September 13, 2018
Gustavo Arellano
Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America
Great Hall

Reflection | Video | Podcast | Photos

Gustavo Arellano is author of Orange County: A Personal History and Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, the California columnist for the Los Angeles Times’ op-ed section, an essayist for various publications and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He was formerly editor of OC Weekly, and alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, and penned the award-winning “¡Ask a Mexican!,” a nationally syndicated column in which he answered any and all questions about America's spiciest and largest minority. Gustavo is the recipient of awards ranging from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Best Columnist to the Los Angeles Press Club President's Award to an Impacto Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and was recognized by the California Latino Legislative Caucus with a 2008 Spirit Award for his “exceptional vision, creativity, and work ethic.” Gustavo is a lifelong resident of Orange County and is the proud son of two Mexican immigrants, one whom came to this country in the trunk of a Chevy.

SUU Press Release 

Event Reflection

by Billy Clouse

During the first official event of the 2018-19 A.P.E.X. season, author and journalist Gustavo Arellano talked about his start in journalism and the history of Mexican food in the United States.

When he was younger, Arellano had no idea he would make a profession out of writing; his only goal in life was to have a library in his home. However, a satirical article in an April Fools edition of a newspaper inspired him to write a fake angry letter to the editor.

"Satire is a very dangerous tool to play with," he said. "It can achieve brilliant results or it can just blow up in your face."

This caught the attention of the Editor-in-Chief, and he asked Arellano to write some articles. About a decade later, he was in the Editor position. Arellano attributed his success to the "ruthless criticism" of his mentor, which forced him to grow as a writer.

According to Arellano, it's better to find someone who is willing to provide criticism than someone who will just stroke your ego. The mentorship should be a relationship; the student should be able to spar with and challenge the mentor.

"Everyone thinks their the most brilliant writer of all time," he said. "Find someone who is smarter than you and pay attention to what they have to say. Learn how to take criticism."

Eventually, Arellano started a column called "Ask a Mexican." In the series, which lasted 13 years, he answered over 1,000 questions with satire; but instead of doing it to be funny, he answered in ways that challenged stereotypes and myths.

In addition to articles, Arellano researched the history of Mexican food in the United States for his book "Taco USA." During this portion of the event, he told stories about the cuisine's rise in popularity.

For example, Glen Bell created Taco Bell after he noticed the popularity of a Mexican restaurant in his neighborhood. He would go every day to try to figure out the recipe. When the founder of the local restaurant noticed, he invited Bell into the kitchen to teach him how to make tacos.

Arellano stressed that Mexican cuisine is ever-evolving, saying there's no such thing as "authentic Mexican food." Beef and chicken came into the mix after contact with the Spaniards, most of the alcohols originated in Germany, and others came from the Philippines.

Ultimately though, Arellano attributed the popularity of Mexican food to one simple fact; it just tastes great



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