#NeverForget By Derek Jensen - Tysto, Public Domain

Gentle cabrones:

I remember very well where I was when the 9/11 attacks began: asleep.

My sister woke me up that morning to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I groggily told her that it was probably an accident, like the time a plane once crashed into the Empire State Building, and went back to sleep.

When the second plane hit, she woke me up again. This time, I told her it was probably terrorists who were angry at the U.S. for some imperialistic act or other. That’s when I finally got up to see what was happening.

The next couple of days were a general blur. I was just weeks away from starting grad school at UCLA, but realizing I wanted to be a reporter. I was trying to romance a middle-class Vietnamese chica from Irvine who I’m convinced invented woke politics.

I lie. I have a super-secret record of that time — a blog that I regularly updated from Sept. 12 to about 2004. This is an excerpt from the first entry, about what tore me up so much about the attacks:

It is not just the loss of human life. It’s not the symbolism of the WTC and the Pentagon. It’s not even a fear that “nothing will ever be the same.” Or maybe it is. This is the reality of life: absurdity. Randomness. We cannot count on anything. Right now, a nuclear warhead can explode in my house and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it since I wouldn’t know about it. This is life. It’s terrifying.

Then came 9/14.


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The chain email’s directions were straightforward: that Friday night, gather on street corners with American flags and flashlights and stand up for your country.

Friends and family made plans to attend church services and vigils that Friday. They dusted off Stars and Stripes I never knew they owned and left messages on my answering machine asking if I would join them.

Nah. I was in Laguna Beach that evening on a date.

The horror of 9/11 was far away, and I wanted it to stay that way. But I was curious to see if anyone would actually follow the email’s instructions, so I decided to take the long way home to Anaheim and readied for a flop.

From Irvine to Costa Mesa, SanTana to Garden Grove, hundreds of people waved flags and chanted “U-S-A!” and honked in traffic. I finally reached my hometown of Anaheim and waited in traffic in front of what’s now a Chase Bank on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Harbor Boulevard, which I’ll always refer to as Home Savings because it once was.

That’s where I saw a Latino family.

They were alone: mother and father and three kids ranging from kindergartener to pre-teen, lit only by the halogen glow of street lamps. Each waved American flags that matched up to their size, like Goldilock’s Three Bears. Their clothes were shabby, but they stood tall and quiet.

I saw them for less than a minute, for the time it took the traffic light to turn green, and then took off. But they haunt me to this day.

One of the most iconic 9/11 images is the so-called Falling Man, an Associated Press photo that shows a man upside down, leg bent, hurtling toward his death after he leaped from the World Trade Center.

It’s a reminder of our mortality, the sadness of that terrible day, and the helplessness we all felt then that I wrote about in my blog.

The Latino family is my avatar of that time. They represent the promise and disappointment that has been this country for me over the past two decades.

I didn’t think much of them in the immediate aftermath, but I’ve constructed a whole narrative around them as the years went on, as the unity of that September 14 dissipated in a toxic pool of foolish wars, craven politicians, and a tearing of our social fabric that gets more and more frayed seemingly every day.

In my mind, that family is perfect, holy, a manifestation of all that’s good in this country.

They’re all undocumented, just a couple of years removed from Mexico. The parents hope to own a home one day so their children don’t have to live much longer in the cramped one-bedroom apartment in a bad part of town where they live. No one knew anything about Al-Qaeda, about Osama Bin Laden, about Afghanistan — but they nevertheless felt a collective grief and wanted to do something about it.

Then someone told the parents about the Friday night rally, and even though they were exhausted from work, they decided to take their children to that street corner.

They showed up at sunset like everyone else: whites and Latinos, citizens and not. Labels don’t matter for those few hours, as everyone places their hopes in every car honk, every cheer, every wave.

That’s why the family is the last ones remaining — because they believe in America and humanity.

And if they can do that, so should I.

But then I think about what would’ve happened to the family after that day. How the parents probably never got their legal status because American officials made it harder for undocumented immigrants to get legalized in the wake of 9/11. How the kids ended up living in a Sisyphean limbo due to DACA, non-citizens in the only country they’ve ever known.

We failed the family. We failed ourselves.

Dubya rode the almost global-goodwill to go after Al Qaeda, then waged an unnecessary war in Iraq that split the United States into the squabbling tribes we now see today. He ignored the counsel of wiser people to follow his wrong convictions, and plunged our country into a malaise from which we’ve never truly emerged.

And then, improbably, we had another opportunity to unite like we did on September 14 when the coronavirus pandemic hit us last year. We had a chance to right the civic wrongs of the past and move against a common enemy, together.

Instead, we repeated our folly, led this time into the abyss by a different president with even more belief in his righteousness than Dubya. Now, our divisions are worse than what we suffered during the Iraq War, and our chance at unity worse than it has been in generations.

Sometimes, I think Ozymandias was right, not Rorschach. Then Dr. Manhattan reminds me that all is vanity.

We will and should remember the 9/11 dead today, victims of an unspeakable evil that still exists in this world. But I’ll also remember that Latino family I saw so long ago.

The people you might least expect can be the greatest Americans, will show up when others don’t. I stand in awe of the hope that family had for this country back then.

And I hope they still have that faith of 9/14.


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

Just read your tomato grito. I especially liked it because last year I focused on tomatoes and had a bumper crop with only 3 tomato plants which kept us supplied with  fresh tomatoes almost on a daily basis. My wife would boil them up and freeze the tomato sauce.

