Gentle cabrones:

Another canto missed — I know! I don’t plan to make it a habit, but couldn’t do it last week due to a trip in New Mexico doing..something for the Los Angeles Times. Details to come…

But I was definitely not going to miss this week.

See, tomorrow, if the good Lord let’s me, I’ll turn 40 years old.

And I don’t really care.

I affix no special meaning to this age, because I’ve never really cared to celebrate my birthday. I think I soured on them after fourth grade, the last time my mom held a party for me. Only one person showed up, and I got sick for weeks afterward.

And I definitely got over celebrations a couple years ago, when my friends surprised me with an awesome party… and I got stuck with the big-ass bill.

Maybe it’s an Essenes thing (I would’ve made a GREAT stylite). I’ve never lived extravagantly, and while I’m a shameless self-promoter, it’s for my work and career, and not for meself.

Really, I don’t like birthdays because I’d rather people channel whatever feelings they have for me over the entire year rather than just one day. (same reason why I don’t like holidays).

Truthfully, it’s because birthdays are for young people — and I was born old.


Pictures of me from kindergarten to sixth grade. No Ma’am members noted that the progression looked just like Lisa Simpson’s teeth devolution in Last Exit to Springfrield.No Ma’am members also noted that sixth-grade me looked school-shooter ready.Fuck my friends…HA!

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I’ve always been told I’m mature for my age—too mature, people always point out.

It’s true. I was born with a high forehead, and was teased for going bald as early as 7th grade (great irony is that that those bullies lost their hair already, while I’m still have more hair than not). I’ve never been physically fit, have always been a hypochondriac (maybe one day I’ll talk about the time when I was 8 that I thought I had AIDS because I read about it in The World Almanac), and have made it a nighttime habit of watching KCAL-TV Channel 9 news in the evening since I was in elementary school.

I was born a curmudgeon (my mom always tells me I refused hugs as a baby), remain a crank — and I’m aiming to become a coot one day.

It’s fun! You get to be consistently uncool, always out of step with the times, and learn to take things as they come.

In other words, you’re free.

I’ve lived life as a liberated person since 9th grade, when I realized societal expectations were stupid and decided myself to living an authentic life. Oh, there’s been challenges and downs — but I’ve lived one gigantic party for nearly 25 years.

Everything I ever wanted out of life — a house, a garden, a room to turn into a library, a beautiful, caring wife, a dream job — I’ve attained.

People make bucket lists; I never bothered with one. Because I knew that what I wanted out life, I’d get — and I got it.

That’s the definition of old for me. So my time is basically done. God: time to do like Enoch and vamoose me outta here.

But not just yet.


Me in 2001, protesting police brutality in Anaheim. Barely visible: the same Doc Martens I wear today.

I’m not really doing anything to celebrate my 40th. But I had my special musts.

On Thursday, I went to trivia with No Ma’am at Kelly’s Corner Tavern in Placentia, my favorite neighborhood bar – we won first place, despite fucking up a couple of questions. Yesterday, I spent all day talking to high schoolers at Fountain Valley High School and youngsters in Orange County Juvenile Hall — always important for me to try and reach my fellow underachieving nerds. Had dinner at Mercado in SanTana with the wife, her brother, and his wife – always fun crew.

Today, finally finish Miriam Pawel’s excellent biography of Cesar Chavez. And tomorrow? Super Bowl Sunday — I’m watching the damn game.

Happy birthday to me!

I used to ask people to take me to dinner so we could hang out, but I barely have time for that nowadays. So if you really wanna give me a gift, subscribe to the LA Times (or give the gift of one to someone else if you already subscribe). We’re doing great things, but nowadays, TINSTAAFG—There is No Such Thing as a Free Gus, you know?

Or don’t (actually, do). Ustedes subscribe to my newsletter, and that’s gift enough.

Gracias in advance for your inevitable well-wishes. Maybe I’ll hold a giant pachanga for my 85th. Make your reservations NOW.

And make sure to pick up the bill.

Me at Cielito Lindo last week, doing my best Gene Scott impersonation. Photo by Sasha Anawalt, eternal champion of mine…

Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

LISTENING: “Not Fade Away,” Buddy Holly. February 3 is, more importantly, The Day the Music Died, so gotta play the Buddy Holly. TRUE STORY: For most of my life, I’ve claimed I’m the reincarnation of Holly and Ritchie Valens, as their plane crashed at the exact minute I was born 20 years after their tragic death.

READING: “From Tortillas and a Jazz Club to Chips and Salsa: The Legendary Evolution of Casa Sanchez”: KQED in San Francisco tells the great tale of the Mexican-food brand with the charro riding an elote as if it were a rocket. History, surprises, business, and more.

Gustavo in the News

“The worst slur for Mexican-Americans is still a mystery for some”: The homie Dennis Romero of NBC News cites my work on the word “beaner.”

“Latinx Immigrant Movement History Shows Importance of Organizing”: Non-Profit Quarterly highlights one of my articles below.

“Mengenal Taco yang Populer di AS”: An Indonesian newspaper talks about me and tacos.

Gustavo’s Stories

“Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Nava Jr., L.A.’s LGBTQ nightlife icon, dies at 42”: My latest story for the Times remembers one of the founders of “Mustache Mondays,” a legendary promotion that happened at La Cita for years. KEY QUOTE: “He provided a home for all the weirdos,” Maldonado said. “We got to meet each other, when we really didn’t have direction.”

“Chicano groups are embracing undocumented immigrants. It wasn’t always this way.”: My latest story for High Country News profiles four Chicano-rights organizations and how they changed their ways over the decades. KEY QUOTE: “To fight back is not just the right thing to do: It’s necessary. And to try and bridge the long-standing divide between Chicanos and Mexican immigrants — related groups but with different histories and needs — is now more important than ever.”

“In The Spirit”: My latest article for the Southern Foodways Alliance compares bourbon culture in Kentucky with mezcal culture in Oaxaca. KEY QUOTE: “When tourists come, they might reduce Kentucky to what they quaff from a snifter. And after our afternoon at the palenque, I feared Oaxaca faced the same challenges.”

“The Great American Chile Highway”: In which I drove for Eater from Las Cruces to Denver along Interstate 25 — it’s a living. KEY QUOTE: “I ended up eating “chile” 38 different ways — and I could’ve done more. But caution to the curious: Take the trip in doses, not in one fell swoop like me.”

“What we’re into: Village Bread bakes European classics for the Inland Empire”: My first food review in a year, for the LA Times, goes to Calimesa for some good bread. KEY QUOTE: “But what draws retirees and hipsters alike are Village Bakery’s whole loaves — crusty sourdough, for sure, but also potato breads and pillowy, cinnamon-touched brioches.”

“New OC, New Dem Party Leadership” and “California Sues Huntington Beach Over Lack of Housing”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” commentaries.

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!