I never gave a second thought to Denver before I became a reporter—really, why bother? There was John Elway and John Denver and that wannabe Pulp Fiction mid-1990s film Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead.
Otherwise? About as important to me as Wichita—and what’s a Wichita?
Things slowly changed around 2004, when I first discovered the city’s alternative weekly, Westword. It was far bigger than OC Weekly, and spun a narrative around the Mile High City that reminded me of what we did at Weekly: sinners and saints and great reporting and writing and institutional knowledge and equal parts hate and love for it all.
And its editor, Patty Calhoun, founded the paper and was not only still editing but still writing. 27 years! (She’s still there—details to come…)
Imagine my surprise two years later, when Westword became the sister paper of OC Weekly and asked if they could publish my columna, ¡Ask a Mexican! Imagine my shock when not only was the column a hit, but Denver became my biggest fan base outside of Southern California.
Denver? The Sally Fields of American cities (Calhoun’s line, not mine)?
But I rolled with it, and began to visit the city on a yearly basis. I made friends, saw the city explode in growth, and more importantly discovered the city’s unique Mexican food scene (Den-Mex classics: Mexican hamburgers, crispy chile rellenos, Chubbys, Las Delicias, Santiago’s, and the best breakfast burrito scene in the country—FACT).
And that’s how, of all the cities in all the United States, Denver was the one that decided to do a play about my life.
I first met Tony Garcia, executive artistic director of Su Teatro (the third-oldest Chicano theater in the country) in 2010. I was in town as the Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professor at Metropolitan State University Denver. The honor is named after a Chicano civil-rights activist who died far too young and, whom like his hometown, is not nearly enough known by the rest of Aztlán.
Somewhere along the line, Calhoun got the crazy idea to have me debate Congressman (R-Wackjob) Tom Tancredo about Mexican immigration. That’s when Tony graciously (stupidly?) allowed us to use Su Teatro as the venue.
Such a event would NEVER happen in these partisan, thought-police times. Hell, it barely happened back then. But Tony believes in the power of the spoken word and free speech, and he told the packed house as such before Tancredo and I debated.
He also said that if there was a riot, the bill would fall on him—and he’d make ALL of us pay.
We kept in touch over the years. Then in 2015, when I was in town to entertain Westword readers for lunch, Tony came up his own crazy idea: Let’s do a play about ¡Ask a Mexican!
I told him that someone had already attempted it, and the results were whatever. Tony said Su Teatro would do far better, so I agreed to let him do whatever he wanted. I wouldn’t hear from Tony about the project until the summer of 2017, when he excitedly announced Su Teatro had received a grant to commission an ¡Ask a Mexican! play.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Tony then, though, that the columna’s days were numbered.
Because I was most likely going to lose my job at OC Weekly.
A couple of months later, I did (that’s the subject of next week’s Canto, btw).
I told Tony we could no longer do a play, since the Weekly’s owner held the copyright to ¡Ask a Mexican! and basically owned everything I had ever written in my career. “Don’t worry about it,” Tony said. “I have a plan.”
And that’s how Interview with a Mexican came to be.
If you enjoyed my columna, you’ll love it, because Tony captured the spirit of ¡Ask a Mexican! by interviewing me at length about my career. If you don’t give a shit about me, you should still go: A song Garcia wrote about gentrification in Denver’s Northside is worth the price of admission alone, will play everywhere where gentrification is happening, and is the second-greatest critique of gentrification since that King of the Hill episode where Hank was a padrino at a quinceañera.
Interview with a Mexican will play great in Albuquerque in November, where the Alibi was the first paper outside of OC Weekly to run my columna, and also the last paper to publish my columna. Should play fine in San Jose in November, where a reading last year played to a packed house. And although my column never appeared in Pueblo, I think the play will get a welcome crowd there next month as well because I just declared the Pueblo chile better than the Hatch chile for NPR (link below!)
It’ll probably play next year in San Diego (a Chicano playwright in attendance on opening night described Interview with a Mexican as a carpa, which it TOTALLY is), and it might play in Los Angeles—a professor of theater at USC tweeted at me that it was hilarious.
Interview with a Mexican will NEVER play in Orange County, because I’m a prophet in my own land. And that’s OK. Because Denver taught me that you REALLY never know who’s going to appreciate you—so all you can do is WERK.
