Last night, my wife and I had a hell of a meal at Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown courtesy of some friends (one word: chestnut mochi balls).
It’s a great restaurant that does a fabulous job of representing Los Angeles at its multiculti, middle-class ideal, one where borders are heresy and America is cool (another must-eat: turkey tails in harissa and white sauce — Samoa meets Alabama in Morocco).
The dinner was great; the company, fabulous.
Was it hard for me to show up? Absolutely.
The drive on a late Saturday afternoon from SanTana to Koreatown was about an hour and 20 minutes; drive back, slightly shorter. My wife has a store to run; I’m in the mines right now with my Proposition 187 project for the Los Angeles Times.
But we went — to hacer presencia.
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“Hacer presencia” is a phrase literally means “make presence,” but that hardly scratches at the profundity of its Spanish meaning. A better translation might be “bear witness,” but that makes it seems like those who hacen presencia are mere observers instead of participants.
Rather, it means not only showing up, but paying your #respect. Not being on your iPhone. Putting aside your life for that moment, for special people or occasions, and being in it, but not in a carpe diem sort of sophomoric pendejada .
It’s something not nearly enough of us do.
As a reporter and natural invert, I skip out on family and friend invites a LOT, and have done so for nearly 20 years. All the weddings and baptisms and quinceañeras and birthday parties and even funerals I’ve missed — I’m surprised people even talk to me still.
But my perspective changed with — guess what? — the death of my mom.
It wasn’t even the mass outpouring of love for my mami that did the trick. It happened during a graduation party for the daughter of a cousin of mine, uno de los mi Tía María, she who has seven of her adult children living on the same street, each owning their homes (and they say housing is unaffordable in Southern California — you’ve obviously aren’t cargaderense).
I was talking to someone from the rancho — we’ve always been friendly but aren’t quite friends but are closer than that, if that makes any sense. He’s close to my cousins and I’ve known him my entire life. And he was talking about how he had lost his own dad a decade ago, which immediately made me feel stupid.
I’m sure my parents told me about the passing, and I propably said I was too busy to pay respects. Pinche ingrato.
I think he felt my guilt, because he somehow forgave me without even saying anything. He talked about the importance of hacer presencia — how community comes from knowing that there are people there for you when you need them, yes, but that are also there for the small celebrations, too.
A lunch. A dinner. A pisteada. Actual, physical presence.
I’ll carry that talk for the rest of my days.
Now, I’m seeing people in person far more than I have since I was a kid. To hacer presencia. I still inevitably become the kid I was and go off to a corner to read, although this time it’s on my iPhone instead of a magazine.
But you know what? I’ll catch myself doing that, then stop. And talk to people and have great conversations.
So make sure to hacer presencia more in your life. You’ll enrichen everyone around you, and yourself.
And if you know me personally, gracias for continuing to invite me to your things. I promise I’m trying to hacer presencia more.
But no way in hell I’m going to your destination wedding haha. Why don’t you just get married at the Laborer’s Hall in SanTana the way our older cousins used to? Shit, I’ll play for your banda!
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the feature where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Hey, saw a tweet where you dissed Spanish cuisine. Lived in Madrid for two years and have walked the Camino De Santiago and overall, the food is great. You really never had a good paella? Lentejas, gazpacho, arroz a banda, fabada asturiana, etc, etc, etc? The variety of cheeses and embutidos is mind-blowing. Churros con chocolate sold in the winter from corner food trailers is off the charts. I am getting nostalgic just thinking about all these goodies. But, I do admit it’s even better in Portugal because you have all the Iberian cuisine plus a great African influence. Buying my ticket as we speak.
I actually think Portuguese food is better than Spanish, although this comes with the huge caveat I’ve never been to either country — I’m a working-class Mexican kid who only travels for work, you know? But I like my cuisines to have heat, sour, and a dab of sweet — and all that I ever find with Spanish food is 16 notes of hearty. Pan con tomate? I’d rather just go to Roma d’Italia in Tustin — which makes THE BEST Negroni in Southern California — order some bread, and dunk it in marinara sauce.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: My black cobra peppers came in great — still got more turning black. Strange: I always thought they were Vietnamese peppers, but I guess they come from Venezuela? The more you know…anyways, I like to eat them fresh, or dry them out and grind them up to put on soups.
