Mexicans were the original frugalistas

Commentator Gustavo Arellano


Kai Ryssdal: We mentioned this earlier in the broadcast that the number of new unemployment claims hit a two-month low last week. We're not going to know for sure exactly what that means until the monthly numbers come out two weeks from tomorrow. But what we do know for sure is that millions of Americans are still out of work.

A lot of them are looking for ways to save money, a trend that's not really a trend, says commentator Gustavo Arellano.

Gustavo Arellano: Canning. Food trucks. Knitting. Urban homesteading. Home brewing. The rise of these DIY activities amuses me. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for people growing their own food and sewing their own clothes. These are the new ways of life in middle-class America, a way to save money during the recession. But I gotta ask: What took you guys so long to become Mexican?

All these trends are, well, old habits for my circle of relatives and amigos. Butchering a pig? My Tia Maria can do that, and doesn't have to blog every organ of it. Preserving your own food? My mom devotes an entire wall in her garage to jar after jar of pickled cactus. She's ready for California's much-feared big earthquake. Organic gardening? Her sisters each grow specific crops, then they trade produce.

This is how we've lived life as an immigrant family. Even after my parents made it, they kept their frugal ways. Why? They knew the good times might not last. And guess what? They didn't! Yet our quality of life hasn't truly suffered -- all because we were prepared.

Self-sustainment is what made this country great. But we seem to have relegated this preservation mentality to the rubes and the immigrants, the poor and the old. And it's annoying, because when young professionals and the socially hip raise chickens in their backyards, newspapers do articles with slideshows. When us Mexicans do it? People call code enforcement. But, whatever: Preserve, America! Live like us Mexicans. And save your next batch of kiwi-strawberry marmalade for your humble commentator.

Ryssdal: Gustavo Arellano writes the "Ask A Mexican" column for the Orange County Weekly.

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Gustavo I LOVED your piece - brief and funny and right on the mark. The people who are posting stupid nonsense obviously aren't familiar with your other work - like the HISTORY book you wrote about Orange County - which I highly recommend.
Ever since I first worked with Mexican people 15 years ago I've been drawn more and more into that amazing culture.
Thanks, again :)

I am a person raised middle class mid western white suburban... you know. And in the 80's-90's. Our generation is not trying to claim anything is new that we are learning to do. In fact most of us feel a little sheepish as we struggle to can and raise a chicken and figure out a garden, while to some it is something they and they're families have done forever. Honestly our celebration of doing these new tasks comes out of our joy of breaking away from a culture of convenience, microwaves, fast food, blank green yards. In the current economy it is simply impossible to repeat what our parents have taught us (mostly laziness). And as they struggle to dig themselves out of stupid amounts of debt, we are clawing our way out of this mindset and trying to learn from hard working frugal creative people. And most of us are TOTALLY aware that we didn't invent it. Sure there are some oblivious hipsters out there that think they invented everything from mustaches to banjos... whatever. We get it!

As a lifelong penny-pincher I've always wondered about these "middle class Americans" with loads of spending money. Who were they? Where did they get all that money? Did they really "go shopping" just for the fun of it???? Did they actually exist? I remember my mom going to the store with 14 cents and carefully measuring out 14 cents worth of beans to make soup for dinner. We wore coats, mittens and hats around the house because we were too frugal to turn on the heat (in cold Connecticut). My mom rode her bicycle to work in a blizzard because we didn't own a car. http://www.savemonyyoucheapskate.blogspot.com

Agree with all that indicated that this was not an uniquely Mexican way of life. Reassuring to learn how many of us appreciate the importance of sustainability.

I have to agree with others who point out that many who grew up during the depression of the '30s or WWII did all these things. It's unfortunate that the author apparently doesn't know any history prior to 1970.

Bravo Mr. Arellano! My friends and family are truly sick of hearing me rant on about the home canning piece featuring Mrs. Wheel Barrow, so I was glad you added your perspective as well. I too am 100% for EVERYONE learning to preserve foods for all the obvious reasons. I just wish NPR hadn't acted as if Mrs. Barrow discovered home canning! I live in a part of our country where, really, everyone does their own home canning and freezing. I'm originally from Chicago and remember my mom putting up jams and preserves. I applaud anyone who improves the quality of their family meals by doing their own preserving. But while you canning newbies are certainly welcome, you truly are late to the table. Please, thank all the people before you that perfected the art, and then enjoy those savory tomatoes and piquant peaches as you pop the lids in the middle of winter.

I listen and then read the transcript to this story. I had no problem with any of the content or opinions expressed in the story. I feel that everyone has the right to their opinion. However, I did have a large problem with the commentator posting a comment to his own story. My problem with Mr. Arellano's comment was that he first used it to attack the intelligence of the listener and then to attack the mind set of the listener. The commentator does not have to agree with the comments posted about his story. He has every right to think the remark was written by a slack jaw yokel. He should however have the respect to acknowledge that other people may have a different point of view on his story. This seems to be another example of how our society chooses to think that any different point of view is wrong. Comments should be a place for open minded people to receive different view on a subject. Where else could I get the views of a franch-canadian, a mormon, and a mennonite on a single story in one place. That is what makes NPR great and NPR should embrass the comment of all it listeners. Not just the people who have the same politic, religious, philospohical, etc. view as they think the listeners do.

This is a funny piece, but it doesn't ring true. I am a "young professional" whose backyard flock has appeared in "newspaper slideshows" (for example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/13/AR200905... ), as well as on television news, Voice of America TV, and Bloomberg news online. I have been shocked by the media attention. (My hens weren't.)
Of course, none of the stories stated my ethnicity. Rather, in stories on my flock and in most of the news pieces I've seen on other people, the STORY is the controversy about keeping urban chickens or how unreasonable and dated many cities' laws are regarding backyard hens. (DC does not allow them within 50 feet of buildings.)

The other reason this piece doesn't ring true for me is that keeping hens is expensive! To do it correctly, you need a safe, secure, sanitary coop that predators can't get in. I've heard friends say (after building a really nice coop and buying organic feed, and raising chicks to point of lay), that their first egg was worth $500. Add to that, my chickens aren't even laying at all right now -- they're on strike while they molt.

If I wanted to save money on food, I would go back to buying store eggs and make chicken soup!

Mr. Arellano, please pay no attention to the ignorant and xenophobic comments here. Obviously your higher education, and your superb writing skills are no match for the ignorance of some that are unable to really listen and comprehend what you are really saying. Thankfully most of us do, Thank you NPR, Marketplace, Mr. Arellano, I truly enjoyed this segment and looking forward for more.

to David M., Brian Z., and the like ...
RELAX! stop analyzing so much, stop twisting Mr.Arellano's nice story and try to turn it into something else, so that you can sneak in your own ideological or political agendas.


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