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.