilla to Albuquerque and finally Chimayó. I got in after a big snowstorm, so it was Chimayó at its most magical. I go to the Santuario, I go get some dirt from the posito, then I went to Leona’s Restaurante and there I see a sign that reads, ‘Panocha for sale, 50 cents.’ I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ I did not know what panocha was, other than the Mexican-Spanish term, which is pussy.  

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