This year I’m focused on chiles, especially jalapeños and long green ones.  Where do you get your plants from? Me, I just get them from a local nursery or even from Home Depot or Lowes. I also have poppy flowers which we love ever since we went to the poppy reserve in Lancaster one year after good rainfall.

I get my plants from wherever they sell them — ethnic grocery stores, Home Depot, even Costco, where my comadre scored us an Indio mandarinquat. But my preferred place is Laguna Hills Nursery, which is actually in SanTana. Great selection of rare fruit trees (scored a tomate de árbol, lychee, Suriname cherry, Barbados gooseberry AND guamuchil from there), and the people know their stuff!

Plus, Gary sends out a weekly newsletter that’s easy to read, always has coupons, and sells some of the best potting soil on Earth — hit them up!

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A mosaic of tortilla packages — yep, my annual KCRW and Gustavo’s Great Tortilla Tournament is BACK. Link to all the Masa Madness here.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Your duty to the interview must transcend your friendship. Occasionally, you’ll lose a friend.”

–Walter Cronkite

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A mosaic of tortilla packages — yep, my annual KCRW and Gustavo’s Great Tortilla Tournament is BACK. Link to all the Masa Madness here.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Your duty to the interview must transcend your friendship. Occasionally, you’ll lose a friend.”

–Walter Cronkite

LISTENING:Esclavo Y Amo,” Los Pasteles Verdes. Psychedelic bolero INSANITY with the most Mexican Peruvian group I know, and one of the few people who beat a Javier Solís original. This jam should’ve been included on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, you know?

READING: “Views From Kaimuki”: I don’t surfer, and I generally can’t stand surfers, but I subscribe to The Surfer’s Journal, which has beautiful writing and incredible first-persons and write-ups of surf stars past and present. Like this one of a pioneering Japanese-American woman surfer who quit at the prime of her career, tired of the bullshit back in the 1970s and now near the end of her life – a defiant elegy. You’ll need to subscribe to the print edition to read it, and I wholly endorse it!

SHOUTOUT TO: David, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a month of MailChango! His plug: “Mel’s Diner, Fountain Valley CA.  Best huevos rancheros on the planet. Period.” David’s not too far off, folks…

Gustavo Appearances

Sept. 13, 1 p.m.: I’ll take over KCRW’s Instagram account to break down my #TortillaTournament brackets!

Sept. 14: “How to get live coverage of the 2021 California recall election”: I’m going to be part of the L.A. Times’ California gubernatorial recall election, as this links shows. You’ll also be able to see me on KTTV-TV Channel 11 from 5 until about 10, I think, at random times.

Sept. 18, 1:30 p.m.: What Is a Western? Film Series: The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)”: I’ll be doing an introduction to this great movie at the Autry Museum of the American West, and do a short Q & A with producer Moctesuma Esparza. See one of the few times I ever get to use my film studies degree! This one does cost money, but it comes with admission to the Autry, which has done a great job of reckoning with the myths its namesake helped to perpetuate.

Gustavo in the News

Please Help La Gloria Foods Stay in Business by Making the City of LA Pay What It Owes”: The iconic Boyle Heights tortilleria mentions my article on the family’s struggle over eminent domain funds.

When 20-Year-Old Rookie Fernando Valenzuela Captivated LA—and Major League Baseball”: History.com quotes me talking about how Fernandomania also made left-handers cool in Mexican society!

Inside Larry Elder’s focus on race”: CalMatters cites my rancho libertarian theory of Latinos who vote conservative.

Slingshot: Newsletters You Can Use!”: My former OC Weekly colleague/forever compa/current LA Times colleague Gabriel San Román kindly includes me in a roundup of newsletters his readers should subscribe to, so you better subscribe to his!

Gustavo Podcast

Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!

Lucy Liu talks fame, art and standing up for herself”: For Labor Day, we air an “Asian Enough” episode, and I sing Destiny’s Child!

What Larry Elder stands for”: I talk about the leading Republican candidate to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in case he’s recalled…

Why Gavin Newsom faces a recall election”: …and then I talk about El Gavin himself.

Rep. Adam Schiff on 9/11, 1/6 and what’s next”: My colleague Melanie Mason takes the host mic for this important conversation.

What 9/11 has done to American Muslims”: We continue our 9/11 series by talking to young Muslim women about their experiences.

Gustavo Stories

Grítale a Guti, Ep. 68”: My latest Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all. Tune in every Tuesday at 9:45 PT PST!

Some OC supervisors are muzzling public health info on COVID”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about how two OC supes are messing with the one good supe OC has, Katrina Foley.

Fernandomania @ 40”: The epic L.A. Times documentary that I narrated finally ends — check out all the episodes, porfas!

Behold! KCRW and Gustavo’s Great Tortilla Tournament of Champions”: My introductory essay to my #TortillaTournament. KEY QUOTE: “But in the wake of one of the most trying couple of years on record for the restaurant industry, we felt the 2021 edition should be a Tournament of Champions, a roster where every contestant is already a winner.”

She feeds hundreds of homeless daily in Orange County. City officials want her out”: My latest LA Times columna profiles Gloria Suess of Mary’s Kitchen in Orange, a legendary nonprofit that all of a sudden isn’t cool for the city council. KEY QUOTE: ““We’re not pretty,” she said. “I understand that. But we were doing this ‘continuum of care’ before it had a name.”

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