LISTENING: “The Way We Were,” Willie Hutch. I never got Barbra Streisand, but this version by a little-known Motown artist is a JAM — funky, more melancholy than wistful, and not over-the-top.
READING: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned on the Streets of the Garment District”: The Marshall Project, which dedicates itself to prison reform, has a weekly column called “Life Inside” written by either people doing a stint or former prisoners. Even when the author committed a heinous crime, you can nevertheless sense the anguish in them — and they’re hell of storytellers.
Gustavo in the News
“15 delicious Mexican recipes from our archives”: My LA Times Food colleague Genevieve Ko gets inspired by my dive into our archives to pull out some great LA Times dishes.
“The tortured Taco Tuesday trademark travails”: I appear in my old public-radio home of Marketplace to talk LeBron James and his Taco Tuesday gambit. The reporter also apparently mispronounced my name!
“Tucson Meet Yourself 2019: Everything you need to know”: A preview of a Tucson appearance for me next month.
“Cypress College presents ‘El Artist’ — Works of J. Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma September 19-Nov. 14, 2019”: A preview of a Cypress appearance for me next month.
“Yellow cheese and the golden taco: Baja Sonora, Long Beach’s beloved Cal-Mex institution”: The ever-excellent Long Beach Post plugs my taco work in a restaurant review.
“Il Tajín è uno stile di vita e dal Messico è arrivato sulla nostra tavola diventando pura ossessione”: I appear in an article in Italian Vogue about Tajín–HWUT.
“Latino or Hispanic – what is the difference?”: I make a cameo in a column about the eternal question.
“#118 – Gustavo Arellano – Pepe Aguilar, Mezcal and more”: I make my semi-annual appearance on Beto Duran’s Podcast, “Living the Dream” —listen, and subscribe #betosabe
“In Year Two, the Golden Tortilla Goes to Taco Maria, As the Corn Empire Strikes Back in KCRW & Gustavo’s Great #TortillaTournament, Sponsored by Coast Packing”: The sponsors for my KCRW #TortillaTournament do a recap of it. Buy VIVA Lard, porfas!
“The Hatch and Pueblo chile feud is heating up. Why is Colorado losing?”: The Denver Post plugs an NPR article I did a year ago about the superiority of Colorado’s green chile crop over that of New Mexico.
“National Immigration Forum”: My Pepe Aguilar story gets shouted out in their newsletter.
“Pepe Aguilar’s ‘Rodeo Without Borders’ evokes old Mexico, with touches of L.A.”: My latest Column one for the Los Angeles Times tells the saga of the Aguilar family, three generations of Mexican entertainment royalty. KEY QUOTE: “Pepe’s proud, positive expression of mexicanidad that looks to the past as he barrels into the future may seem an exercise in nostalgia to outsiders. But to Latinos in an era of deportations and xenophobia, Pepe’s career has become a reminder of the power of knowing your roots — and a challenge for others to do the same.”
“Behind the story: A lifetime of listening to Pepe Aguilar and his family suddenly becomes personal”: A first-person on what the Aguilar family meant to mine. KEY QUOTE: “It didn’t matter: I couldn’t escape Aguilar anything. My parents would even play Antonio’s movies — Mexican-style horse operas — on Channel 22, back when it was Galavisión.”
“For over 137 years, no newspaper has covered Mexican food better than the L.A. Times”: I do a deep dive into the LA Times archives to pull out all sorts of goodies. KEY QUOTE: “In
an era when representation and diversity of voices in journalism are
more important than ever before, The Times can proudly say that we let
Mexicans tell their comida stories, in their words, long before it
became cool to do so.”
“The push for a tribal park in San Juan Capistrano”: My latest KCRW Orange County Line commentary tackles the surprisingly progressive views (for once) of the SJC City Council.
“At Casa Diaz, Guadalajaran classics and homestyle cooking abound”: My latest food review with Evan Kleiman.
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!