Neruda recording in the United States. By USGov - Public Domain

Gentle cabrones:

There’s the one teacher you know from the start changed your life, and you spend the rest of it praising them for it. There are the teachers you remember as cool, or terrible. There are teachers with whom you became friends with years after they taught you, and those you remember fondly even though you don’t remember them well at all.

And then there are the teachers like my Spanish teacher at Anaheim High.

Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega was her name (although I called all my female teachers Ms. [last name], whether married or not. Discuss). I had her my sophomore and junior years, and remembered her afterward more for the culture she taught us instead of her lessons. She showed us masterpieces from Mexico’s Época de Oro — Macario and Marcelino, Pan y Vino (which is actually Spanish) and Maria Candelaria, for which Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega told us the story of its star, Dolores Del Río.

Class was conducted in Spanish, which annoyed me. Can’t we speak in English once in a while?


One film she didn’t show was Il Postino, the 1995 film that brought Pablo Neruda to my life. I didn’t have a drivers license at the time, and the Fullerton AMC 10 didn’t exactly show art house movies. By then, I had it in my mind that I wanted to be the brown Tarantino, so I wanted to know what the fuss was about with the Chilean poet, but had no way to do it.

Every class began with 10 minutes of reading time, and a bilingual anthology of Neruda magically appeared among her stacks.

I basically kept that book for two years.


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Neruda first grabbed me with his romance, of course. “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” — damn crooner shit right there. His evocative imagery of the Andes, the jungle, the sea, Latin American history, and women gave me a lifelong love of poetry that continues to this day.

But I also got my first inklings of radicalism from Neruda, of how good people can fight evil and sometimes lose. “Come and see the blood in the streets!” from “I’m Explaining a Few Things” remains one of the most chilling finales I’ve ever encountered.

Later on, I would learn about the political Neruda, about the butcher Pinochet and the martyr Allende. But in Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega’s class, all I knew was an amazing poet.

I read him, of course, in English, not Spanish.

Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega didn’t explain who the political Neruda was, because this was a Spanish class, after all. She tried to tell me that they were other poets and writers in Spanish besides him and she could get those books as well, but I didn’t pay attention — I read Neruda until I committed the poems to memory.

I didn’t do well in my two years of Spanish with her, because all I did was read and not really do any work. But she was never mean to me or disciplined me, so I always had nice memories of her.

Flash-forward to about a decade later. Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega had taught all my siblings. Her husband also got a job at Anaheim High and became as beloved as she. Their daughter got involved with the Centro Cultural de Mexico, that legendary space that has served as a launching pad to so much of progressive OC.

I got to learn about the full Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega—and what an amazing woman she was (and is).

It turned out she and her family were politically progressive. It turned out her husband was a Chilean refugee from the butcher Pinochet. She was kind enough to be in the audience a couple of times when I spoke at fundraisers held at the churches of the downest congregation of them all,  Unitarian Universalists.

She told me multiple times how proud she was of me. I didn’t even think she’d ever remember me, so nerdy and unassuming I was back then.

Life got in the way, so I haven’t seen the Goodwin-Noriegas for a while. But her daughter randomly reached out to me a couple of days ago—she thought I had tried to FaceTime her. I hadn’t, but was glad to hear from her. I told her I hoped she and her parents were well. They are.

“You should know, they’re both proud of you but take very peripheral credit for your education,” she wrote. “My Mom always says she stayed out of your way, let you read what you wanted — the power of silent sustained reading!”

Sounds about me.

But Mrs. Goodwin-Noriega isn’t peripheral — not even close.

Every time I think about her, I’ll remember perhaps the most amazing teachers: the ones who quietly put you on the right path, one you don’t realize you’re on until you reached your destination.

Gracias, maestra. My siblings also say hi. We’re all good. And we know ustedes are some of los buenos…and I still read Neruda at the expense of the rest of Latin America.


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

Am I correct that paletas are gaining ground pretty fast in EEUU? Just this week I was offered mango, rompope, nuez, coco and fresa paletas at various friends and family I visited.  La Michoacana and Mexico brands seem to have national distribution. What’s your take?

My take? Mamey is the most underrated flavr in the paleta-nieve universe. Better take? Read my comadre Serena Maria Daniel’s definitive history of the La Michoacana ice cream story. I love to answer questions, but I love plugging my smarter friends even more!

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Best mural in the world, in Boyle Heights.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “‘Look outside,’ I said.
‘There’s a big…machine in the sky…some kind of electric snake…coming straight at us.’
‘Shoot it,’ said my attorney.
‘Not yet,’ I said. ‘I want to study its habits.’”

–Raoul Duke, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

LISTENING:Atonolinco,” Hermanas Huerta. The chipsters are all about the awesome Dueto Dos Rosas, but don’t bother to learn about the OLD SKOOL ranchera sister duos. Start with this legendary track by a legendary group, which features the best of the genre: rural harmonies, paeans to physical and womanly beauty, a shoutout to a town, and just the tiniest bit of silliness the way only siblings can play off.

READING: Last Raconteur Standing?” When this damn pandemic is over, I’m driving to Maine all because of Down East, a spectacular regional magazine all about the state. I think this is the third article of them I’ve plugged, and it just might be the best — a poignant treatise on Maine humor (to read the one Maine joke I can tell, click here).

SHOUTOUT TO: Steven, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! No plug other than for me to “keep doing you.” Will do!

Gustavo in the News

Coronavirus Today: A victim of our early success”: I get a plug in the LA Times coronavirus newsletter…

Today’s Headlines: The buildup to Inauguration Day”: And one in our main newsletter…

Essential Arts: Why Paul R. Williams archive is a game changer for architecture researchers”: …and one in Carolina A. Miranda’s arts newsletter. Sign up for them all!

Flour Tortillas Finally Get Their Moment in New York City”: While I’m flattered for the plug, I’m sad they didn’t plug my KCRW #tortillatournament

From “Covidiot” to “Gleefreshing,” It Was a Lively Year for Word Creation”: My evangelism for PANDEJO gets a shoutout in an etymology newsletter.

Gabriel San Román: “The main certainty I have is that I want to keep writing.””: The last real journalist in Orange County credits me for giving him the inspiration to start his great newsletter, to which you should subscribe already!

Gustavo Stories

Alex Padilla becomes California’s first Latino US senator” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about what the headline says.

Grítale a Guti, Ep. 31”: My latest IG Live Tuesday-night free-for-all where I’ll answer WHATEVER.

What Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ teaches us about how to deal with Trump”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna dives into the latest installment of the Karate Kid universe and finds a deep, thoughtful show full of lessons. KEY QUOTE: “It’s the medicine we need to take in order to purge this past presidential term out of our democratic system forever.”

A teen center turns into a food pantry to survive COVID-19”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna travels to the Southern California port town of Wilmington to pay #respect to a local legend and the community center she ran. KEY QUOTE: “It’s smaller spots like the Teen Center, dedicated to helping out one neighborhood, whose struggles are particularly acute.”

2021 Inauguration Live Chat”: I join a bunch of my LA Times colleagues to offer real-time thoughts during Joe Biden’s inauguration. KEY QUOTE: “Father Leo O’Donovan is giving the invocation. He’s a Jesuit, the same order that counts Pope Francis among its members. Anytime I think about Jesuits, I remember how they’re now having the ultimate revenge against the Spanish crown centuries after their expulsion from the Americas…and shoutout to all alumni of Loyola High in L.A!”

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