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'Ask A Mexican' columnist: Cinco de Mayo is "pointless"
May 5th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

'Ask A Mexican' columnist: Cinco de Mayo is "pointless"

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Gustavo Arellano is not politically correct in his "Ask a Mexican" column.  He calls Cinco de Mayo "Gringo de Mayo" and regularly plays on stereotypes Americans have of Mexicans.

But he answers readers' questions with enough gusto and satiric flare that many might forget they are being educated on Mexican customs, immigration and labor issues.  What began as a spoof in 2004, is now one of OC Weekly’s most popular columns, appearing in 39 cities across the U.S., with a weekly circulation of over 2 million.

In addition, Arellano is now regarded as “perhaps the greatest (and only) living scholar of Mexican-American fast-food." He shares that knowledge in his new book, "Taco USA:How Mexican Food Conquered America." It tells the story of how Mexican food transformed the way Americans eat as it has entered popular culture, unlike any other "ethnic" food.

Gustavo Arellano spoke to CNN about Mexican food in the United States, what Mexican dish he hopes Americans co-opt next, and why he thinks celebrating Cinco de Mayo is silly. 

What are your thoughts on how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the U.S.?

I basically think Cinco de Mayo is one of the most pointless holidays ever created. I don’t celebrate it per se, I don’t look forward to it or wear a sombrero or go to a Mexican restaurant to go celebrate it. If people want to celebrate it, that’s fine, but I just think they are fools. When I say “fools” I’m referring to Mexicans celebrating it because there is nothing to celebrate.

Do you still come across people who think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s independence day?

Oh yeah, definitely. I really don’t mind that much because most Americans don’t know much about Mexicans, that’s the whole reason why I write my “Ask a Mexican” column - to educate people. Every year I get a call from radio stations asking if I like Cinco de Mayo yet and every year I say the same thing: no.

Cinco de Mayo has turned into a food holiday. Not necessarily highlighting the best of Mexican food but it gives Mexican restaurants a chance to make a lot of money supplying gabachos with novelty plates and a Corona beer.

What sparked this interest in Mexican food for your book Taco USA?

It’s such a phenomenon in the United States this billion-dollar industry with many different facets of it didn’t really have much scholarship done on it, at least when I started my book. People love to eat the food but don’t know the story behind the food: the history, the pioneers or controversy behind it. As a reporter I was attracted to the story, not so much because I’m Mexican or because I like Mexican food, but because it was a story that no one had really told.

Is there a particular dish you’ve eaten in Mexico that’s not popular in the U.S. that you would want to see be co-opted by Americans?

Where do I begin... I would begin with Mexican tortas which is basically just a sandwich. Americans love Mexican food and they love sandwiches but they don’t love Mexican sandwiches. You’ve got your choice of meat, jalapeños, and maybe some cheese. Instead of tacos de pollos, you’ll get it in sandwich form. Once Americans discover these tortas they are going to be accepted just like tacos and burritos.

What do you think about Mexican’s food going mainstream in the U.S.?

I think it’s wonderful. About 20 years ago, the New York Times, called it the manifest destiny of good taste. It’s something remarkable because although Mexicans are not really well-liked in this country, at least our food is and that really is a steppingstone toward complete acceptance by society at large.

What happens with cultures is that when you have a new one in your midst, you demonize everything about it, but one of the first things you demonize is the cuisine. There are many different slurs for foods like “beaners”, or “greasers” or calling the French “frog-eaters." I think for us to be accepted in this country, our food has to come first. It’s not the whole picture but it’s a first step toward mainstream acceptance.

How long do you think it’s going to take for that full acceptance to take place?

It’s already happening. I really think we’ve gotten past the nastiest parts of that era. Of course, I’m not a prognosticator but my guess is one generation or two. It will happen; it’s inevitable.

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Rikkgina

    Just another excuse for the gabachos to drink and make fools out of themselves and the Spanish history. That's just me though. Everyone has opinions.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • AniyunweahCherokee

      And here's mine....how about mesos using st. Patricks day for the same thing. You mean European Spanish history or the history they robbed from my relatives down in Mexico. Spanish people trying to play like they aren't white Europeans is hilarious to me. Cinco de mayo is Mexican not spanish.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  2. rbloom

    Pointless in the sense that if we had a holiday to commemorate every French military defeat, we'd have a one-day workweek.

