Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, Canto CXX: To All the Teachers I’ve Had Before

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Trophy that I won in 3rd grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary for reading so many books

Gentle cabrones:

In a couple of weeks, I resume teaching at Orange Coast College’s journalism department. Just one class: Narrative Journalism.

Interested? It’s going to be online, so might as well sign up!

Gonna be an interesting semester, given I always vowed I’d never teach an online class — and here we are!

I’ll have an easy-ish time, because my class is  always small and mostly readings and lectures, although I’ll miss the in-person interaction.

But I can’t help but to think of the dozens of people I know who are elementary schoolteachers and face a far-harder fall.

Don’t believe the alt-losers who say teachers are using COVID-19 as an excuse to strengthen their unions and screw over kids.

These teachers desperately want to return.

But they want to keep their pupils and families safe in the face of this pandemic.

Not all elementary school teachers are perfect, of course. But a lot of them are. Selfless. Caring. Nurturing. Child is the father of man — and teacher is, well, the teacher.

They’re usually the most-forgotten teachers when adults look back at their K-12 years, because memories of them are so foggy and random.

Thankfully, I largely have an elephant’s memory.

I was lucky — nearly all of my teachers from kindergarten to sixth grade were good. And even the ones who weren’t, I learned valuable lessons from them.

Thank the elementary school teacher in your life some time this week. And pray for them as they embark on the most painful semester of their careers.

Now, ROLL CALL!

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KINDERGARTEN: Ms. Lubilee (sp?). Young Hawaiian woman with long hair, who liked to sings songs to us while playing on her guitar. I remember she taught us how to tie our shoes, and the importance of vitamins.

FIRST GRADE: Mrs. Radulavich (sp?). Told us to call her Mrs. R. Once kissed my cheek, which made me blush. She was my teacher for only a month or so: I was switched over to Ms. Fernandez, for reasons I cannot remember. Ms. Fernandez was a Latina, which I thought was cool because my young mind thought teachers were all white.

SECOND GRADE: Cannot remember her name, but can VIVIDLY recall this teacher scolding me in front of everyone for my bad handwriting, proclaiming “MESSY! MESSY!” in a high-pitched voice. Taught me that humiliating people in public is a bad look.

THIRD GRADE: Mrs. Amilie (sp?). Ms. Fernandez got married! First Mexican I ever knew to get married to a gabacho — found it weird, but she seemed happy. Very nice woman. I returned to Thomas Jefferson in 2007 or so for a story and asked if I could meet her; she didn’t remember me. It’s OK.

Third grade was also when the school psychologist decided I was smart, and so during lessons for everything except math, I’d go to the fourth-grade class. The teacher there was Ms. Pregenzer (sp?).

She was awesome. Always challenged me, always talked me up — I was a total teacher’s pet, and my classmates knew it. Ms. Pregenzer would play the Great American Songbook at the beginning of class, so that’s how I learned at a young age most of Oklahoma!, The King and I, Carousel and much more than an 8-year-old Mexican kid from Anacrime should’ve ever learned.

FOURTH GRADE: Ms. Pregenzer. Same thing as third: I’d be moved up to fifth grade for all subjects except math.

My family bought a house in a better part of Anaheim in the fall of 1988. The plan was to keep me at Thomas Jefferson because I got along so well with Ms. Pregenzer.

Then she accused me me of stealing the answer key to a test.

I protested that a girl named Linda had set me up, which was absolutely true. But Ms. Pregenzer would not believe me. I remember being sad that a teacher who had been so kind to me now had cold eyes and saw me as a criminal. She threatened me with suspension — a fourth-grader!

I transferred to Patrick Henry once my family closed escrow in October. Don’t remember the teacher there, except that we grew silkworms. That whole year, I seethed at Ms. Pregenzer — still do after all these years.

I learned to don’t worship your heroes.

FIFTH AND SIXTH GRADE: Mrs. Rice. I lasted at Patrick Henry less than a year, then was transferred to Sunkist Elementary for their Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) classes. Even though I had Mrs. Rice for two years, I really don’t remember anything except she was nice and she disciplined me quite often — but I deserved it.

And that’s a canto for another time.

GRÍTALE A GUTI

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

I just started watching Gentefied on Netflix. I like it, as it has multigenerational themes and lots of characters I want to follow. Have you had a chance to view an episode or two?

I have not, nor have interest in doing so. Nothing against the cast and producers — it’s just that in 2016, I sold a pilot to ABC called Gentrified about a Mexican restaurant in Boyle Heights trying to deal with a gentrifying neighborhood.

