Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: ¡Ask A Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano

After reading Suzuki’s Words in Context, I was encouraged to broaden my language learning studies to pick up a bit more on the cultural and linguistic aspects of Latin American Spanish. After a variety of fiction and nonfiction works, I stumbled across ¡Ask A Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano. A columnist for the OC Weekly, Arellano’s column responds to queries put to him about Mexican lifestyle, culture, heritage, etc. ¡Ask A Mexican! is part collection of some of these queries intertwined with newer works and a few essay style ponderances.

When I first saw the cover of Arellano’s book at work, I had doubts. Being from one of those “middle states” I had no idea who he was or what this could be about, but that a stereotyped Mexican was smiling at me from the cover. The title turned up once again in my search for reading materials and I decided, “Why not?”

Arellano’s responses are consistently humorous, often informative, and always unapologetic. The columnist does play up the idea of the stereotyped Mexican at times, but often in jest and only as frequently as stereotyped questions are asked of him. (Seriously, I was amazed at some of the questions. A good assumption to make is that people, all over the world, aren’t quite that different from you.) This is not to say that at times the book isn’t offensive or that the reader should get all of their information on Mexico’s culture and people from Arellano, but he is a spokesman in an interesting position and with a lot to say.

I was asked by Joanne if Arellano’s treatment of Latino stereotypes. I found Arellano very much a believer in the idea that some truth exists in every stereotype and he fully exploits/explores this to various humorous possibilities. However, on a more subtle level he often takes issue directly with these stereotypes, points out the stereotypes existing in the questioner’s environment, and by exploring a wide range of Mexican immigrant from migrant farm worker to professionals. It’s a humorous book and I now regularly check in at Arellano’s column.

My partner and I frequent a local Mexican restaurant because it’s tasty, inexpensive, and within walking distance (bring on the pablanos and margaritas). I couldn’t help but grin when I noticed a variety of the workers sitting at the bar were all drinking bottled water while my partner and I drank from our glasses. One of Arellano’s responses was to such an inquiry about Mexican’s drinking bottled water and I had a moment of feeling on the “in.” ¡Ask A Mexican! is a fun and entertaining view of Mexicans in America.

Conclusion: Returned to the library.

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Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

So I’ve done it again: I have a growing stack of books I keep intended to write up but forget so the stack keeps getting larger. Even with the amount of studying and preparation I’ve been doing for my classes, I have still been reading fairly steadily.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende is my second book by Allende. After my disappointment with Inés of My Soul, I did not get around to picking up another book until nearly a year later. Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza, an orphaned Chilean taken in by British aristocrats in the colony of Valparaíso. She is seen very much as a daughter by the spinster sister Rose, who takes periodic interest in the child and the rest of Eliza’s youth is spent with Mama Fresia in the kitchen. Once Eliza hits puberty Rose takes a great interest into grooming Eliza into a proper young woman so the orphan can make a good and prominent match. That is, until Eliza falls in love with Joaquín, is impregnated, and hides a stowaway to track him through the California wilderness he left her for in search of gold.

Daughter of Fortune also is a book of class status and escaping one’s birth. Allende explores this with Rose, but also with the defiant and unsettled city of San Francisco compared to the strict and reserved culture of Chile. In this environment Allende also guides Eliza through racism, interracial relationships, and sexual exploration. Daughter of Fortune explores the power and lust of first love as well as how love can effect someone. In some ways, I found this novel very similar to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez, but admit that I am quite partial to Allende’s retelling of such themes of love.

Other opinions: Katrina’s Reads, Fizzy Thoughts.