Before this pinche pandemic, I was making a name for myself at the Los Angeles Times.
For bringing food.
I would show up to our El Segundo offices about once a week, for meetings but also catch up with colleagues. And since I’m always in the proximity of good grub, I liked to share it with folks, especially on the seventh floor, where my desk was.
So I brought chips and salsa from Northgate. Blue cornbread from my wife’s Alta Baja Market. Packs of tortillas from my KCRW #TortillaTournament. Baklava and maamoul from Le Mirage Pastry in Anacrime.
I did it because a newsroom is eternally hungry, but also so folks might know that even though I didn’t show up much to the office, I still cared about how they were.
It was in that spirit of goodwill that I bought a five-pound box of dates in mid-February after a couple of days in the Coachella Valley reporting a story about the area’s political transformation.
I LOVE dates. Natural pep, good fiber, and an earthy sweetness that’s far healthier (and tastier) than sugar.
I brought the box to work, and left it on my desk. A drive to El Paso for a story awaited.
When I returned, management asked I quarantine at home for two weeks. Coronavirus had all of a sudden become a thing.
A week into that quarantine, all reporters were ordered to work from home.
I never had the chance to hand out those dates.
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I was able to return to the LA Times office once since the shutdown, in June. I caught up with my editor and some friends (we traded food, of course), then went to get my chewy treasures.
The box of dates is now at my home.
Dates last for years, but I wanted them as a reminder of what could’ve been.
I’m a loner by nature who, ironically enough, is a reporter who loves to be out in the field, so stay-at-home orders haven’t affected me psychologically like so many others.
I’ve also — obviously — kept in contact with colleagues, and even seen some in person while on work or at my wife’s store (always with a mask, always socially distant).
And I’ve also plowed ahead with 2020, earning a promotion and launching new projects.
But I taste ennui with every date I eat.
They reminds me of all the great stories my colleagues and I had planned for 2020, many of which are now impossible to do even after any vaccine.
They remind me of the few people I do want to see in person, people I haven’t seen all year and have no idea when I’ll see again, because I take coronavirus seriously.
They remind me of how much we’ve devolved into stupidity as a country — and politics is only a part of it.
But I still eat the dates.
Muslims traditionally eat three to break their fast during Ramadan, both as a natural power boost and because the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ate them to break his fast.
Most people would’ve tossed any food that might make them think of sad thoughts.
It’s a millennia-old symbol of the Middle East, proof that beauty and nurture can emerge from harsh terrain.
Dates are hope.
And I can’t wait to give them out again.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
I saw very few Mexican Americans among all the yelling but I hear, around me, in SanTana, that those of Mexican heritage have a different reason to disregard our health agencies. I heard, explained to me in all seriousness, that their ancestry being so close and involved with the soil of the earth has developed a “natural immunity” that will protect Mexican Americans against the virus. Have you ever of this? Is this a widely held belief? Are Mexican Americans who wear masks only doing so to fit in?
I wrote a whole column off this question for the LA Times this week – read it below! I’ll only add hear that stupid is stupid, and Mexicans can be as stupid as they come — and not enough of us use this as an explanation for PANDEJOS.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Virgen de Guadalupe mosaic off Anaheim Street in Wilmington. Should’ve stopped by La Venadita while I was there…
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “An audience is like a broad—if you’re indifferent, endsville.”
LISTENING:“El Ahualulco,” Andres Huesca y Sus Costeños. Yeah, son jarocho is played out thanks to macktivists, but you gotta pay #respect to the man who mainstreamed the genre, the man who used to perform in Southern California and could JAM on the harp like no one else — and this song is a great intro to Huesca.
READING: “The Case of the Scattered Dutchman”: Just taught this A.J. Liebling classic in my OCC journalism class — history, crime, the New York staffer’s workingman elegance throughout, a delayed intro for the protagonist, and one of the sharpest endings EVER.
SHOUTOUT TO: Craig, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He writes: “This is a small patronage for a great writer. I just finished reading your “Raza isn’t racist” LAT piece from 2006, linked from Canto CXXXV which is also inspiring. 2006, I had not yet parachuted back into L. A. at that time, and had not yet heard of you and your work.
Anyway, reading it now, this piece really sang, both in lyric composition and simultaneously reminding me of hopeful fallacies of my own youth and the hope for the future they still yield in my own life. With this measly 50 tacos, I ask this time for a call out for old Wilmington, where there are interesting small businesses, new and old, that you would love to visit. Take care, Colonel.”
Look above to the Photo of the Week, Craig!
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
“Remembering professor Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Chicano studies scholar and activist”: UCLA’s Daily Bruin interviews me for a piece on my former professor.
“Letters to the Editor: Right-wing media have turned Huntington Beach into Angrytown”: Two LA Times readers liked my HB takedown, one didn’t.
“Mailbag: Newport Beach’s future mayor may be exemplary”: In which Huntington Beach readers of the Daily Pilot call me “Gustabo” and “Arrellano.”
“Cheech Marin on the Benefits of Weed, Working With Robert De Niro & More”: The legend name-drops me and Lalo Alcaraz in an interview for a website that fired me!
“The 2020 SAVEUR Holiday Gift Guide”: My contribution: duck-fat flour tortillas.
“CSRC Newsletter – December 2020”: UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center mentions my LA Times obit on Professor Juan Gómez Quiñones.
“Things we’re proud of this week”: Weekly email sent internally in the LA Times newsroom highlighting stuff upper management likes. I rarely make it haha.
“OC elects conservative Korean Americans to US House. GOP has invested in Asian candidates for generations”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about Michelle Steel and Young Kim, who prove that you don’t have to be white to be a Republican loon.
“Grítale a Guti, Episode 24”: My latest IG Live Tuesday-night free-for-all.
“ARE ‘PANDEJOS’ SCREWING UP COVID-19 PROTOCOL?” I appear with the legendary Tom Leykis to talk about pandejos, which are…
“Don’t be a ‘pandejo.’ Take the pandemic seriously”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna goes after Latinos who think coronavirus ain’t no thing. KEY QUOTE: “It’s of recent coinage, a portmanteau of “pandemic” and “pendejo,” the Mexican Spanish term for a blockhead. Pandejo is an uncharitable — but sadly accurate — word to describe Latino covidiots who proudly flout coronavirus protocols.”
“Moonlight and Magnolias no More”: My latest columna for the Southern Foodways Alliance talks about my own reckoning with the annual vacations (not this year, of course) to the South that my wife and I take. KEY QUOTE: “Activists faced off nightly against police in the city’s downtown, where my wife and I always set up camp to explore the rest of the South. Their chants indicted my complicity in the problems Black and Brown residents sought to solve.”
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