One of the best parts about being a reporter is the life lessons you learn along the way — not just from the people you talk to, but the people you don’t.
I was reminded of this recently during an advisory meeting for a project I’m helping out on. One of the professors involved said something to the effect that students need to realize that not only do their stories matter, but that they need to tell them because no one else probably would.
Immediately, I thought about an interview I never got to do, one that meant a lot to me — not because of personal glory, but because of the significance of that story untold.
And that now serves as a cautionary tale of:
If not you, then who?
First time reading this newsletter? Subscribe here for more merriment! Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc Feedback, thoughts, commentary, rants? Send them to email@example.com
In 2015, the Southern Foodways Alliance contracted me to conduct oral histories of Mexican restaurants in Kentucky. I planned to crisscross the state I love so much.
I ended up focusing almost exclusively on Louisville.
Most of the people I tried to interview said they were too busy, didn’t respond, or told me they had no interest because who wants to hear about their life story? Then there was the millionaire who said he would sit down with me if I paid for his time.
The most frustrating rejection was from a restaurant familia in the Bluegrass region. Through an intermediary, I told the son of the owner about my project — how I was looking to talk to the pioneers of Mexican food in Kentucky. How it was important to document their family’s history to bear witness to how much the state had changed. To inspire others, and teach Latinos across the country that Mexicans were making it in Dixie.
The son, who was attending college and was a student of a profe friend of mine, got it — or so I thought. Because he went to his family, who said no.
And then he offered an explanation that I’ll never forget:
We’ll do it ourselves.
I tried to reason with the young man. Didn’t they feel their story was important? Didn’t they think others should know about it? Didn’t they want to tell their tale, on their own terms, via a prominent institution and with the help of a professional?
Behind my push was something both he and I knew to be true: They would never do it.
They never did.
My oral histories were a smash, and SFA has continued the important work. Kentuckians got to learn about their newer neighbors, and some of the places I profiled earned national prominence gracias to my work.
But this lesson isn’t about my supposed magic touch, but rather the sadness I still feel about that Bluegrass familia — and I think about it every time someone complains about not doing something that they want or have to do.
Their story matters. And now, it’ll probably never get told.
Don’t be that family. Y’all know what you need to do, whatever that means to you. So what are you waiting for?
Let’s check in next year, this time. I want to tell your stories about getting over your mental fog and doing what you needed to do.
Because if not you, then who?
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
I am so excited to get your newsletter. Been a loyal reader since OC Weekly days. I sure miss that rag! Have you checked out Voice of OC?
Of course! Great nonprofit news agency that tells important stories and branched out to culture and food writing a couple of years ago. One of the last outlets to cover Orange County in its entirety. People should donate to them and other nonprofit news agencies, if they can.
BUT…they’re the Boy Scouts of OC journalism. And that’s my problem with nonprofit journalism in general. Where’s the fun? The flat-out shit-talking against the people who deserve it? I’m talking about calling people PANDEJOS and alt-losers and all the things I still kinda do (as a columnista), not tut-tutting against the meanies.
Because see how far THAT got us these past four years.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A Black Lives Matter mural in Sylmar that’s the subject of one of my columnas from last week.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It takes a whole field of flowers to make a gram of perfume.”
–Sister Mary Madeleva Wolff
LISTENING:“Blackbird,” Kurt Hummel & The Warblers. I tend not to like Beatles remakes or high school/collegiate a cappela groups, but this take on the only Fab Four song I’m able to play on the guitar SOARS. The two-minute clip is also the only time I ever saw Glee on television, and that’s only because I was switching through the channels on the way to the 9 o’clock news. God works in mysterious ways, fam.
READING: “The saga of Harmon Killebrew’s red chair” You don’t have to know baseball to love this short article about the Hall of Fame Twins slugger and, well, a chair. History, development, theft, the Mall of America, and more!
SHOUTOUT TO: Colonel #Weeeuuu, who kindly donated 100 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He writes: “Shout out to supporting the content you want to see like: Gustavo, other writers, podcasters, photographers, etc. and #Weeeuuu!”
Gustavo in the News
“End-of-year prank revives interest in East LA’s towering El Pino”: Forgot to include this plug by The Eastsider from two weeks ago last week.
“Today’s Headlines: Impeached, again”: An LA Times newsletter plugs one of my columnas.
“Coronavirus Today: Nursing homes are left behind”
“The life and legacy of OC’s first female sheriff Sandra Hutchens”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about the complicated memories we should have about the successor to disgraced ex-sheriff Mike Carona.
“Grítale a Guti, Ep. 30”: My latest Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all, where I take your questions about WHATEVER.
“A Black Lives Matter mural keeps getting defaced. Its artist always returns”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna goes to Sylmar to see a young artist stand up to the haters. KEY QUOTE: “But what should’ve been a celebration of public art is instead a reminder of the times we live in, one where a college student has to worry about her safety just because someone gets triggered by an homage to Black Lives Matter.”
“His business is body bags. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s booming”: My latest LA Times columna highlights a Laguna Hills company whose death business in 2020 was its best ever. KEY QUOTE: “Record earnings, yes, but the emotional toll is more. In the end, you’re human and you feel.”
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