If you missed Gustavo Arellano’s talk last Tuesday in Pomona, you were in good company: There were only seven of us, and five of them were part of the library-connected group that invited him.
One member of the general public was there, who’d seen the announcement on my Facebook page that morning. (By the way, 18 people “liked” my post, and then went on with their lives.) I’d say the talk wasn’t well-publicized, which is likely true, except I did see an advertisement in the Claremont Courier, which evidently spurred no one to action.
As it was, having heard a version of Gustavo’s talk twice before, in Claremont and Upland, I skipped out for dinner. Mexican, obviously. (Look for an upcoming Restaurant of the Week post on that.) I missed the mayor’s quick appearance, during which he mispronounced “Arellano,” which led to some unkind remarks by Gustavo on his own FB page.
But I caught some of his talk. As he researched “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” Arellano, who writes the syndicated “Ask a Mexican” column, traveled the country eating Mexican food in 46 of the 50 states, all but Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana and Maine.
“Everyone’s definition of Mexican food is different,” Arellano said. One epiphany came in New Mexico, where friends took him out for something called breakfast tacos, which he’d never before encountered. Asked what a Mexican breakfast in Southern California consists of, he told them about breakfast burritos, whose contents they scoffed at.
Arellano gave up worrying about authenticity. “It’s either all authentic or none of it is authentic,” he concluded. He decided to embrace everything, taking a Pope Francis-like “who am I to judge?” approach.
Someone asked him about the best Mexican food in Pomona, which he threw to me to answer, as he’s an OC guy. Someone else jumped in to suggest Taqueria de Anda, with which I would concur, and Tacos Jalisco, which I’ve seen but never took seriously; I offered Tijuana’s Tacos and got an amen.
A question came up about the chain Taco John’s, which is based in Wyoming. The questioner ate there in Nebraska; I ate there in Illinois, and it’s the first and only place I had Mexican food for several years. “Their great innovation is tater tots as Mexican food,” Arellano cracked.
He wasn’t criticizing, he was just saying. “What’s so great about Mexican food,” he added, “is that it adapts to the environment.”