Opening night was fabulous—dozens of people went up to me to say how much they missed me in Westword, how proud of me they were in this past year of me wandering the wilderness. Afterward, Tony and the Su Teatro crew took me to My Brother’s Bar, Denver’s oldest watering hole and a place where Neal Cassady never paid his tab.
Interview with a Mexican plays at Su Teatro through October 21. Check it out (shoutout to the Denverite who found out about it through subscribing to my newsletter—sorry I can’t remember your name, loco!). Donate to Su Teatro—keep community theater alive.
And Denver? Gracias for all the #respect. I still think your airport is the headquarters of the Illuminati, tho…
Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:
READING: “Boxing Gyms Fight To Save Oak Cliff,” D Magazine. Roberto José Andrade Franco is a doctoral candidate of history at Southern Methodist University, and the rare academic who writes articles that people actually want to read. His freelance pieces for Deadspin, Bleacher Report and others on sports are always awesome, and this one might be his best, as he tackles gentrification, boxing, redemption and more.
LISTENING: “Blue Bayou,” Linda Ronstadt. The feels are gonna be real through next week, so no one better to accompany them than the German Chicana from Tucson. One of the few covers I like more than the original.
OCT. 7: GUSTAVO IN THE AUDIENCE
I’ll be in the audience at the awesome Vroman’s in Pasadena for the debut of Father Luis Olivares: A Life, the latest book by legendary Chicano Studies professor Mario T. Garcia. His lecture will be FREE, but make sure to BUY BUY BUY his book—I know I will! Details here.
OCT. 11: GUSTAVO WITH A HEARST!
I’ll be in conversation with William Randolph Hearst III (yes, he’s related to THE William Randolph Hearst—he’s a grandson!) about the future of Orange County, my coverage of California, and other sorts of stuff at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at 6:30 p.m.. If you know your old-money California—and you probably don’t—know that the Commonwealth Club is one of their longtime gathering points—so let’s Reconquista it! Get tickets here—and if you get them now, you get a discount!
Gustavo in the News
“Harald Martin, Former Anaheim Trustee Who Wanted to Sue Mexico, is Running Again”: A blast from my past gets me to go into Anaheim history for my former paper.
“Curt Pringle is Going Down-Under on ya to Build a Toll Road”: My former paper gives me another shoutout on another blast from my past.
“The APEX Hour”: Southern Utah University put up my speech at their school from a couple of weeks back, plus my radio interview with host Lynn Vartan. Cool school!
“Charlottesville rioting defendant linked to earlier violence in California”: I got interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding the alt-losers whom the feds arrested for unleashing racist mayhem but whom the Orange County district attorney’s couldn’t be bothered to prosecute for assaulting reporters.
“Go find an ice-cold, chile-hot raspado before the weather cools down”: My comadre Hanna Raskin of the Charleston Post-Courier interviews me about raspados!
“California legalized the sale of homemade food. It should remove barriers for other industries too”: Atlantic writer and OC boy Connor Friedersdorf quotes one of my Los Angeles Times columnas from this year for his own LA Times columna about street vendors.
“Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Latin meals”: A Manhattan, Kansas newspaper gives me a shoutout about Latino foods.
“White Supremacists arrested for links to Charlottesville rally”: I get a shoutout in a story about the alt-losers I cited above.
“Best Tacos in Los Angeles”: 94.7 The Wave, of all places, gives a shoutout to my KCRW #TortillaTournament
“Mexican-American artist and activist Julio Salgado to present convocation”: I get a shoutout in a story about my former KPFK radiola producer.
“Can Huntington Beach Overturn California’s Sanctuary State Law?” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” tackles on ever-racist HB’s attempt to terrify Mexicans.
“The Chile Pepper Rivalry Heats Up Between New Mexico’s Hatch And Colorado’s Pueblo”: My latest NPR’s The Salt story dives into the best big green chile you’ve never heard of: The Mirasol of Colorado. KEY QUOTE: “But farmers in Colorado have something to say about that: Try our peppers, because they’re better.”
“Hey California quitters, your future neighbors wish you would stay home”: My latest California columna for the Los Angeles Times travels I-15 to I-70 and sees the devastation that Californian migrants have wrought across the West. KEY QUOTE: “But amigos y familias, take it from your humble sojourner: The same problems that are driving you out of California will follow you to your new ’burbs. And your new neighbors won’t be happy about it.”
You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc. And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!