Ask a Mexican about Ultima

Gustavo Arellano, who writes the “Ask a Mexican” column for the OC Weekly, came to Pomona Saturday afternoon to talk about “Bless Me, Ultima,” the Rudolfo Anaya novel that everyone in Pomona is asked to read as part of an NEA-funded program, the Pomona Big Read.

Calling it “an amazing book,” Arellano told an audience of 50 in the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center that he first encountered it in English class in Anaheim and was won over — first by its profanity (“That was the first time I had ever seen curse words in a book”) and then by its power. He said the novel, about an immigrant boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II and torn between his mother’s desire that he become a priest and his father’s that he become a laborer, is “as American a novel as you’ll find.”

During the Q&A, nobody asked about “Ultima.” Instead, they wanted to know about his column. He said he gets 50 to 60 questions a week and has a backlog of several hundred, enough to keep him going six years if no one ever again asked one.

“People are just fascinated by Mexicans,” he said with a smile. Aren’t we, though?

I hope to write about the various city-reads efforts (Pomona, Claremont and Rancho Cucamonga) in print this week or next. Meanwhile, I’ve gotta get back to “Ultima.”

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  • Robert Karatsu

    Hi David. Thanks for supporting the “Big Reads” throughout the IE.

    Rancho Cucamonga’s “Big Read” kicked off last Friday the 5th. Over 250 came out to the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center for the festivities to celebrate Harper Lee’s classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

    This week, the author Charles Shields, who has written the definitive biography of Harper Lee, will be in town, speaking at all of our high schools as well as at our “Rancho Readers” bookclub.

    Rehersals have begun for a live stage reenactment of the dramatic courtroom scene from TKAM. This production, featuring the Rancho Cucamonga Community Theater, will be on stage at the Lewis Family Playhouse at Victoria Gardens November 7th and 8th.

    The final event of the Rancho Cucamonga “Big Read” will be An Evening With Scout, featuring Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout in the film version of TKAM starring Gregory Peck. She will give a short talk and then answer audience questions about what it was like to be in the movie. This event will be on Thursday, November 15th, starting at 7pm at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center.

    We’d love to have you come out to one of our events David! (What about the Evening With Scout? We might even work you into the program if you like.)

    For more information about the “Big Read” in Rancho Cucamonga, here is the website:

    Thanks for listening!

    [Robert, thanks for all the info. I’m hoping to write about all the various Big Reads later this week, but things do have a way of getting away from me, so I’m glad you used this forum to get the word out… DA]