Robert Alexander is not your typical gringo. The 58-year-old physicist arrived in Mexico in 1979 to do agricultural research. Thirty years later, he became host of an unusual TV show, Gringo en México, a half-hour gastronomic and cultural tour around Mexico. Produced by Mexico-based Grupo Televisa, Gringo en México has become one of the top programs on cable and satellite channels owned by Televisa, including Unicable in Mexico, Televisa International in South America and Galavision in Europe. Hispanic TV Update spoke to Alexander (in a mix of English, Spanish and Spanglish) about the show’s origin and 2009 plans to expand it to other Latin American countries. An edited transcript follows:
Q: How did a physicist from
become host of a popular TV show in
A: My wife and I like watching cooking shows. And we were watching [Food Network chef] Tyler Florence, who came to do a cooking show in Mexico. The guy doesn’t speak Spanish and meets with one of the best cooks in Mexico; she is telling him how to make mole and tells him not to put more salt, but he does it anyway, because he doesn’t understand. … My wife and I were cringing, feeling embarrassed. So, we thought: ‘Anybody can do that better!’ We can do a better show. So we went to Televisa and proposed a TV series.
Q: What did you have in mind?
A: We filmed a pilot in Tlaxcala, with [independent] Hormiga Films and we had a blast, eating great stuff and visiting some wonderful colonial places in the state. We showed the pilot to Televisa, and in a matter of 30 days later, the company said: ‘Let’s do it. You’ll have a budget.’ Thirty days after that, we had airtime and we were taping shows.
Q: I understand your producers work closely with
’s Tourism Office. Why is that?
A: They [the tourism office] assign us a state agent, who works with a municipal agent to design a tour of the state, going around and filming the best places to eat and the most interesting things to do. This is great for Mexico’s tourism, as the show is watched from Canada to Argentina, Scandinavia to North Africa, Thailand to Australia … and tourism is a huge business for Mexico.
Q: Has the show been in every single state of the Republic?
A: Not yet. I’ve done 22 out of 32 states … but I’m planning to!
Q: What have been the most fascinating things you’ve seen?
A: I would say the jungles of Campeche and the beaches of Oaxaca. The farther you go into the forests and the jungles, the better the show. And also one thing I’ve learned is: the farther you go away from civilization, the better you eat. But also, we have seen towns such as Pénjamo, Guanajuato, where there are virtually no men; they all have migrated [to the U.S.] and there are women working on building up their economies and trying to get their men back. The women are working hard and I’ve worked also with the Economic Ministry to help these women support their businesses. They are working to attract tourists in towns so that their men can come back.
Q: You have a strong American accent. Has this been at all a problem?
A: Not at all! People love my accent. I am a Gringo en México.
Q: What are your plans for next year?
A: We are looking forward to visiting other countries, and perhaps extending the show to Latin America, and call it “Latin American Gringo.” We are trying to show the world what Mexico and Latin America have to offer. But for now, we have programs from Mexico scheduled until March of 2009.
Q: Have you ever thought about coming back to do agricultural work?
A: I’m done with all that. I’m a TV guy now.