That’s not to be confused with VIDA, which is basically the same show. Did see that one — it was great and soapy, even though EVERY single cishet male on the show was depicted as little better than trash.

But I’ve heard good about Gentefied (apparently gets better as the season progresses), and am glad it’s returning for a second season because we need more representation. But I do hope Hollywood one day realizes there’s more to the Mexican American experience in Southern California than Boyle Heights and East L.A. Have you been to Baldwin Park recently? Shit is going DOWN up there…

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.

**

Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:


IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Virgen de Guadalupe across the street from a Jollibee’s off Beverly in Los Angeles.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Read everything. See everything. The poet must not avert his eyes.”

–Werner Herzog

LISTENING:La Argentinidad al Palo,” Bersuit Vergarabat. One of the most extraordinary songs I’ve EVER listened to: a simultaneous embrace and denouncement of nationalism, through an Argentine lens and rhythms by one of my top-three rock en español groups of all time. Where else will you find a line like “Podemos ser lo mejor/O también lo peor/Con la misma facilidad” backed by a galloping guitar riff, in a song whose title translates as “Hardcore Argentinism” but really means “Hard-On Argentinism?”

READING: What Does Baseball’s Bilingualism Reveal?” Fascinating compare-and-contrast about white baseball players who learn Spanish and Latino ballers who learn English — gracias for the tip, Profe Adam!

SHOUTOUT TO: Profe Maribel, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! She wants us to see this video from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts talking about building justice for this moment, featuring — among others — Quetzal Flores of the ever-amazing Eastlos group Quetzal. GREAT conversation.

Also a shoutout to Agustín, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He requested a plug for Californians for Justice, a great youth org fighting the good fight — BOOM #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!

Exclusive to Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly

A San Diego Chicano Muralist Brings One of His Vandalized Pieces into the Coronavirus Era”: San Diego-area reporter Mario A. Cortez offers a dispatch from his terruño for my website. More original reporting for me to come — details to come…

Gustavo Events

“¡Viva Vegan-Mex!”: Join me on my IG Live channel August 4 at noon PST as I talk to Jocelyn Ramirez, author of the great Vegan-Mex cookbook La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican Cooking with Authentic Flavor, a book so great that my blurb for it is on the back!

Gustavo in the News

Media Notes on the NBA’s Return, Listener Mail, and Gustavo Arellano on Covering California”: I appear on The Ringer‘s media podcast to talk about my journalism and even shout out the Santo Niño de Atocha!

CA-48: Disappear”: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee uses one of my KCRW “Orange County Line” commentaries to trash OC Supervisor Michelle Steel in her race to replace Congressman Harley Rouda.

Good Fences”: The Statesider shouts out my most recent Southern Foodways Alliance columna.

Newsletter: In a pandemic, letting go”: I get a citation in the LA Times “Essential California” newsletter for my Mitla Cafe story below!

California Playbook”: Politico’s Golden State newsletter does the same.

“Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless and the Imagination of ‘Authentic’ Mexican Food”: Academic paper published earlier this year in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies in which the author cites my critiques of the two most famous gabacho arbiters of “authentic” Mexican food. I’d link to it, but it costs like $40 to read it, so PASS.

BenFillsIn“”: I appeared on the YouTube channel of a OC teenager for an interview — and he asked some smart questions!

90+ finalists were named for religion news awards. Why 1 stands out”: Religion Unplugged shouts out my San Gabriel Mission story from a couple of weeks ago.

Gustavo Stories

Grítale a Guti, Episode 7”: Every Tuesday night around 10:15 PST, I hop on IG Live and take people’s questions for an hour about ANYTHING. Just might turn this into a podcast — details to come…

Viva la Taquiza” My latest Southern Foodways Alliance “Good Ol’ Chico” column talks about how taquizas — taco parties — are taking hold across the South. KEY QUOTE: “They are our versions of barbecues: Yes, they are about eating, and they are also chances to meet local taqueros and celebrate community and culture.”

Huntington Beach becomes center for coronavirus trutherism in Southern California”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” examines why HB LOVES to stand athwart modern-day OC, even in times of pandemics.

In San Bernardino, a legendary waitress gets a COVID-19-safe memorial, with tacos to go”: My latest Los Angeles Times  story talks about Lucy Reyes, who worked at immortal Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino for 68 of its 83 years. KEY QUOTE: “Reyes stayed in San Bernardino while so many others left, and saw it turn from a boomtown on Route 66 to a cautionary tale of urban decay. She became a reassuring lodestone, a reminder of what was and could be again.”

Rudolfo Anaya describió el Oeste como nadie más.”: High Country News translates into Spanish my Rudolfo Anaya essay from a couple of weeks ago.

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