Jazzy, energetic work by Arellano (¡Ask a Mexican!, 2007, etc.), who alternately builds and deconstructs the mythology of the southern California county he calls home—as do lots of other Mexican-Americans, immigrants legal and illegal, and rich white Republicans.
In 1918, the author’s grandfather and great-grandfather ventured north from El Cargadero, Mexico, to Anaheim, Calif. Many other cargaderenses followed suit, working as fruit pickers and enduring measly wages and ugly racism to establish themselves and even to thrive. But King Citrus had quietly died by the 1950s, as a landscape once dominated by cattle ranches and orange groves was covered by tract houses and Disneyland’s fantasy architecture. One thing didn’t change—the conservatism of old-guard ranchers and farmers, happily adopted by the newly arrived developers and businessmen. “In those early days, Orange County conservatives wrote the guidebook for the GOP’s modern-day success,” Arellano sourly notes, recalling Ronald Reagan’s famous quip, “It’s nice to be in Orange County, where the good Republicans go to die.” Despite OC’s substantial minority population, county leaders have spawned some of the most repugnant anti-immigration measures in the country. The author alternates his sarcastically inflected social history with the engaging personal tale of growing up in Anaheim. Attending the local public schools, he felt torn between wanting to assimilate and being true to his mexicanidad. To avoid becoming a pocho (a Mexican who has lost his heritage), he learned to dance and wear a proper tejana (Stetson) like his trucker father. Finding his Mexican voice in politics proved the key to Arellano’s American success. A tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor praising anti-immigrant activist Barbara Coe as “the matriarch of the OC Latinos” led to freelance gigs with the OC Weekly and the realization that journalism was the career for him. His genre-bending narrative trips along from John Wayne to the hip new TV shows set in OC, and even offers a guidebook-style breakdown of each OC town and its best restaurant.
A youthful, likable, irrepressible voice for the new Promised Land.