TUCSON, Ariz. — The path to greater harmony between Mexicans and Americans runs through the kitchen of a local eatery, according to an hombre who should know.
Syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano, who makes his living poking fun at culture clashes between the neighboring nations, predicted in Tucson last week that Sonoran hot dogs will one day take los Estados Unidos by storm, promoting good will far and wide.
Tucson "is one of the greatest places in America for Mexican food," said Arellano, a California food critic and editor who writes the irreverent "¡Ask a Mexican!" column carried by dozens of alternative news outlets nationwide.
"Wherever I go in the United States, I talk about El Guero Canelo," Arellano said, a reference to the Tucson eatery renowned for its Sonoran hot dogs.
"I look forward to the day when people will know Tucson for its Sonoran dogs and not for its wacky school board," he added, sending a ripple of laughter through a diverse group that turned out to see him at the University of Arizona.
Arellano was in town promoting his new book: "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America."
The satirist couldn't resist wading into some local controversies, such as Tucson Unified School District's dismantling of its Mexican American Studies program, and a board member's bumbling appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
"I know there's a lot of good in Tucson," he said. "Unfortunately, you are now suffering under the rule of idiots."
Arellano's new book is billed as an exploration of "the history and culture of Mexican food in the U.S. from the 1880s to the 1990s, when salsa overtook ketchup" as America's favorite condiment.
It contains a wealth of trivia, such as where Taco Bell got its recipe and how Doritos were invented.
And it debunks some age-old gringo myths, like one that claimed vultures would bypass the bodies of fallen Mexican soldiers because their remains were too spicy.
Arellano, who lectures on Chicano and Chicana studies at Cal-State Fullerton, said the growing popularity of Mexican food bodes well for future relations between Anglos and Latinos.
"A lot of times food is the first part of a minority culture that the majority culture will accept," said Arellano, 33, whose website proclaims him "the proud son of two Mexican immigrants, one of whom was illegal."
He said history suggests today's frictions between Americans and Mexican newcomers will fade away.
In generations past, he said, Irish, Italian and Slavic immigrants to America suffered discrimination but eventually were embraced by their adopted country.
For Mexicans, the Sonoran hot dog can only help speed that process.
"Once Americans discover it," he said, "they'll go crazy for it."
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com