Orange County: A Personal History

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9781416540045: Orange County: A Personal History
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Nationally bestselling author, syndicated columnist, and the spiciest voice of the Mexican-American community, Gustavo Arellano delivers the hilarious and poignant follow-up to Ask a Mexican, his critically acclaimed debut. Orange County not only weaves Gustavo's family story with the history of Orange County and the modern Mexican-immigrant experience but also offers sharp, caliente insights into a wide range of political, cultural, and social issues.

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About the Author:

Gustavo Arellano’s ¡Ask a Mexican! column has a circulation of more than two million in thirty-eight markets (and counting). He has received the President’s Award from the Los Angeles Press Club, an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a 2008 Latino Spirit Award from the California State legislature. Arellano has appeared on the Today show, Nightline, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and The Colbert Report. For more information, visit AskAMexican.net.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

This Is How We Do It in the OC

(Don't Call It That)

I've seen the Mexican future of this country, the coming Reconquista -- and it's absolutely banal.

Our looming takeover is spreading across America and will resemble the neighborhood where my parents live in Anaheim, California, Mexico. The houses here all feature the same basic design: three bedrooms, two baths, a long living room connected to the dining room, divided from the kitchen by a bar. Half of the houses keep pools, the others backyards. Garages jut out from the dining room. Depending on the garage's layout, the driveway either gently curves or rises upward at a dramatic angle, guaranteeing your car's undercarriage a daily scratch. About twenty years ago, this section of Anaheim was mostly white, baby boomers and their parents. Today? All Latino, save for the white man across the street who let his yard turn brown years ago.

Trembling yet? Really, the only way you would know it's a Latino neighborhood is due to a very American phenomenon called conspicuous consumption. Every house has at least four cars parked outside: all nice, mostly large SUVs with a smattering of Toyotas occasionally parked on front lawns. Those lawns feature palm trees or roses -- no cactuses yet -- and the richer households erect ornate fountains and stonework to rival the Alhambra. No Mexican flags flutter above doorways, no roosters crow at dawn -- at least not since Dad gave ours away because the cock kept assaulting dogs.

I moved out a couple of years ago at age twenty-seven, no longer content to share a bunk bed with my teenage brother. But a Mexican mother's breakfast beckons even the most prodigal of sons, so I return every Sunday morning to marvel at how Ozzie and Harriet our lives are -- how absolutely banal. The Mexican conquest of the United States might not get televised, but it comes with a steaming bowl of menudo.

Don't believe me? Consider one Sunday, around November 2007.

I speed in around nine thirty in the morning, and damnit! No one is home.

Start dialing cell phones. Elsa, my school administrator of a sister, is organizing workshops for college-bound students -- most of them Vietnamese, in a school that's majority Latino. Twenty-one-year-old Alejandrina settles in for a Starbucks study session -- she wants to be a nurse, or maybe a teacher. Gabriel, the seventeen-year-old baby of our clan, who already towers over us all, is with Mom at a dentist's appointment. My father? No answer.

Where's the remote? The usual detritus of Householdus americanus clutters the living room -- water bottles, newspapers, backpacks. A Guitar Hero ax stands by the marbled fireplace. Jesus looms over me in the form of a huge oil painting bought at the swap meet -- still don't know why Mami replaced our family portrait in favor of the Savior, considering she shows up at Mass as often as a Jew. To my right in a bookcase are small framed portraits of Elsa in her cap-and-gown from the University of California, Los Angeles, Alejandrina's high school graduation picture, and a younger Gabriel wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap (he's a Los Angeles Dodgers fan now -- ah, front-runners). Ken Burns's Baseball series is on the top shelf, missing episode 7. And smack-dab in the middle is a photo of me grinning, holding a half-eaten tamale. Speaking of tamales, I toss three in the microwave -- one dessert, one pork, one made with cheese, chicken, and jalapeños, all leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner.

The doorbell rings. It's my father. He's dressed for work -- jeans, cowboy boots, baseball cap -- and his smile bends an increasingly salt-and-pepper mustache.

"Wassappenin', macho man?" Papi booms in heavily accented English. I turn away, embarrassed. "Ven, ven, ven -- gimme a handchake!" We embrace. He beams.

"¿Dónde estaba?" I ask. "Where were you?"

"En la cafeteria," he responds, his inexplicable nickname for a doughnut shop about five minutes away.

As long as I can remember, my father has spent his Sunday mornings at JAX Donuts House, a run-down coffee house across the street from Anaheim City Hall. Gentrification, redevelopment, and changing demographics have yet to kill this eyesore: when Starbucks usurped JAX's original location, the owners moved a couple doors down, and its mostly Mexican clientele followed. The Cambodians who own the small store don't fry the best doughnuts (if you ever stop in, order the cinnamon roll and ask for a hell of a lot more frosting), yet thirty to forty middle-aged Mexican men regularly hang out there every weekend -- not to harass passing pickups for the chance to pound nails, but to live the good life. They're all men from Jerez, a city of about fifty-six thousand in the central-Mexican state of Zacatecas. More specifically, almost all of the men are from El Cargadero, the tiny village where my mother was born and whose migration to Anaheim captures the postmodern Mexican experience as well as anything.

