Before we get to Luis, I gotta start with chisme.
This past Friday, I was supposed to accompany the award-winning author to a lecture he was going to give at Manual Arts High School in South L.A. It was as part of a profile I wanted to do on him for my columna about his run for governor of California, because a reporter always wants to accompany the person they’re profiling to an event, to see them interact with people and get quotes.
So I put in my media request with the Los Angeles Unified School District to see if I could hear his speech. Instead, LAUSD canceled the event.
They claimed that letting Luis speak to Manual Arts freshmen — who had been reading his legendary memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Life in L.A. for weeks, and whose predecessors got to hear Luis via Zoom last year — would violate district policy about employees endorsing political candidates with school resources.
LAUSD officials could’ve asked Luis to not speak about his candidacy, and he would’ve agreed. They could’ve declined my request to hear him at Manual Arts, and I would’ve been fine. Instead, they denied students the opportunity to hear in-person from a writing legend, at a time when students need to hear inspirational voices more than ever.
Shameful. Stupid. Embarrasing. And now you know why LAUSD is the way LAUSD is. Anyways, onto Luis…
I’m not sure when I first read Always Running. I know it wasn’t in high school, because all I was reading back then was the sports section and Neruda. It might’ve been in college, once I got my political awakening. No matter when, I remember the reaction:
I did not grow up in the hard life as Luis, but I know too many who did. He wrote about it with a rawness and spare beauty like few have before or since.
And yet he’s even better as a speaker — humble, passionate, funny. And as the founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, he showed authors how to create a sustainable place for community. I have most of his books, and I’ve shared the stage with him a couple of times. And that’s why I’ve been so surprised in recent years to see Luis run for political office – not just a local seat, but the big time.
He was the vice president to former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson’s President in 2012 under the Justice Party ticket. In 2014, Luis ran for governor of California under the banner of the Green Party, and got the most votes of any third party candidates .
This year, he’s running again.
So I wanted ask Luis a simple question – why does a icon like you try to win an impossible race at this point in your life?
The Twitter page for the campaign of Luis J. Rodriguez
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We talked over the phone, because I was supposed to see him in person at Manual Arts and…yeah.
“I’m not a career politician, so I’m not building a stepping stone,” said Luis, who actually ran for school board in the early 1980s after he was laid off from a steel mill in Watts. “Local politics have gotten better. When we got here [to Sylmar] 20 years ago, it was quite cutthroat and it was our own gente. I didn’t want to jeopardize Tia Chucha then.”
But now that Tia Chucha is a community institution — now that he has multiple books under his belt, and he’s at a more secure spot in his life — Luis figured a gubernatorial candidacy would allow him to bring attention to issues he’s been writing about for decades.
“I’m realizing, man, we need to go to this place for new imaginative ideas, away from the paradigm of Democrat and Republican, left and right,” he said. “I get it — it takes more money, more ads, more media attention that anything. But if I can occupy that space and speak, I’ll do it.”
One of the motivating factors for his jump into big-time politics happened in, of all places, New York.
“I had just been nominated for a big award for It Calls You Back. I wasn’t going to win, but I still went to the awards ceremony. There was big-time agents and publishers who had never heard of Chicanos. It disappointed me that I couldn’t make an inroad in that world then.
“So I thought, Let me see what I can do to raise the issues in a new way. I didn’t want to sound like a marginal voice. I wanted to be a voice that regular people could understand.”
His gubernatorial platform is all justice: Environmental, economic, health, social, and electoral. He’s done some campaigning in Southern California, but Luis spent most of this run in the same place he did during his 2014 campaign: The Central Valley.
“Something there speaks to the whole problem of where the state is at,” Luis said. “Billions of dollars from prison and agribusiness, but yet some of the poorest communities. The state of California rests on what we do there — we make it or break it there.
“But it’s changing. Our own gente are starting to get organized. I wanted to support that. It’s the spine of the state that we have to strengthen.”
I asked the obvious literary question: What, if anything, did he take from the 1934 California gubernatorial run of fellow novelist Upton Sinclair?
“The gall of saying we have poverty,” Luis responded. “That takes a lot of guts.”
Sinclair famously ran under the platform of EPIC — End Poverty in California. The slogan freaked out California’s lords so much that they united to torpedo his campaign. It has also inspired generations since — Luis used it as a slogan for his 2014 run, and former Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs named his nonprofit after it.
“When they run for office, [politicians] don’t think about how to end poverty,” Luis said. “Everyone’s trying to manage the crisis, but not to get the roots of it. But that’s what Sinclair did. That’s what I want to get to. How to have a whole new state. It’s really about a new state that hopefully can be model for the country.
Luis hopes to break into the top 2 in California’s June 7 primary. But even if he doesn’t succeed in that lofty goal, he plans to continue on the political path. He wants to start an academy to seed the next generation of community leaders “where to we go to build a real, viable way to go against the two-party system” and have that group take his torch.
“I’m 68 years old,” Luis concluded. “I’m not retiring, I’m refiring ”
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
In an article about the slaughter of children in Uvalde, the writer described the “gunman wielding two gleaming new assault rifles.” I’ve been wishing for a long time that, in addition to above information, the press would start naming where the weapons were purchased/obtained from and from whom. Preferably, that bit of exposition would also include both the “armory” owner and the salesmen’s names. (The ATF supposedly has records, you know.)