    May 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • perfesser33

      Hold that thought...

      May 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • BaltoPaul

      LOL

      (and I'm part French ...)

      May 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Loathstheright

    Well, it does give me a chance to have beer from Mexico once a year.

    May 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tom

    Duh, tortas are awesome! Machaca every day man! An yeah who cares about cinco de mayo anyway? Eat mexican food daily! Oh, and drink beer daily. Don't wait for a special occasion.

    May 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FAFournier

    It's not a pointless holiday. It combines two things that Americans and Mexicans have in common: partying and making fun of the French.

    It's also a great opportunity to educate people about history: I love telling the tale of those Mexican villagers who got the French army to surrender by hurling empty beer bottles at them. In truth, it was just a joke Conan made, but most people believe it. Try it and see for yourselves, you'll be amazed.

    May 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Thatguy371

    "Taco USA:How Mexican Food Conquered America." It tells the story of how Mexican food transformed the way Americans eat as it has entered popular culture, unlike any other "ethnic" food."

    Chinese and Italian have Mexican food beat any day of the week, and they're more popular here anyway.

    May 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carlos Sauzo

    Cinco de Mayo should be the day when all illegal Mexicans in the US go back to Mexico

    May 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hooligan

    Most Holidays today are "pointless". Find me the point in Americans celebrating St.Patrick's day?

    We hardly have any laborers any more, what is the point of Labor day?

    Hell, even 4th of July is kind of pointless, do you know how many people get arrested on the very day we declared ourselves free of tyranny for petty misdemeanors and infractions?

    Holidays are not so much for celebrating a cause but rather a means for people to just enjoy each others company, have drinks and get laid.

    And I am ok with that. Holidays are public social events where people who don't know each other can do so.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jack

    i used to respect the mexican heritage. i still love the food! why must they illeagally imigrate to the usa, strain our system that is supported by honest tax payers and expect amnesty? how about serving six years of combat in the military and learning fluent english before getting citizenship? any takers? didn't think so. all the benifits and none of the effort, that is the modern mexican heritage, consume but don't contribute. fact!

    May 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Arbolast

    Most holidays are pointless beyond giving people a day off from work or school. Other than that the holidays themselves are so arbitrary and nonsensical that it would make little difference if we were to call them something else.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar

    Ok, 1st, 5 de Mayo is the battle of puebla, when peasants beat the french army, as the archduke of france wanted Mexico. After mexico gained indepence from spain after beating Spain. Second I am from California too and for someone to say 99.9% of the crime is gang ralated and say its mexican gang. you must be really stupid. Yes California has a lot of gangs but on oceanside it the Asian gangs just like in orange county Asian gangs, and no 99.9% is not gang ralated try 17%, FBI database.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Miked

    Its the liquor and beer industry that relies in hype like these to make you pay more for booze. In fact they are the ones whome have always suppressed marihuana from being accepted as something more safe than beer and liquor. Boycott beer and liquor until marihuana is just as legal! Happy Cinco de Mayo.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      You're joking, right? Booze prices have nothing to do with anything. They might jack up the prices in the bars, but actual stores keep the prices the same. If you want to blame anyone, blame the establishment who sells you the booze. It's guaranteed not the beer or liquor manufacturers who cause the price to go up on holidays.

      May 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    There are a lot of holidays that are pointless such as St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and New Years Eve, Why pick on Cinco de Mayo The food is better than food on St. Patrick's Day, you don't have to buy diamonds and over priced chocolates like you do on Valentine's Day and you do not have to get drunk just because it is the star of another year.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      No God, no guilt, my kind of holiday.

      May 5, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SnottyNozeBratt

    as a german/english individual whose ancestry in the colonies dates to the late 1600's, and who, of all the liquors in all the towns in all the world (with the exception of single malt scotch) find myself HAPPILY stumbling into Cinco deMayo margaritas. The fact that it celebrates mexican freedom from french occupation is a relevant bonus. Wow Jorge – reign in your hatred, its ever only going to hurt YOU! You are a victim of political lies! Humans of all colors make great neighbors, throw in politicians and you get wars.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jay noyd

    It is strange why citizens in one country will celebrate a holiday of another country even though the other country does not celebrate the holiday much. EX George Washington's birthday in Nuevo Laredo.

