Mami, second from left, at the old Hunt-Wesson tomato cannery in Fullerton during the 1990s. Third from left is Maria Casas, another amazing woman cut down before her time...

Gentle cabrones:

So there I was, fresh from chatting with two MacArthur geniuses: UCLA profe Kelly Lytle Hernandez and USC profe Natalia Molina.

We had just just finished a panel for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books about immigration and incarceration, and how California influenced the best and the worst of both trends nationwide. They were fire, of course, while I naturally played the jester host — EN ZERIO. My Internet connection petered out right at the end.

It happens.

You’ll find the link to our convo below. What you WON’T find is the after-show, where Profe Natalia told me with the concern of a fan “You need to rest!”

Who’s to argue with a MacArthur genius?

Me, of course!

I was already going to address the topic that Profe Natalia broached for this canto, but her kind advice (which I greeted with a laugh) makes the subject even more timely.

Right now, I’m doing two columnas a week for the LA Times. Teaching at Orange Coast College. About to launch a daily podcast for the Los Angeles Times (subscribe here — if you don’t, a philosophical pox on your huaraches). Writing for Alta Journal and the Southern Foodways Alliance. Tending to a budding garden.

Add Grítale a Guti, podcast cameos, an OC journal (I’m late on that one), random extracurriculars, and my main job as a dishwasher-cum-deliveryman for my wife’s Alta Baja Market, and I’m busy AF.

I’ve been busy AF the moment I put it into my mind I wanted to be a reporter — and even before then.

“Slow down” is something I’ve heard my entire life. From my parents. My colleagues. My siblings. My bosses. Larry Williams — okay, maybe not him.

Advice I’ve never heeded.

Because I can’t. Because I know what real WERK is.

It’s what my mami did. To make sure I’d have a happy life, long after she left me and my siblings.

Which will be two years on April 28.


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Two years after your mom dies too young at 67 and…well, you never really get over it, amirite?

I sure as hell won’t.

And that’s why I WERK.

I’ve said this before, and I’ve said this again: I’m the least talented of the Arellano kids.

One sister is a 4rth-grade teacher; another is an author. My brother helps at-risk kids.

Me? I’m a hack writer.

We all pursued careers we loved gracias to the sacrifices our parents made, even if they never fully understood why we picked them. That’s why we’ve never once taken for granted the privilege inherent in having a choice.

We can’t. My sister once told another publication that my mami told us, “If you learn to type, you’ll have a better job than I have.”

My mami picked garlic in Gilroy at 9, worked the strawberry fields in Orange County when she was 13, and spent most of her adult life as a tomato canner until being unceremoniously laid off in 1997.

She was short, but could beat any of us up, so strong she was from all that WERK.

WERK she never wanted.

I don’t remember Mami telling me what she told my sister. Instead, I remember my Mami telling me not to WERK so hard. But I know she wasn’t TOO serious about her mandate.

I know that she because she was proud of us.

My mami was a rancho girl who married a rancho guy and thus had her dreams of seeing the world cut short.

So she devoted her life to making sure her kids were set up to live the life she wanted.

Mami always loved to hear about my adventures in Kentucky. New York. Pueblo, Colorado. Fresno. Wherever. Because that’s what she always wanted to do.

So how can I ever dare rest?

What I do is a vacation compared to what my Mami endured. To what my Mami gave her life to, so her children could live an easier life.

So I will WERK until I can’t. What I do is an intellectual talachear, for sure — but it doesn’t compare to what she did. So whenever I catch myself thinking I’m overworked, I remember my mami — and I shut the fuck up.

Mami, siempre la voy a querer. I see you almost every morning when hummingbirds come to my garden and flit between the feeder, the roses, and firecracker plant. I hope I’m doing you proud.

I know I am. Because I WERK in my own, imperfect way.

For you and those I love.


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

I am the daughter of an immigrant (dad) and a third-generation tejano/a (mom).
I have often commented to friends and to cousins that speak Spanish that my parents short-changed me and my sisters (no brothers) by not teaching us Spanish. They told us that their reason was they wanted us to succeed in school and later at work. After reading your newsletter. I am suddenly putting two and two together.

Both of my parents told us stories about the punishment that was meted out when they were in school in Houston if you spoke Spanish and the teachers heard you. (19040’s and 1950’s) Because I grew up in Southern California and never saw anything like this, I didn’t think about it much. That was the olden days and didn’t apply to me. I realize now that my parents were also trying to protect us.

