How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Q&A: OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano on Mexican food, yellow cheese and 'Bro-Mex'

Photo by katieharbath/Flickr (Creative Commons)


The OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano knows a thing or two about Mexican food, and not just the traditional stuff that is actually found in Mexico. In his by now legendary “¡Ask a Mexican!” column, Arellano routinely fielded inquiries like “I always wondered why Mexican restaurants en los Estados Unidos use queso amarillo (yellow cheese) on their food."

Lately, as he’s been researching a book on the history of Mexican food in the United States and its many variations, Arellano has given us a taste of a “Spanish” feast in the Orange County of the 1890s (served with a sauce that a newspaper reporter at the time called “sarsa”) and brought us the food-genre term “Bro-Mex.”

Along the way, he has encountered plenty of gooey yellow cheese. But American-style Mexican food is about much more than that, a point that Arellano makes in his forthcoming “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” set to be published in April of next year by Scribner.

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Will Latino-led redevelopment in Santa Ana ultimately rob it of its Latino-ness?

Photo by Joe Wolf/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Fourth Street in downtown Santa Ana, January 2011

Last night I sat in on the live taping of AirTalk's segment today on the gentrification battle in Santa Ana, a city I worked in years ago that's been through some changes since, and is poised for more.

The gist: Plans are afoot to redevelop the Orange County seat's downtown commercial area surrounding Fourth Street, a strip that for years has attracted stores that cater to the city's predominantly Latino residents, most of them immigrants from Mexico and their descendants.

And it's the descendants, it turns out, who are pushing the redevelopment agenda. The city's all-Latino council wants, as one city leader described it yesterday, to "diversify" the mix of businesses downtown, which right now leans toward the mom-and-pop and attracts first-generation customers.

"I want to shop here," said Carlos Bustamante, a city council member and "born and raised" native of Santa Ana, as he described himself. "I don't want to have to leave my city to go buy a suit."

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Ethnic food tastes worth acquiring: Tejuino

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Can fermented masa taste good? Yes. A cup of tejuino, August 2008

We're on day three of a week of posts involving those delicacies from Southern California's smorgasbord of ethnic cuisines that may not sound, look, smell, or even necessarily taste like delicacies on the first try, but are tastes worth acquiring because they're pretty darn good.

Readers have been sending in suggestions, so look for a list at the end of the week. In the meantime, today's delicacy is tejuino, the Mexican fermented corn drink made with piloncillo, the unrefined brown sugar used in Mexico, and that tastes far better than it sounds. Really.

The suggestion comes from Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly, he of ¡Ask A Mexican! fame and the author of a forthcoming book on the history of Mexican food in the U.S. Here's what he wrote in an e-mail about tejuino, which is beloved by tapatíos, the nickname for Guadalajarans:

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