    May 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Why shouldn't we celebrate it? It's a day for fun, summer drinks, bbq'ing, and hanging with family and friends. Aren't those good enough reasons for Americans (or any nationality, really) to celebrate? The world would be a far better place if we embraced each other's holidays rather than ignore them since they're not "ours".

      May 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
      • Al

        No false piety associated with the 5th of May. You don't have to pretend you love Jesus or your in laws.

        May 5, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Alex

    Mexicans – regarded as a joke by most, but especially by the other Latino cultures...

    May 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Even more reason to embrace them. Show kindness and it will be paid back with interest.

      "Give me your tired, your poor,
      Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
      The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
      Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
      I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" – Emma Lazarus.

      Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they treated outsiders poorly.

      “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49

      May 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  17. mary

    Part of the USA's tradition is to make the most of any party opportunity .
    When NOT at work , people want to be out and doing things with friends .
    Whatever the original basis of Most holidays , the final outcome is BBQs and drinks with friends and co workers .
    Celebrating something from south of the border means adding tacos and margaritas to the food line up .
    Viva la diversity !

    May 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Jorge

    The American Bigot is an exquisite hypocrite, so drawn into his pleasure that he believes his own lies, so enthralled with himself that he will rend and tear at his flag to wrap himself in it, so self-righteous in his hatred and delusion of supremacy over others that he will wonder in indignation when they hate him back.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • SnottyNozeBratt

      Its difficult to follow your pointing the finger at someone else while you display the very issues you say you despise.

      May 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jorge

        Not reverse bigotry, just commentary on observed fact.

        May 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Qué?

      De dónde did you copy and paste that drivel from?

      May 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  19. felicia

    "unlike any other ethnic food.." um hello, can you say chinese food?

    May 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  20. IndianaGreg

    On May 5th 1875, a cargo ship headed to Mexico loaded with Mayonnaise sunk off the eastern shores of Mexico, losing the countries entire stock of Mayo. Desperate for something else to put on their Taco shells, a Mexican farmer mixed Peppers and Onions together and created Salsa for his families Tacos. And that's why every year on May 5, the celebrate the day the ship sank...Sinko de Mayo.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  21. In my day a Greaser was a surfer

    In central California where I live, we love Mexican food by don't like, and probably never will like the Mexicans. Reason? The Mexican gangs. 99.9 percent of all crimes in central California are gang related. I know a lot of people who refuse to go to Salinas because of the gangs. Too dangerous. I agree. I haven't been there in years. But now they're taking over Seaside, Ca. and the crime rate is going way up there by; you guessed it, gang related violence.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      99.9%? Who did that study? Could you cite references?

      May 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Petar Ivanov

    I from Russia. What is "greasers"?

    May 5, 2013 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • mary

      Greasers is a term that started in the 1950s & referred to young guys that put Grease in their hair to hold the slick back and pompadour styles .
      There is actually a musical film with John Travolta who wears the style and it is called "Grease" .
      Later , when the Beatles and English bands became popular , the natural hair guys were called Betas .
      The other 50s option was the super short electric razor cuts called "buzz" cuts .

      May 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  23. adamthefirst

    it's about getting drunk and eating as much as you can.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  24. 8toSkate

    Mexican independence ...yet most Mexicans come to U.S. Who are the real fools here.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Kerasi

      "8toSkate

      Mexican independence ...yet most Mexicans come to U.S. Who are the real fools here."

      Um, you? As Cinco de Mayo doesn't celebrate Mexican Independence, it appears your comment is nonsensical and pointless, as it were.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
      • imwithstoopid

        wow you really missed his point.

        May 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      What does Cinco de Mayo have to do with independence? Nothing.

      May 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Jim

    Yes, VERY pointless! Only a wimp needs an excuse like this to "party". You don't need no stinkin' excuses to party! This is a nothing "holiday", even in Mexico and it's more and more perpetuated because of the push to make the many, many millions of illegal aliens legal.

    May 5, 2013 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Kerasi

      Cinco de Mayo was popularized in the U.S. 1960's and 1970's by Chicano activists. It was first celebrated in the 1860's. But you're right; it must have EVERYTHING to do with a pathway to citizenship.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      All holidays are pointless, man made affairs. This one just happens to be a celebration for Mexicans, so it brings out the white supremacist.

      Will we also see you complaining about Kwaanza

      May 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  26. capnmike

    Cinco de Mayo is NOT pointless...it's a great excuse to PARTY!

    May 5, 2013 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |