I met up with Beto Duran at my wife’s restaurant this week for… something. And I told him the following story:
Years ago, I was looking for a new writer for my previous paper, and a young man was an easy finalist. He was energetic, smart, ready to take the paper to the next level and his career. Great interview.
Then I asked him a simple question: Had he ever read OC Weekly?
No. And not only no, but he didn’t even try to apologize for his ignorance.
He didn’t get the job. He’s long gone from journalism.
Amazingly, this is not only time something like this has happened to me, I told Beto. My favorite story in this genre was the photographer I once worked with who had never heard of Robert Capa or Henri Cartier-Bresson, legends in his field.
Not only has he not heard of them, he was proud to not know the history of his profession — didn’t want his natural talent to be weighed down by the past, you know?
We Americans — really, we humans but especially Americans — are a vainglorious lot content to living life through instinct and feeling instead of facts and logic. We vote without knowing the candidate, hook up without knowing the person (well, others do), and barely ever live life with Pharaoh’s dream of fat and famished cows in mind.
We don’t do research.
And here we are.
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It’s a telling testament to society that people regularly congratulate me for being an adept moderator for panels. “You actually read my book!” participants will tell me, before ranting about a previous panel where the moderator obviously did no such thing.
Very few of us are naturals like Julio Cesar Chavez, who famously wouldn’t see any videotape of his opponents, preferring to feel them out of the first couple of rounds before destroying them – at least until Frankie Randall and Oscar de la Hoya.
Really, most of us have to research.
People also remark that they’re amazed at how I can give a lecture for 45 minutes to an hour without a PowerPoint presentation or any notes. They think I’m a natural.
Instead, I research the hell up on whatever I’m going to present. I don’t memorize anything, preferring to be like a jazz player and just feel the crowd and roll with it.
But I do use the old Greek philosopher trick of creating memory palaces in which you put in knowledge to take out when needed.
Researching has gotten me places, you know.
Researching is guaranteed success, I concluded to Beto. If you don’t do your homework, you’re not only not gonna get anywhere in life; you’re just gonna be pendejo—and pendejos ultimately fail.
Beto agreed with me. We drank our micheladas, and then ordered another.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
I have read many of your pieces and watched some of your commentary (especially on food). I often found your writing unique and insightful.
I also previously watched shows where you attacked American tacos as “illegitimate” and “all that is wrong.” You bemoaned the “evilness” of the American Taco (“not really a taco”) and bashed Taco Bell and Del Taco.
Then, on the new season of the Netflix show “Taco Chronicles”, you take part in an episode that celebrates the unique history, cultural fusion, and evolution of the American Taco – Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, American Taco “Mom & Pop” restaurants, and even mass produced fast food and super market American Tacos.
Then, in the the same episode, you (an American) insult early 1930’s/40’s/50’s Americans by calling an entire country of people “gluttons” while tracing the American taco’s history.
Listen – I get that you’re one of those modern writers trying to get noticed and popular by intentionally (and somewhat disingenuously) saying controversial things. You’re not unique in that.
What I don’t get are these two things: 1. Your complete reversal and contradiction of your own previous emphatic statements. 2. Your hatred. Why the reversal? Why the hate?
Where do you get off characterizing 1930’s/40’s/50’s Americans, the “Greatest Generation” of the country you call home that greatly elevated American prosperity and defeated Fascism, “gluttons”? The country they propelled forward is not perfect, but calling them all “gluttons” when you completely benefit from all that they strived for?
Listen – no writer or commentator is perfect… but completely contradicting your own statements and then calling historic Americans “gluttons” when Mexico is a country founded on, distinguished by, and almost defined by gluttony is kind of absurd. I have traveled extensively in Mexico – it is a large, unique, and fascinating country, but it has elevated gluttony to an artform.
These contradictions and hate start to make a reader lose respect for you.
I would love it if you would explain these contradictions and hateful comments.
Rick Bayless, is that you?
Listen — Mexican food in the United States does not become a multibillion-dollar industry without World War II veterans like Glenn Bell making fortunes off fast-food Mexican, and their fellow veterans gorging on the food they first enjoyed while going through basic training in the American Southwest. It’s all in my book, which you obviously haven’t read — so spare me the praise you originally offered, then quickly took back by using against Mexicans the very insult you accuse me of using.
