Orange Countyis a memoir of Gustavo Arellano’s upbringing mixed with a history of the much-maligned Orange County, which, as Arellano points out, is much more than either orange groves (which have been replaced by houses anyway) or right-wing republicans (who are now replaced by democrats.) Other books (see here or here) have not been successful at mixing the personal with the historical but this one succeeds — mostly.
Arellano’s parents immigrated illegally and separately from the same area in Mexico to join a large community of immigrants from the same village, now settled in or close to Anaheim (his parents have now legalized their immigration status.) He has aunts and uncles who live on the same street as his parents. They and other Mexican immigrants started in the US with very tough jobs, mostly as agricultural workers or in constructions, continue many of the traditions from the village such as regular dances or quinceaneras, and still speak poor English after decades in the country. Reading about their tough lives reminded me of the effort that go into the food we eat (see the last post.) But their children, whether or not they were born in the US, are well on their way to assimilation. They forget their Spanish (Arellano gets into trouble with her mom when he forgets the Spanish phrase for being embarassed, and tells her that his sister is “embarazada”, i.e. pregnant!); they mix easily with other groups and it’s clear that their children won’t have much more than their last name to remember they are from somewhere else. Arellano’s outspoken and refreshing take on anti-Mexican resentment and racism in California feels just right.
The story of Orange County is less interesting, perhaps simply because there’s not much to tell! My favorite part was the small vignettes he has about each city in Orange County, complete with blunt assessments of their populations and restaurants.
A great book to understand a little better the California mosaic. See here for another look at racism in California.