I’ve said this before, and I’ll say this again: I haven’t suffered much from racism.
I can count on one hand the number of times I know I’ve gone through it in person. Three cases involved the parents of ex-girlfriends (one thought I had an accent, one was impressed I didn’t, another thought I was a cholo — yep, none of them were Mexican).
My half-Mexican wife and I got denied service on account of our looks a couple of weeks ago — but that’s a canto for another time.
One time, some white teens yelled “187” at me at the height of California’s notorious anti-immigrant proposition of the same name.
But besides those cases?
Not really sure.
I’m lucky, of course. But I also think part of it is naivete. I still view the world more through class than race — I feel more at ease with hillbillies than I do fresas, for instance. So maybe I’ve experienced more racism through my life than I’ll ever admit to myself.
Which leads me to the Alana Club in Anaheim.
Open since 1963, this nonprofit’s home base is an architectural icon in the city: a old, big yellow house. Thousands of men and women have found sobriety over the years through its many 12-step programs, including my father.
I talk about how he used to take me to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when I was a child in my barely read memoir Orange County: A Personal History. Every time I drive past it to get to my P.O. Box of a house, I used to think of nothing but good memories.
But in recent years, other thoughts have crossed my mind as I’ve gotten older and dumber, namely:
Were we discriminated against back in the day?
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Whenever I’d go with my dad, he’d always give me quarters to play pinball and whatever arcade console the Alana Club had in the rec room while my dad and his friends played pool. It was the 1980s, so there was no Internet to distract me — but MAD Magazine proved a fine alternative.
I couldn’t stay behind in the rec room once my dad’s Spanish-language meeting started, which bothered me.
We couldn’t meet in the main room; instead, the Spanish-language weeknight meetings happened in a tiny upstairs room, and on weekends in a bigger room away from the house. That bothered me.
There was never any interaction between the Mexican recovering alcoholics and everyone else. That bothered me.
The Alana Club never let Mexicans use the main house for parties while we were there. That bothered me.
None of the Mexicans had stylized mugs with their names on it hanging from the non-alcoholic bar — bothersome.
And one time, a gabacho played pool with us Mexicans, and got an earful from his friends for playing with us. That REALLY bothered me.
I didn’t think any of it was racism back then, because the concept just didn’t exist for me as a 10-year-old. But I knew something was wrong. The tension whenever us Mexicans there was palpable AF.
I’d ask my dad why were things like that, and he said that’s just how things were.
That bothered me.
My dad’s group stayed there for a couple of years before renting their own spot, a run-down office suite off Anaheim Boulevard. I was sad when we moved, because that meant no more arcade for me. Besides, I asked my dad, why couldn’t we use the bigger room now that the Spanish-language AA group was bigger?
I never got an answer.
I kept going with my dad until I became a teen, and stopped going for decades until just recently. That’s when I began to think about the Alana Club days again.
What bullshit! What my dad and his friends went through was obviously bigotry…right?
So I asked my dad about some weeks ago. He brushed off the idea, saying I was making things up. But when I gave him distinct memories, he thought about it some more.
“Pos sí podría ser,” he concluded. Maybe it was racism.
I still drive by there, and always slow down and stare. The good memories will never go away, but I’m always now going to wonder about the full story. I especially wonder how my dad felt back then, and whether he tried to shield me from any racism he went through.
Rancho libertarianism tells you to grin and bear any injustices you may go through — no llores. It’s a fine philosophy for individual gain — but that gives the haters a pass. Racism isn’t everywhere you go — but it’s sure as hell bubbling under the surface ready to blurt out, fam.
I don’t hold what happened to us against the Alana Club, mind you. What we went through was 30 years ago, so the leadership of those days are probably long-gone and Anaheim’s demographics have radically changed. I do see that the current board of directors has three Hispanic-surnamed members — but two of the are alternates, and the other one is the secretary.
And they host all of one Spanish-language meeting — this, in a house that hosts 12-step programs from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, seven days a week. In a city that’s now majority Latino.
I hope that group now gets to use the big yellow house.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Have you done any writing on what SoCal would look like if OC had never split from LA County?
I have NOT, but THAT would make GREAT speculative fiction! Here’s my shot: OC would’ve been developed decades earlier, especially South OC. The Huntingtons would’ve probably bought out the Irvine Ranch, and there would be one giant swath of working-class Latino communities down the 5 Freeway from SanTana to Boyle Heights —oh, wait…
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A rose from our planter at Puppy Strong Farms.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t know the meaning of success, but I do know the meaning of failure — trying to please everybody.”
–Sammy Davis, Jr.
LISTENING:“La Rebelión,” Joe Arroyo. I’m now doing biweekly chats on Clubhouse, where I do brief interviews with people who are there that I like. One of them this past week was with Javier Castellanos of the late, great JC Fandango in Anaheim, and he mentioned how one of his favorite acts to host was Colombian salsa legend Joe Arroyo — so here’s his famous song on a slave rebellion that just JAMZ.
READING: “Losing face – iconoclasm in ancient Rome”: A smart, elegant reminder that cancel culture goes back to the Romans, who hardly spun liberal lies, Gov. Brian Kemp.
SHOUTOUT TO: Diane, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! She wanted me to plug a suicide prevention hotline, so here’s the one for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255
April 8, 6 P.M.: “Fernandomania @ 40”: The Los Angeles Times is going to launch a multi-part documentary on the legacy of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, and I’m going to be part of it! If you’re an LA Times subscriber, you can get an exclusive sneak peak of the first installment AND stick around for a panel where I’ll be a co-host. Details at the link — DO IT DO IT DO IT!
Gustavo in the News
“Letters to the Editor: Why does Cesar Chavez get a ‘cancel culture’ pass?”: Los Angeles Times readers let me have it on my columna about the UFW leader.
“Latinx Files: Why do we need Latinx heroes?”: One LA Times newsletter you should sign up for plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Essential California: A fourth wave?”: Another LA Times newsletter you should sign up for plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Today’s Headlines: How big is the reopening risk?”: Still another LA Times newsletter you should sign up for plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Greatest moments in Dodger history No. 9: Vin Scully’s final game at Dodger Stadium”: Still yet another LA Times newsletter you should sign up for plugs my upcoming Fernandomania @ 40 appearance.
“How CA’s backlogged court system delays justice”: Cal Matters plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Biden Proclaims César Chávez Day to Honor the Labor Activist”: Sojourners plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Required Reading”: Hyperallergic plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“California Playbook”: Politico’s Golden State newsletter plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Daily Digest”: Coachella Valley Independent’s newsletter plugs my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Looney Tunes Escapes the Censor’s Axe…So Far”: Some film website or other plugs my Speedy Gonzales columna from some weeks back.
“Food and Drink: Every day is for tacos at Tacos & Tequila”: A plug for for my Taco Tuesday reclamation project!
“Watch the first installment of ‘Fernandomania @ 40’ on April 8”: One more plug, this time with feeling!
“The fight over affordable housing between some Orange County cities and the state of California”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about OC’s eternal hatred of affordable housing.
“KCBS-AM”: I appear on a San Francisco radio show to talk my Cesar Chavez columna.
“Speedy Gonzales: A Mexican Hero with Gustavo Arellano!”: I appear on Of Course You Realize THIS Means Podcast, a podcast about Warner Brother animation, to talk Speedy — you’ll probably NEVER hear me nerd out as much as this again.
“Woke California pays homage this week to another American hero with a complex legacy”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna involves the United Farm Worker founder and his works, for better or worse. KEY QUOTE: “History — life — is not an easy-peasy snap-judgment call. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: Every saint had a past, and every sinner has a future. And Chavez is perhaps as great an example of this in California history.”
“In recall of governor, is California GOP smoking an exploding cigar?”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about the Golden State Republicans’ disastrous forays into shock democracy. KEY QUOTE: “The California GOP is willing itself to believe, like Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester the Cat or any other number of Warner Bros. cartoon buffoons, that this Acme-made trap will work this time, for real. Hope springs eternal for Elmer Fudd come rabbit season! But that cartoon stogie always blows up in his face.”
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