Then, unlike you with Americans, I freely admit to Mexicans being gluttons — but guess who regularly do-si-dos with us for the title of the most obese people on Earth?
PS, Del Taco’s bean-and-cheese burritos are perfection. Have said this publicly multiple times before, which you can easily find online, unlike the apocryphal quotes you credit to me. Do your research.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Tortilla pack art from nine Southern California tortillerias that participated in my KCRW #TortillaTournament. More info below…
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It is paradoxical that tragedy stimulates the spirit of ridicule. Ridicule, I suppose, is an attitude of defiance.”
LISTENING:“No Volvere,” Antonio Bribiesca. This man gets NOWHERE near enough respect or recognition, even among Mexicans, who very well know his haunting arpeggios but maybe not his name. Here, Bribriesca takes on a legendary ranchera, and makes it somehow even more melancholy than the versions by Pedro Infante and Antonio Aguilar. This is Mexican guitar music, Hollywood, not Gypsy Kings or other Spanish babadas.
READING: “How to Talk Like a Mainer.” Always love to read about language, and this article also includes funny illustrations and audio. And it also lets me tell one of the three jokes I know by heart:
Two 85-year-old men meet for the first time.
“My family has been in Maine seven generations,” one says.
“Mine has been here four generations,” says the other.
“A newcomer, ayuh?”
You gotta be from Maine to get it, or a cholo nerd like me!
SHOUTOUT TO: Diane, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! Her plug is for you to also donate tacos, so don’t don’t disrespect Diane!
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
“25th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Presents 25 Virtual Events”: Speaking of panels, I’ll be doing a Zoom conversation for the LA Times’ marquee community event with former California governor Jerry Brown — HWUT.
“Caudillismo or Weak Sister Conservatism?”: Some pocho uses my words on why Trump’s the ultimate Mexican presidential candidate from 2016 to argue why conservatives should court Latinos.
“Library brings IDEA, ‘Stealing Home’”: A preview of a panel I did this past week, which I’ll post once it’s up. Guess what I did before the event?
“LA City Council Approves $6 Million to Aid Street Vendors With Permits and Equipment”: Eater LA plugs one of my #TortillaTournament articles below.
“California Playbook”: So does Politico’s newsletter on the Golden State.
“Newsletter: Protests over the Breonna Taylor case decision”: An LA Times newsletter plug of my latest columna.
“A voice for the ‘excluded’ and ‘oppressed’: Latinos remember Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg”: NBC Latino plugs my columna from last week about the deceased Supreme Court justice.
“How The 63106 Project funds independent journalism in St. Louis”: Columbia Journalism Review shouts out an article I did about the free, downloadable zine the LA Times released with most of our Chicano Moratorium coverage.
“OC sheriff’s deputies are accused of lying and stealing. Will Sheriff Don Barnes bring reform?” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about our main law enforcement agency, which continually makes the Keystone Kops look like Captain Benson from Law and Order: SVU.
“Inside El Cholo: How the old-school Mexican restaurant has thrived in LA for almost a century”: My latest KCRW #TortillaTournament story highlights the third-oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States, which makes GREAT flour tortillas. KEY QUOTE: “They’re so big you have to fold them into fours to fit on a plate, which makes reheating them at home a bit of a challenge. But the flavor remains: rich and buttery and simply spectacular.”
“Tortilla Tournament, Week 1: Stunning upsets, favorites on the run!”: My latest KCRW #TortillaTournament story goes through all the first-round wins, losses and upsets — read it!
“Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all. I do it every Tuesday night at 10:15 PST, so tune in!
“Column: A bike tour reveals hidden Latino history in downtown Los Angeles”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna gets into some subversive historia. KEY QUOTE: “I was her first guest. And I was about to embark on something like a nerdy, violence-free version of “Grand Theft Auto V.”
“Samuel Magaña, Mexican immigrant who rose to become L.A.’s tortilla mogul, dies at 88”: My latest Los Angeles Times obituary talks about the co-founder of the legendary Southern California tortilleria Diana’s Mexican Food. KEY QUOTE: “There is no other country like this country for opportunities,” Magaña told the Los Angeles Times in 1983. “Anybody who is determined to become successful can do it.”
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