Dear Readers: Behold your favorite Mexican's annual Christmas gift guide, where I give shout-outs to some of my favorite books that deserve your money this holiday season! And for once, I won't recommend my books — ¡Ask a Mexican!, Orange County: A Personal History, and Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America — as gifts. Oh, wait — I just did! But in all honesty, while I always appreciate ustedes buying my libros and handing them out as regalos, the following items are just as chingones, if not more so.
The Perennials: I've plugged the following books in the past, and I'll never stop plugging them, because they're magnificent: North From Mexico, by Cary McWilliams (the first serious history on Mexicans in the United States, by the legendary progressive journalist); Tex(t)-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the Mexican in America, by William Nericcio (to quote myself last year, a "scabrous take on Mexicans in the American imagination"); Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class, by USC professor Jody Agius Vallejo (a beautifully written analysis of how Mexis move up in societal circles, with an intro by your favorite Mexican); and anything by Lalo Alcaraz (legendary cartoonista whose Latino USA — written alongside famous profe Ilan Stavans — is getting republished next year, with even more history) and Sam Quinones (who's currently working on a book about America's drug epidemic).
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The Oldies-but-Goodies: The Mexican never stops reading, so here are some classics worth revisiting, all great starting points for those of ustedes who want to know your Chicano history: The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890, by Leonard Pitts (a late-1960s tome that explains in depressing detail how California's Mexican-hating roots began); "With His Pistol in his Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero, by Américo Paredes (a pioneering folklore study on the corridos surrounding Tejano hero Gregorio Cortez, written by one of the godfathers of Chicano Studies); and Occupied America, the ultimate textbook on Chicano Studies — namely because it's the only one worth plugging.
The Newbies: Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland, by Northwestern professor Geraldo L. Cadava, is a much-needed, wonderfully researched, well-written overview of an often-forgotten part of Aztlán: Arizona. (Arizona is always part of the conversation due to Arpayaso and all of its Know Nothing politicians, but we rarely talk about the good of the state other than Linda Ronstadt and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.) Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles, by Catherine L. Kurland, is an awesome ethnography of the mariachis of Boyle Heights, with stunning photos giving readers a sense of place; it's published by the always impressive University of New Mexico Press. Last, but definitely not least, a massive shout-out to Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, a collection of short stories by El Paso writer Benjamin Alire Sáenz that won this year's prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction — a huge victory not just for Chicano literature, but also for small presses, as the cabrones who published it are my pals at Cinco Puntos Press.
Ask a Mexican
The Pomade? So it's not a book, but I also urge ustedes to buy the man in your family Orange County's own Suavecito Pomade, which has an iron grip and floodlight shine that nevertheless washes out easily. It's the only product this Mexican allows on his pompadour, and so should you! Get it, hombre, at suavecitopomade.com, or tell your barber to stock some.
And remember, folks: when you wrap up these books, make sure to stuff them in Xbox 360 boxes to trick the recipient. It's the Mexican way!