Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, Canto CXVI: Lessons from a Dying Jackfruit Tree


Gentle cabrones:

Some housekeeping, primeramente.

Gracias for your patience in the delay of this canto — my laptop is faster and sturdier than ever before! (Shoutout to George from Fast Apple Repair in Irvine for the ever-quick, ever-affordable service.)

Secondly, why didn’t any of ustedes tell me that my canto numbers were all messed up? Y’all Hellenists or something?

Reminder there will be NO newsletter this weekend on account of the Fourth of July fireworks holiday. Take care of scared animals, por favor.

Finally, my jackfruit tree is dying.

I bought it years ago as a sapling that couldn’t have been bigger than six inches tall, an orphan put on sale at a random nursery because no one wanted it.

I’m always down to try and grow something new, so I bought it and put it in a succession of pots as it grew.

My Vietnamese friend said I would never get it to fruit — that his people had been trying for decades in Southern California with no luck.

He was right, at first. It grew to about 10 feet, slender and pretty. But the jackfruit tree wouldn’t bear.

Until this year.

Small flowers made way to tiny, kidney-looking bumps that I hoped would transform into a gargantuan, spiky, fleshy beauties.

I was happy and ready to brag to my Viet vato.

But sometime this past weekend, I found the tree yellowing and drying up.


Man, to have grown a tree like this! Image by Reinout Dujardin</a> from Pixabay

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There’s a reason I keep returning to gardening for my newsletters:

The lessons!

Good ones like why you should whittle at weeds. Or how gifts can randomly pop up.

Or how dreams can die instantly.

Especially that last lesson.

You can water and nurture and prune your fruits and veggies and ornamentals (although what’s the point of THOSE), and have a wonderful garden.

And one day, it just shrivels up.

Happened to a mighty apricot of mine. A vast beanstalk. A Thai lime tree that gave so much, that I dearly miss.

But that’s life.

And hasn’t coronavirus been proof of it?

One day, we’re all talking trash on American Dirt and ridiculing Michael Bloomberg’s performance during the Democratic presidential debates.

The next day, you’re furloughed or laid off or have to shut down your business.

Or a loved one has the damned COVID-19.

And there’s not only nothing you can do about it, but you weren’t even prepared for instant destruction.

That’s life.

I’m going to miss that jackfruit tree. But I will buy another one, and start all over again, and wish and pray for the best — and prepare for the worst.

That’s life.

Life is beautiful.


This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…

As I prepare to go to J School, what should I be doing to get ready for this rigorous program? I haven’t been accepted to Cal yet, with my background and portfolio why wouldn’t they accept me? But if they don’t I have other options.

The only journalism school you should go to is at Orange Coast College, where I teach Narrative Non-Fiction and Intro to Journalism. Two years, and you’re DUN — and that’s really all you need. After that, get to writing.

One of my mentors, the brilliant author Sam Quinones, early in my career told me journalism school is a waste of a college education, and I agree. Journalism school is good only to network — and while that’s important, it’s another reason why the MSM is stratified and doesn’t reflect the communities it professes to cover. Go get your bachelor’s in Robo-American Studies, pitch some articles to L.A. Taco, and don’t get beat.

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Santo Niño de Atocha statue in the Los Angeles Times newsroom, as I pray to him to rid the paper of the Chandler-Tronc stench once and for all.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”

–Bayard Rustin

LISTENING:Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Elvis Presley. I finally got Elvis when I listened to his live stuff from the 1970s on 8-tracks, with the TCB band backing him and the King tackling standards from across genres — like this Bob Dylan classic. The drawl, the easygoing yet intense deliver, the slightly over-produced sound — you either love it or hate it, but you can’t deny que suena.

READING: The Wantok System.” Papua New Guinea remains one of the most misunderstood countries by the West — basically all the public know about it are tribes who used to headhunt and who speak a stunning array of languages that are quickly disappearing. This article, in the journal n + 1, delves into the latter, and offers this sobering line: “In the ugly scramble to be modern, the village—and the country surrounding it—is becoming like every other place, only poorer and more violent.”

SHOUTOUT TO: Cheryl, who kindly donated 45 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango!

Also, forgot to give Joe’s shoutout for his 45 tacos last week. He chooses to plug Black OC, which is a compendium of info on the county’s Black community #respect

Gustavo Community Office Hours!

I’m rebooting 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

What’s the Deal with All the Fireworks Noise?”: Los Angeles gives a plug to a tweet I made about all these gaba reporters freaking out about fireworks.

For a South Asian American, Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza means fast food freedom” Great essay in The Takeout that cites my Taco USA book.

Gustavo Stories

Orange County won’t enforce Gov. Newsom’s statewide mask mandate” My last week KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about how OC officials insist coronavirus ain’t no thing, even as we break records.

OC Democrats call to change John Wayne Airport name”: My this week KCRW “Orange County Line” gives the REAL history behind this civic hilarity.

It’s boom times for sign makers. So why aren’t they making more money?”: My latest LA Times story checks in with the folks and businesses that are making A-frames, sandwich boards, banners, flags, marquees and so many more signs bloom as of recent. KEY QUOTE: “The blooming of smaller signs is a barometer of how bad the overall economy really is, he said. Businesses “are getting them because they have no business. They want to get noticed by people, because people are afraid to spend money.”

L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar criticized for dragging Mexican baby Jesus into FBI scandal”: My latest LA Times front-pager talks about the Santo Niño de Atocha, the patron saint of zacatecanos like the disgraced L.A. councilmember. KEY QUOTE: “Clad in a blue robe and brown cloak, with a walking stick and a breadbasket in his hands, sandals on his feet, and wearing a winsome smile, this patron saint of pilgrims is the humble boy king of Catholic icons that populate the Southern California landscape.”

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