Ask a Mexican: Eight in a Car?

One man is dispelling stereoypes by confronting them head on.

Sept 16, 2007 — -- "It's called the nacho because the lady who created the nacho, her son's name was Ignacio. 'Nacho' is a nickname for Ignacio," said columnist Gustavo Arellano.

Arellano is trying to turn the immigration debate on its head.

His newspaper column and book "Ask a Mexican" are challenging people to take on stereotypes, rather than pretending they don't exist.

"This is what Americans know about Mexicans: tequila, burritos, and illegal alien savages," Arellano said.

Gustavo says ignorance is to blame for so much of the anger that has dominated the immigration debate.

So he's challenging his readers to ask the questions they have always been afraid to ask: why do Mexicans swim with their clothes on, why do Mexicans always cram into a small car, why do Mexicans call white people "gringos"?

"Only gringos call gringos, 'gringos,'" he said. "Mexicans call gringos 'gabachos.'"

The cover of "Ask a Mexican" features a handful of stereotypes: a can of frijoles, the bulleted out car, a Chihuahua, and tequila to name a few.

"Why? Why do they hurt? They are just images. Let's rob them of their power," he said. "I view the column as a Trojan horse, I want to goad people into being as racist as possible, so I can have the final word."

Gustavo says his experience as a child of illegal immigrants gives him the right to sound off about stereotypes.

His column is written from Santa Ana, Calif.., the most Mexican city in America. "This is all just individual entrepreneurship, people coming in on their own, coming from nothing, and doing it," he says.

Arellano does have a pile of hate mail, but it only seems to embolden him.

"I love it. People saying you little brown cockroach, you should go back to cleaning toilets," he said.

Using humor to break down stereotypes isn't exactly new?it's been a staple of comedians for many years.

Comedian Carlos Mencia said, "I believe that we as comedians have the ability to say things that nobody else can in this country."

Mencia still thinks there is a big difference between his comedy, and the column.

"When you say, 'I'm a Mexican, ask me a question and I'm going to answer for all Mexicans.' That scares me. That legitimizes whatever answer that person gives, whether it's good or bad," Mencia said.

Gustavo admits he's not trying to speak for all Mexicans, but says everyone should have the chance to be heard.

"We've had migrants since the beginning of time, and it all turned out okay," he said.