Ask a Mexican

Book 'em!

Dear Readers: A couple of columnas ago, I published a short list of my favorite books regarding Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and urged ustedes to submit better choices so that gabachos can have a Christmas shopping list for their favorite Mexicans, or at least understand nosotros better. Muchos responded, and below is a list of the most-recommended tomes, along with my brief descriptions. But before empezamos, let's start with a surprise: the only author to have recommended his own book. What's wrong with the rest of you wab authors? Humility won't get you anything in the publishing world — other than water.

Dear Mexican: Be sure to add my Aztlán & Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the Wars so that [gabachos] learn that our gente fight in their wars. Also, fiction by Tomás Rivera (...And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him), Dagoberto Gilb (the collection called Gritos) and Alejandro Morales.

Jorge Mariscal

University of California, San Diego

Now, on to the list. Please buy these at your favorite local independent bookstore (or order online at

1) North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the US, by Carey McWilliams: Though first published in 1948, this libro is nevertheless essential, setting the template for Chicano studies by treating Mexicans with respect instead of maracas.

2) Pocho, by José Antonio Villarreal: Another oldie but goodie — published in 1959, but still a lyrical examination of Mexican assimilation into los Estados Unidos.

3) Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity, & Oxnard, by Michelle Serros: Assimilation the chica way.

4) The Devil's Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea: A 2005 Pulitzer Prize non-fiction finalist detailing Mexican immigrants trying to cross the Arizona desert.

5) The Death of Artemio Cruz, by Carlos Fuentes: An obvious choice, but a necessary one, written by one of the titans of Mexican letters.

6) The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz: The intellectual cover for nearly every stereotype Americans have about Mexicans — thanks a lot, Nobel Prize laureate!

7) Drink Cultura: Chicanismo, by José Antonio Burciaga: One of the literary godfathers of the Mexican, this collection of essays never ceases to entertain or inform.

8) Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel: For the sex-starved woman in your life!

9) Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid, by Xavier Garza: Seasonal, bilingual and for the kiddies.

10) Orange County: A Personal History, and ¡Ask a Mexican!, by Gustavo Arellano: Remember what I said about book publishing and humility?

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano

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