But when these men meet, they don't chatter about politics or immigration reform. They gossip. "¡Chismean como viejas!" my mom has sighed numerous times. "They gossip like old ladies!" It's true: these burly machos, naturally light skin eternally sunburned due to years working outside, chatter almost exclusively about the goings-on in El Cargadero -- who's marrying whom, which son or daughter got in trouble or went off to college, stories of their childhood. That their Mexican hometown is now three-quarters empty doesn't bother anyone.

On this particular Sunday morning, my father discussed an upcoming trip to his native Jomulquillo, a village just south of El Cargadero. He's in charge of the comité Guadalupana, a group of people who live in the United States but raise funds for a celebration in Jomulquillo for the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12. For the past four years, my father and others have raised thousands of dollars just so a brass band can play for twenty-four continuous hours, a childhood tradition they fondly remember but which died for a time as Jomulquillo hemorrhaged its residents to el Norte.

"¿Quieres dar dinero?" he asked. "Do you want to give money?"

I forked over a $20 bill.

"¿Se acuerda lo que le dije?" I responded. "Do you remember what I told you?"

He agreed earlier in the week to answer questions for this book (gracias for reading it, by the way), but Papi's clothes suggested other plans. Of course he remembered, but there was grass to mow, palm trees to trim, roses to prune.

"Ven durante la semana pa' comer lonche -- entonces platicamos," he said while walking out the door toward the toolshed in our backyard. "Come by during the week to eat lunch -- then, we'll talk."

About a half hour later, my mom and brother arrived from the dentist. Gabriel -- showing off his immaculate 2006 Air Jordans -- is upset. "Where's my music?" he bellowed. I promised him hip-hop and oldies songs from my iTunes months ago, but the memory stick that allows me to bootleg went kaput, and I haven't been able to steal a new one from my friend.

"And where's my game?!" I borrowed Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas about a year ago, but killing cops to Hank Williams's "Hey, Good Lookin'" is too much fun so I always conveniently forget to return it. Gabriel pushes me away and plops onto the couch, immersing himself in the Los Angeles Times sports section as the Oakland Raiders are losing another close one. "Oh, did you see that one-handed catch by Jerry Porter?" he yells at one point. My brother, the man-child, never removes his sunglasses.

My mom sits next to us and begins darning socks. "You work too hard," she teases, her English better than my father's but still lacking considering she has spent the past forty-five years in los Estados Unidos.

"¿Dale una limpiesita a tu computadora, no?" she says, pointing at my ink-smeared MacBook. "Don't you want to clean your computer?" Even for a Sunday morning, Mami dresses like a businesswoman on Casual Friday -- sweater, dress pants, an earth-toned outfit nicely contrasting with her porcelain skin and coiffed hair.

My father barges in from outside. "Luz, hasme de comer," he commands. "Make me food to eat."

"Sí, Lorenzo," she says, in a tone that any casual observer could immediately deduce she has repeated thousands of times over a thirty-year marriage.

Mami grabs my copy of the New York Times Magazine and skims through it.

"Te 'sta dolienda tu mano," she says. "Your hand's hurting." Unconsciously, I was massaging a finger.

"Nomás the tip de mi dedo."

"Aver." She motions, grabbing my right index finger and examining its frayed cuticle. She tells me I'm cutting my nails too short, which means that the skin underneath the nail chafes against the keyboard.

"Baby," Gabriel snorts.

"¿Se acuerda lo que le dije?" I ask Mami.

Mom tries to beg off the interview, claiming she needs to travel to Costco and load up on groceries. Actually, she does: a Mexican family is a hungry family.

"Pues, okay," I reply. I check my e-mail. "FUCK YOU ILLEGAL ALIEN WETBACK SCUM BITCH," it rants. The Raiders score a touchdown. Alejandrina returns with a double soy latte, no foam, for my dad. Canaries chirp in the background.

Just another day for the Arellanos in America. Our heaven. Your hell?

Do me a favor, folks fretting about whether Mexicans will ever become Americanized -- fume about something else. Worthy choices: Al Qaeda. John McCain as president. The choking ways of the Chicago Cubs.

There's no real reason why what you just read and anything that follows relating to my personal life should ever have been published (reviewers: there's a pull quote for ustedes if ever there was one!). The immigrant saga, the coming-of-age rebel yell, the portrait of the artist as a young hombre -- the memoir portion of this book uses those clichés of American letters to tell its tale. But the...

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