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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Revisited Reviews: Daughters of Juarez

I stumbled onto The Daughter’s of Juarez after having a discussion on the term femicide (the act of killing a woman is a more generic definition, but this term is often applied to specific mass killings of women). In Juarez, Mexico women from all social classes and with distinctly different family ties have been disappearing. Now and then bodies (and the occasional mass grave) of women that have been sexually abused and mutilated show up. The Daughter’s of Juarez explores the lives of these missing women, the media blips that have occurred as a result, the political turmoil caused over these cases, as well as the possible answers to what has happened to so many women. After reading about this, I was horrified by what had happened and because I had never heard of any of this. A thrilling and exploratory read of the lives of women in Juarez, Mexico as well as a look at the relations between the U.S.A. and its southern border neighbor.

Daughter of Juarez is a frightful true crime tale and personally it was the book that kicked off my interest for Latin American politics, literature, and the relationship between the U.S.A. and our neighbors to the south. I was appalled to learn of the working conditions, mainly women’s condition, in U.S. owned companies that operate just south of the border with management and owners driving across the border from El Paso every day.

Other opinions: Feminist Review.

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