Part of my ají amarillo crop from last year — more to come this year, insha'Allah.

Gentle cabrones:

The spring and summer garden is…getting there.

Tomatoes in the front, with basil as a companion plant. A couple of eggplants; a shitload of sunflowers (I’ve gotten into sunflowers over the past three years — discuss).

One backyard planter PACKED with chamomile; another planter has beans FOR DAZE. I’m going to try to grow some watermelon from seeds, along with more tomatoes. Nopales, of course, are cray.

One thing I’m not growing much of this year?


Oh, I have some going — chiltepines and ají amarillo and even an ají limón plants that gives and gives. A couple of other volunteers, too—that’s the name for plants who sprout all on their own from last year’s crop.

But for the first time since I’ve ever seriously gardened, I don’t plan to focus on chile plants.

This is unprecedented. I’m a Mexican, after all. I like the heat.

But this is the year I acknowledged that maybe I don’t need to grow as many chiles as before.

Because maybe chiles aren’t the best use of my time and space.

I’m telling you: UNPRECEDENTED.


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All around my house are chiles: dried, fresh, pickled. Books, art, seeds. Magazine clippings and jams and peanut brittle.

I like chiles.

But last year, in the midst of the pandemic, I realized that chile-growing only took me so far.

After all, all you need is a couple of them per meal, and you’re set. Two or three instead of turning a batch into salsa, and the heat goes on FOR DAZE.

More importantly, I realized other crops would be more nutritious and yield more. So as I prepared Puppy Strong Farms for another season, I thought: Why not try new crops?

I know very well about crop rotation — namely, if you grow the same crop on the same soil again and again, you’ll leach its nutrients. And if you grow on the same spot without fertilizing it or letting the soil rest for a season, the same will happen.

So it’s not just great to vary up your routine and even relax; it’s essential and life-affirming.

It’s how I’ve done my career — that’s why I never liked to write about just one thing, and never will.

The relax part? Eh…

But despite knowing this, I’ve insisted on not just growing chiles, but not taking the plants down and growing them from seed. To truly succeed as a gardener, you need to accept that all vegetables must die, but you can harvest its seeds and grew them next year to continue LYFE.

I tried to defy nature. Nature won.

The plants that remained didn’t give much before they — yep! — died.  A couple of miracle plants came back ala Groot, but I just didn’t want to admit I was wrong.

Not this year.

So I’ll grow new crops and herbs this time where chiles once reigned — okra and lemon balm and Chinese mustard and even chard. Friends of mine have offered me space in their yards to let Farmer Gus do his thing.

Next year? Gonna grow a shitload of chiles, but not as many as before. Variety, pun intended, is the spice of life — but tomatoes feed you FOR DAZE.

But I’m not counting my tomatoes until they hatch.


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

I was blessed to come of age in Southern California (Cardiff/Encinitas) in the mid-‘60s. Many of my friends were of Hispanic and Japanese decent. None of them spoke their respective “heritage” languages. Yet most, if not all, of their parents did. 

When I matured enough to “get it,” it was painful to discover the reason why: It was due to the pain and prejudice their parents had endured for being “foreigners” in their own country. I still find it sad that their parents, driven by their deep love for their children, and the protection they hoped to assure, found it advantageous to, essentially, bury their heritage and culture.  

So, mi pregunta: It seems more younger people today speak their “heritage” language(s). What and when do you attribute this change to?

Eh, don’t be so sure of that. Pew Hispanic Center research time and time again shows that language and cultural ties among Latinos decline with every generation. For instance, only seven percent of foreign-born Latinos are English-dominant, while 75 percent of third-generation or higher are, with only 24 percent of them bilingual. Spanish has existed in this country before English — but English remains the lingua franca and always will. And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself how a Mexican family will go from Petrolino as a great-grandfather, Lorenzo as a grandfather, Jose as the dad, and Brandon as the son #mexicannames

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Got a front-pager this week, which you can read below. Onto the next A1 columna!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Those of us who are born journalists discover early in our lives, and often against our will, that our craft is not just a calling, a fate, a need or a job. It’s something we can’t avoid: It is a vice among friends.”

–Gabriel García Márquez

LISTENING:Queen of Hearts,” Juice Newton. I first heard this song in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and I’m still waiting for GTA 6 to come out, damnit! But this remains one of the most exhilarating songs out there, and the video is charming AF — that jangly lead!

READING: What a Tiny Masterpiece Reveals About Power and Beauty”: The New York Times puts out a beautifully written, stunningly prepared treatise on the symbolism and history etched into a miniature of the shah who commissioned the Taj Mahal — Grey Lady no more!

SHOUTOUT TO: David, who kindly donated 100 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He writes: “Only one plug and not for me: Mel’s Diner in Fountain Valley. Latino owned and operated. Best Mexican breakfast in California. Huevos Rancheros are untouchable.”

Gustavo Appearances

Thurs., April 15, 5 p.m.: I’ll be in Zoom conversation with the comadre Myriam Gurba — she of a pen as lightning as her wit and insight — for Alta Magazine’s California Book Club. The event is FREE, but you have to pre-register here.

Gustavo in the News

Who’s going to win the best actress Oscar?”: One Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe promotes a columna of mine…

Latinx Files: ‘An educational pandemic’ for English learners in California schools”: As does another…

Today’s Headlines: California sets a reopening date”: And another…

L.A. Times ‘Deadly Delays’ Investigation Wins News Leaders Association Award”: I’m not the winner in question — that would be my amazing colleagues Jack Dolan and Brittny Mejia — but I am a finalist for this prestigious award’s columnista category. Steak knives for me!

Dodgers blog: A’s win series finale, 4-3”: I get a shoutout for my LA Times columna.

USC Dornsife faculty featured at nation’s largest book festival”: A preview of my upcoming LA Times Festival of Books panel with two SoCal Macarthur Genius winners!

“California Playbook”: Politico’s Golden State newsletter shouts out two of my columnas.

Los Angeles Times conmemora los 40 años de la Fernandomanía”: Mexico’s Milenio newspaper shouts out my LA Times columna.

Bobby’s middle finger suffers spiritual attack?”: Religion Unplugged plugs my Fernandomania columna.

Gustavo Stories

How might DisneylandForward update Anaheim’s magic kingdom and economy?” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about the Mouse’s latest attempt to completely dominate my beloved hometown.

No, Den-Mex Does Not Mean Chipotle. Listen Up.”: I appear on the City Cast Denver podcast alongside legendary Westword editor Patty Calhoun to talk Mexican hamburger, wonton-wrapped chiles rellenos, and all the beauties of Colorado-Mex from Pueblo to Chubbys.

Everybody wants to have a hero: Fernandomania @ 40, Ep. 1”: I have the honor of narrating the LA Times’ documentary on Fernando Valenzuela’s legendary 1981 rookie season. Episodes will drop every couple of weeks — here’s the first one!

The Gospel of Fernandomania: Forty years later, Fernando Valenzuela still a Mexican American icon”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about the iconic southpaw. KEY QUOTE: “The real miracle wasn’t just his athletic feats but what he instilled in my generation.  Faith. In ourselves.”

El Evangelio de la Fernandomanía: Cuarenta años después, Fernando Valenzuela sigue siendo un ícono mexicoamericano”: Same article, but in Spanish.

She didn’t know about her father’s artwork from Manzanar until she saw it on EBay”: My latest columna talks about the disturbing trend of seeing Japanese American artifacts sold on eBay. KEY QUOTE: “But the American capacity to monetize human suffering knows no lows. During a nationwide rise in anti-Asian hate, these items are hotter than ever. ”

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