Gun stores don’t have to sell military-grade weapons; not all of them do. But it’s an immoral choice too many make — for profit. The Merchants of Death need to start sharing the blame along with the ammosexual animals they arm. Communities deserve to be aware of death merchants in their midst.
Agree? Or am I missing unintended consequences (besides, hopefully, running militant gun stores out of business)?
The media does — when doesn’t it? But that’s not going to stop people from selling arms, just like putting a border wall won’t stop Americans from taking drugs from the cartels. When there’s money to be made, Americans will cut off their future to spite their democracy.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Stickers of Hook and Cosmo, available for $3 at Alta Baja Market in person or online by DMing Man with an Appetite! 100 percent of proceeds goes to Frosted Faces Foundation, the incredible Ramona-based nonprofit that rescues senior dogs across Southern California. Are you a REAL member of the #GutiGang? Then buy your own TODAY!!!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You will find a spirit of Caesar in the soul of a woman”
LISTENING:“Juan Colorado,” Felipe Arriaga. You know those Vicente Fernández tracks where there’s a voice singing alongside him for the chorus parts, a voice as macho-tastic as Chente? That’s Felipe Arriaga, who had a good career of his own and one genuine smash, which is this one. As I wrote before: “Juan Colorado” is more illustrative of the michoacano spirit — peleonero, mythic, and even a mention of charanda, the state’s rum-like liquor — but only the michoacanos can appreciate THAT one.”
READING: “Food Nostalgia and Queerness, Part One”: Years ago, John Birdsall — a legendary food writer — interviewed me for a story about burritos where he eventually discovered what I’ve always said: El Castillito in the Mission District sells the best burrito in the United States. Haven’t talked to him in a while, but was delighted to recently discover his Substack, and this touching examination of every food writer’s obsession. This line alone — “The Boudin bread bowl is a coffin filled with clam goo” — is worth the price of subscription!
SHOUTOUT TO: Sam, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! Sam wanted no plugs — COME ON FOLKS!
BUY MY NEW CO-BOOK! People’s Guide to Orange County tells an alternative history of OC through the scholarship and reporting of myself, Elaine Lewinnek, and Thuy Vo Dang. There’ll be signings all year — in meanwhile, buy your copy TODAY. And, yes: I’ll autograph it!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Next week, my newsletter will be sent out on Sunday, because it will be the the text of the commencement speech I’m supposed to give at UCI’s School of Social Ecology next week. Details to come…
Gustavo in the News
“Love it or hate it, the nickname ‘Cali’ has a surprisingly long history”: I say it, and so should you!
“United States: Uvalde school shooting exposes violent gun culture, endemic racism”: Someone shouts out my LA Times columna.
“Is Villanueva staying or going? A guide to L.A. County sheriff’s race”: Another LA Times story shouts out my columna.
“OMG Hi with George Lopez”: The comedian has L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on in an interview softer than a marshmallow — but the two take time to hit at me haha.
“GregorioEats”: A TikTok user uses my book to smack down a gabacho who dares lecture Mexicans about burritos.
“‘American as apple pie’: LA Times columnist invokes white supremacy in ‘Latino-on-Latino’ school shooting”: Another conservative angry at a columna of mine.
“The Dutchman”: The campaign manager for Villanueva says I did a smear columna on him — funny!
“Tuerie dans une école au Texas : l’Amérique peut-elle guérir de son addiction aux armes à feu?”: The French say something about me.
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!
“The pickleball pickle”: Damn sport!
“California’s historic water restrictions”: Shower with buckets to collect water!
“A new militia at the U.S.-Mexico border”: Paging Jim Gilchrist.
“Queer Ukrainians on the frontlines”: I turn the mic over to one of my producers, David Toledo.
“Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.
“Who could lead gun violence reform? Your little ones”: My 1st-ever KCRW “Left, Right & Center” appearance as a HOST talks about gun control, kid strikes and inflation. I’m hosting for two more weeks!
“California Sun”: I appear on this podcast to talk SoCal politics.
“J.T. the L.A. Storyteller”: I appear on this podcast to talk rancho libertarianism, among other things.
“Language Therapy with Dr. K | ¡Ask a Mexican!”: I appear on the podcast of USC Institute for Armenian Studies deputy director Dr. Shushan Karapetian to talk about my life and career through the prism of language — one of the BEST interviews anyone has ever done of me!
“In Orange County, an Assembly seat fight for the future of Latino politics”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna profiles Avelino Valencia and Boomer Vicente, who are the main Democratic candidates for the 68th Assembly District in Anaheim and SanTana. KEY QUOTE: “They offer something different: a fight for the future, by the future.”
“The tragedy of Uvalde and the right’s cynical reading comprehension problem”: My next latest LA Times columna takes on all the conservatives who HATED my Uvalde columna from the previous week. KEY QUOTE: “Because I don’t believe race predisposes anyone toward criminality, but I do believe noxious ideologies can. Most readers got that nuance. Hundreds of others didn’t.”
“From activist to troll. What happened to the L.A. County sheriff’s campaign manager?”: My still next latest LA Times columna profiles Villanueva’s campaign manager. KEY QUOTE: “This is a guy out of 4chan. But then you get to his resume, as I did, and you ask yourself: How the heck did the guy I’m reading about there end up over here?”
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Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, Canto CCXV: Luis J. Rodriguez Runs for Governor of California
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