To paraphrase Henry Hill: As far back as I could remember, I always hated the Ku Klux Klan.
First time I heard about them was late ’80s or early ’90s, back when KCOP-TV Channel 13 used to run sensationalistic documentaries on Middle Eastern terrorism alongside whatever the hell else it ran (I just remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shaka Zulu, and the V alien series that launched my lifelong fear of extraterrestrials).
All I remember about the Klan is footage of a burning cross, and men walking around it in a circle while chanting “White Power!”
Looked stupid and cowardly.
I didn’t know about their history, other that they didn’t like Black people. That was enough for me to know to hate them.
So when I learned in college that the KKK used to dominate Orange County politics during the 1920s, I got angry. When I found out in the late 2000s that a Klan member, Henry W. Head, was the politician who helped to secede OC from LA County, I got disgusted.
When I found out around 2011 that Orange County still had schools, streets, parks, and plaques in honor of pioneers who just happened to be Klukkers?
I laughed — stay classy, OC!
And I wrote.
I did a series called “Profiles in O.C. Pioneers Who Were Klan Members,” which won me awards and a lot of haters.
I actually talked about this 106 cantos ago (!), in Canto IV. One thing I didn’t mention then, though, was about how critics — even self-identified progressives like the Bloviator and Blueviator (what’s good, pendejos?) — claimed retelling OC’s racist history was grasping at straws, and pointless.
In a way, it was: I wrote my stories, and nothing happened.
And here we are.
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One of the wonders and frustrations of being a reporter is not knowing which of your articles will hit.
I’ve written about this before, so I won’t belabor the point except to say that the anti-Klan seeds I spread almost a decade ago are finally bearing fruit.
All of a sudden, people are realizing what I wrote so long ago, and now demanding OC rid itself of Klan monuments.
So Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium, named after a pioneer of the city’s schools who just happened to be Klan?
To be renamed.
The plaque outside La Habra City Hall for former mayor Lucien Proud?
Fanning Academy in Brea?
Still named after a Klan pendejo — but parents will no doubt go after it again.
I’m now getting dozens of emails from people who remember my old series and asking if I can post online the membership list of the KKK in OC during the 1920s that I based it off of.
I can’t share it, because I don’t own the copyright to it — and violating a copyright ain’t fun (take it from this former newspaper editor).
But I’m happy people are finally paying attention to what I wrote so long ago. (Getting rid of the monuments? You’d be surprised at my take).
It’s a reminder for me to always write for eternity instead of for the moment. To stand by whatever you write, because you never know when you’ll have to defend it.
And to trust that what I write will be read by those who need to read it.
By the way, curious people: I can’t share the full list, but I can share an index of my series from so long ago. Check out all the streets and parks across OC still named after KKKers.
To paraphrase William Mulholland: “Here it is. Take it.”
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Was the Aztec diet a mostly plant-based diet before the arrival of the Spanish?
Instead of me answering this pregunta, I’m turning over the columna to Jocelyn Ramirez, my comadre zacatecana and author of La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican Cooking with Authentic Flavor, a cookbook so wonderful that I wrote a blurb for it. Here’s Jocelyn!
“Aztec cooking revolved around native ingredients like maize, beans, squash, chiles, avocado, nopales, tomatoes, amaranth, chia, cacao, vanilla, spirulina, and so many delicious ingredients that changed foodways throughout the entire world. Native wild game and insects were not everyday staples, and were eaten sparsely for special occasions and ceremonies. Prior to colonization, indigenous communities relied largely on a plant-based diet free of dairy, lard, white flour, and animals like chicken, beef and pork.
These are the true traditions of Mexico, and have forever evolved post colonization. Aztecs and other indigeneous communities of Mexico didn’t suffer from the great deal of preventable health issues Mexican communities face today like diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and more. Imagine that!”
I sign off on all of the above, adding only a blurb for pozole, which my wife makes an AMAZING vegan verde version that you can order online–look for it the week before the last Sunday of every month. And buy Jocelyn’s book!
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A clip from the April 3, 1878 edition of Crónica, a Spanish-language Los Angeles newspaper, talking about an Emancipation Day celebration held by Black Angelenos back then. Small, but mighty. Don’t forget what Tupac said about Black love and Brown pride, folks!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You don’t dare mention a new disease in front of Billy, or he has it the next day. Right now he’s toying with spinal meningitis.”
—Billy Wilder’s wife
LISTENING:“Gabino Barrera,” Antonio Aguilar. Legendary corrido about a ne’er-do-well — one of the few mainstream corridos about a Southern Mexican, no less — by my fellow zacatecano. What’s interesting about this corrido is how it plays up Gabino, yet disposes of him with just two verses. And a shoutout to Mauser, the preferred gun of revolutionary corridos — you can look it up!
READING: “How I Conned My Way Into an Interview With Michael Jordan (and Shaq, and Super Mario, and …)” An almost-perfect story: a comedian remembers how his sketchy dad used him to get into games during the mid-1990s. Hilarious, poignant, loving — but there was no need to riff on Maury Povich!
SHOUTOUT TO: Joe, who took such pity on me after I tried to live-tweet a BlackLivesMatter rally in Anaheim but had to stop to recharge my iPhone more than a few times he bought me a battery pack complete with fancy cables!
Now, I’m not some OnlyFans charity case (maybe I should do an Amazon wishlist haha). But those of you who have donated $45 or more through Venmo or Paypal to cover my MailChango costs WILL get a shoutout like Joe, and an opportunity to plug something. And so will anyone else in the future!
Gustavo Community Office Hours!
I’m still doing my stint as scholar-in-residence at Occidental College’s Institute for the Study of Los Angeles! Every Tuesday, from noon-3 p.m. people can book half an hour with me and we can Zoom (over a secure line, of course) one-on-one about WHATEVER. Interested? Email me to book your time NOW!
Gustavo in the News
“Nevada Immigrants, Advocates Say DACA Ruling Is Just The Beginning”: I get a shoutout from Nevada Public Radio for my Proposition 187 package a year ago.
“One of the world’s foremost authorities on Mexican food is British. A new film reckons with her legacy” Washington Post quotes me about my thoughts on Diana Kennedy, who fresas adore but Chicanos should hate.
“School Board Votes to Remove Plummer Name from Auditorium” The wonderfulFullerton Observer mentions my KKK work from the past…
“Slingshot: Fullerton to Scrub Klansman’s Name Off Building–Unlike Brea!” …Just like my former colleague, Gabriel San Román, in his weekly newsletter. Sign up for it, porfas: He’s one of the last honest writers in Orange County!
“Coronavirus Today: Visualizing our jobs crisis”: The LA Times #coronavirus newsletter plugs one of my stories below.
“Orange County sees largest jump in COVID-19 cases, public health chief resigns” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about a story so pathetic even Howard Stern ridiculed us this week. Oh, and F Jackie.
“In Orange County, seniors risk COVID-19 to protest death of George Floyd”: My latest Los Angeles Times front-pager talks about how Laguna Woods Democrats came out to support BlackLivesMatter. KEY QUOTE: “The younger ones were baby boomers who marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and who joined the throngs at the annual Women’s March of recent years. The more august attendees proudly called themselves “red diaper babies,” in honor of their Communist parents who agitated against the status quo during the Great Depression.”
“Before Juneteenth was widely known, here’s how Black Angelenos celebrated emancipation”: I dive into the archives to highlight the 150-year history of celebrating emancipation in L.A.. KEY QUOTE: “A look through historical archives shows these jubilees were a barometer of their times. One thing that never changed, though, was the overriding theme, one more resonant today than ever: Black lives mattered.”
You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! And, if you feel generous: Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc