Me last year, with more panza and hair than I have now, showing off the bottle of Malört liqueur that the second generation of los de mi Tía Maria couldn't believe I liked. That handsome fellow in the Raiders hat is my brother. Pinche Raiders...

Gentle cabrones:

My family is considered “small” in our rancho universe: just four kids, two boys and two girls.

That’s a veritable clan for gabas these days. But we’re nothing compared to the rest of my mom’s side of the family, where five kids was a good start.

So because of our modest size, we’d usually spend the holidays with one uncle or aunt or another — con mi Tía Meme one year, or mi Tío Jesus another time. When I was growing up, it was usually con mi Tío Ezequiel, because my favorite cousins Vic and Plas were his sons, and my sisters matched up in age with their sisters.

But for the past 20 years or so, my family inevitably spent the holidays conlos de mi Tía Maria.

Note the change in possession there. Wait…lemme translate for the non-paisas out there.

Con mi” means “with my,” so until I was 20 or so, that meant that the guiding lights for the Christmas get-togethers was still my mom’s generation.

Con los demi” means “With those of my,” which signifies my generation had taken over the festivities, while our elders mostly relax.

And no one knows how to family like los de mi Tía Maria.

**

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Seven of los de mi Tía Maria own homes in the same neighborhood as my parents, all on the same street where mi Tía Maria lives.

My cousins — half born in Mexico, half born in the U.S. — are all blue-collar workers who nevertheless scrimped and saved and bought their tract homes in this century (as recently as this presidential administration!) with no excuses or whines.

Now, their college-educated kids — my second cousins once removed? Who knows, who cares: they’re family — are doing the same.

Los de mi Tia Maria are a marvel. They’ve been there for my family my entire life. My dad taught so many of them to swim in our pool. The daughters took care of my mami in her last year, and were literally there when she drew her last breath — a debt my family can never repay.

And they’re just fun to be around.

Their weekends are a moveable feast of a birthday or a graduation or a baptism or just a get-together for the hell of it. On the menu: tacos and hamburgers and carne asada and adobada and whatever else Chepe or Joaquincillo wants to cook #mexicannicknames

And the highlight of their party season would usually be now: posadas and Nochebuena and tamales and buñuelos and ponche and so much more.

But not this year.

For a family that’s so close, los de mi Tia Maria aren’t PANDEJOS. So no huge parties like usual. And that’s okay.

Because they know that coronavirus, too, will pass.

One of the saddest traits I find among Americans — and, in this case, I definitely don’t consider myself to be one — is how small and disjointed their family units tend to be.

I know white folks who have only three first cousins. Three.

I think three of my cousins’ children had kids this year alone.

Or, a small family moves away from each other, and only see each other for funerals or Thanksgiving/Christmas.

That’s the ultimate root of the antipathy I have toward the holiday seasons — I’m blessed where I’m only 15 minutes away from my family, and I feel bad that most American families aren’t like mine because of capitalism’s churn.

Strong family units means you can forge ahead into uncertainty knowing at least one thing in your life won’t change.

So although I’ll terribly miss the Christmastime festivities of los de mi Tia Maria, I also know they’ll celebrate them again sooner rather than later.

A light at the end of this damned tunnel.

Such a light.

GRÍTALE A GUTI

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

Good work on the Latino Trump voters…my dad was among one of them. But I have the feeling that his perspective has been shifted by one of the online YouTube news channels that he’s been watching non-stop since Covid started.

Overall from what I over hear, the channel and the others that he watches remain very pro-Obrador and pro-Trump. Is there any story here?

Yes, and no. On one hand, the Mexican propensity for conspiracy theories makes Alex Jones seem as sane as Fauci. On the other hand, the story here is that all of us who have PANDEJO relatives need to call them out at all times — period. No more excuses, locos.

BTW, why you letting your dad on YouTube? Give him a flip phone, for chrissakes!

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.

**

Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Tamales de birria de res from the AWESOME Outside the Masa from Indio, California. Worth the drive from LA, fam.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t think I’ve lost anything off my fastball, but soon you’ll see somebody else’s fastball. There’s nothing like a new fastball.”

–Chris Rock, on the fleeting nature of popularity

LISTENING:These Eyes,” Jr. Walker & The All Stars. You know Motown’s best saxophonist for more than a few songs — but probably not this GORGEOUS remake of the Guess Who classic. Man, the All Stars are underrated…

READING: Broomstick Weddings”: A ritual of the working class, from Wales to Blacks and beyond — brilliant, readable anthropology from always-awesome Aeon.

SHOUTOUT TO: Anonymous, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! They write: “The last organization I donated to was DKMS. Their organization helps register donors for bone marrow and facilitates donations worldwide.”

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

Alta Editor Picks 2020”: Alta Journal, where I serve as a contributing editor, picks one of my essays for them as one of their top 13 stories for 2020–COOL…

Letters to the Editor: Pete Wilson: Terrible governor, pretty good mayor of San Diego”: Readers debate my columna about Pete Wilson.

Letters to the Editor: Elected sheriffs would rather pander to COVID deniers than enforce the law”: Readers debate my columna about the sheriffs of OC and Riverside.

Juan Gómez Quiñones, the ‘Pope’ of Chicano studies”: Al Día out in Philadelphia shouts out my columna on my former UCLA profe.

“Today’s Headlines”: One of the LA Times’ many newsletters shouts me out twice in the past week.

Gustavo Stories

To offset COVID outbreak in OC jails, judge orders sheriff to cut inmate population by half”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about OC’s sheriff who thinks he’s above the law when it comes to coronavirus anything.

Grítale a Guti, Episode 26”: My latest Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all, where I take questions LIVE.

Gustavo Arellano Chisme Time”: I appear on Libromobile’s weekly Saturday IG Live sessions.

To offset COVID outbreak in OC jails, judge orders sheriff to cut inmate population by half”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about OC’s sheriff who thinks he’s above the law when it comes to coronavirus anything.

2020 in review: Southern California restaurants, art, climate and news”: Myself and all the other regular commentators on KCRW’s “Greater LA” talk about our respective years on our respective beats.

The most controversial thing about Gov. Pete Wilson’s statue is its dull irrelevance”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna finds me hanging out in front of a monument to one of California’s most consequential politicians. KEY QUOTE: “I expected a lively debate about his merits, and whether cancel culture is going too far. Instead, I got an education about a Wilson I didn’t know. A titan of trolleys.”

The year Orange County reminded us it’s still Orange County”: My next Los Angeles Times columna is a year-in-review of my homeland’s crazy. KEY QUOTE: “Our gift to America this unfathomable year?A Murderers’ Row of COVID-19 nitwits.”

Three COVID-19 tests for three different Californias”: My other Los Angeles Times columna is a review of all the coronavirus tests I dealt with this year. KEY QUOTE: “There have been more than 28 million COVID-19 tests administered in California in 2020, which means sore schnozzes have united Californians like no event since, well, anything. Or so I wish.”

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