Later, when I wanted to learn Spanish I enrolled in Spanish class at school. When I tried speaking in spanish to my dad, he unfortunately was not patient or helpful. “Ardi-lla! Not ardi-ya!” As if I could hear the subtle difference. It was funny to tell my Abuelita this story. She scolded him (lovingly and with respect) which was my revenge.
I was so lucky to find a dual immersion charter school that opened the year my oldest child started kinder. Both of my kids are now bi-literate which keeps them closer to their Mexican culture. Their dad is 1/2 Korean and 1/2 caucasian (is that the right way to say honky?) and one of them is learning Korean through an app on the phone.
Thank you for helping me realize that my parents made their decision based on their love for us. I regret that I didn’t see it this way before. I had always thought of their decision as being strictly pragmatic, which is odd since I think of them as loving, caring parents.
I know how to read Hangul, although I don’t know what I read! I’ve said this before in other mediums, but us children of Mexican immigrants who grew up in the 1980s and onward can never appreciate the decisions Latinos had to make in decades earlier in assimilating their children ASAP in order to deal with the racist society then. So kudos to you for realizing the sacrifices your parents made.

That said, “honky” is “gaba” now and forever.

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A book from the stacks. If Dennis — which was a favorite cartoon of mine growing up — doesn’t connect with Pepito in this book, then GTFO.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these juvenilities and laugh at them — and by laughing at them, destroy them? For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug — push it a little — crowd it a little — weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter, nothing can stand.”

–Mark Twain

LISTENING:La Jonronea,” Manikomio. I had the honor of covering Oro Sólido, one of the best merengue bands EVER, during its heyday gracias to their frequent shows at JC Fandango in Wabaheim. Well, Oro Sólido head Raul Acosta had a side project literally named “Insane Asylum” and, well, click on the link. Faster than EDM, fam!

READING: Once the staple of New York politics, whatever became of the knish?” Food journalism at its best: historical. Regional. Political. Delicious!

SHOUTOUT TO: Gregory, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He writes: “Con todo el respeto to all the students and educators in California’s Community Colleges” As a graduate and lecture of said system, all I can say is “BOOM #respect”

GRACIAS TO: All of ustedes who heeded the call and donated tacos! Ustedes were BEYOND generous in your tacos — so much so that I can now commission TWO original articles at $300 apiece for the authors! For those of ustedes who gave less than 50 tacos — gracias! For those who gave more: think of your shoutout, because I WILL ask you for one soon!

Gustavo Appearances

Wednesday, April 28: I will appear on the LA Times’ Instagram account to do an IG Live session at 10:15 PM PT to promote our new daily podcast that all of you better be subscribed to — tune in!

Gustavo in the News

Introducing ‘The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times’”: I’m hosting this podcast, so click on the link and subscribe!

LA Times announces new daily news morning podcast”: The article gets my title wrong, but it’s all good.

“California Playbook”: Politico’s newsletter about the Golden State is always kind with the plugs — and they’re ALWAYS kind with the reference to me as the Colonel that I am #respect

Today’s Headlines: How giant vacuums could help the climate”: One Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs me.

Today’s Headlines: The Chauvin verdicts”: Another Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs me.

Latinx Files: After George Floyd verdict, will Adam Toledo’s family get justice?”: Still another Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs me.

Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres: Live updates, news, score and analysis”: Still yet another Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs me.

Breaking down three of Columbia’s popular burritos, from inspiration to composition”: They read me in South Carolina, where there are many tall pines…

Marine Laid to Rest in Los Angeles Almost 80 Years After WWII Battle”: The underrated InsideHook shouts out a columna of mine.

UCLA professors featured at L.A. Times Festival of Books”: My alma mater should’ve said I graduated from there, but it’s all good.

Gustavo Stories

To reduce vaccine hesitancy among OC Latinos, share personal stories and boost resource availability”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about PANDEJOS in OC.

Grítale a Guti, Ep. 44!”: Latest edition of my Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all — catch one, wontcha?

Accountability”: I appear on KCRW’s venerable “Left, Right & Center” as Left!

Gustavo Arellano in Conversation with California MacArthur Fellows”: The aforementioned panel for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

TRAILER – The Times: Daily News From the L.A. Times”: Behold the Citizen Kane of podcast trailers, directed by the irrepressible Mark Potts!

The Unknown Dodgers Prospect | Fernandomania @ 40 Ep. 2”: I continue to narrate the LA Times’ ongoing excellent documentary on Fernando Valenzuela.

In the pandemic, businesses and nonprofits become authors”: My latest LA Times columna talks about a restaurant, a nonprofit, and a music club that published books to bring in profits during coronavirus but also tell their history. KEY QUOTE: “The inspiration to become authors isn’t purely financial: COVID-19’s existential disruption of life convinced these new Twains that 2021 was the perfect time to share their stories with the world.  Because if not now, when?”

What will make people care about police shootings of Latinos?”: My latest LA Times columna talks about a disturbing apathy among Latinos. KEY QUOTE: “If more Latinos can’t be motivated to care, how can we expect the rest of society to care?”

¿Qué necesitamos para preocuparnos más por los tiroteos policiales contra los latinos?”: Same article, now en español.

Bob Johnson, Orange County civil rights pioneer, dies at 88 ”: My latest LA Times columna talks about an unsung hero of radical OC history. KEY QUOTE: “Throughout his life, Johnson challenged his fellow whites to believe that racism existed.”

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:

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