As I said last week, the canto this week is a day late for a reason:
I had to give a commencement speech to UC Irvine’s School of Social Ecology.
I always like to publish such talks — except the one that bombed — because they are the few times I ever offer prepared remarks. Usually, when I go before an audience, I riff. But I figure if a school invites me to offer some profundity, I might as well swing for the fences and hope to get on base.
I think I did this time around.
UCI’s School of Social Ecology is behind a lot of the movements that are making Orange County a livable place. I have more than a few down friends who came from it, so it was an honor to offer some thoughts to their grads. What I offer is almost the entire speech — I went off cuff just for emphasis, so it’s not verbatim but pretty damn close.
So, as Jackie Gleason would say, and away we go…
Gracias for having me here. As graduates of UCI’s School of Social Ecology, all of you have committed yourselves to bettering society and humanity in one form or another. What a tremendous, intimidating task that is!
Humans are imperfect; society suffers from perpetual problems ranging from the structural to the self, the petty to the profound.
It’s a task for only the bravest — and here you all are.
The skills ustedes have learned over the course of your college quarters are those that this country frankly should’ve already learned. They are the tools needed to confront the challenges before us.
Because if there’s one constant that ties together all the drama we’ve endured in one way or another, not just over the past couple of years, but really since forever…it’s something you have studied, practiced and are now ready to spark.
Me giving my speech. Photo by my kind, incredible L.A. Times colleague, photographer Allen J. Schaben
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We’re going through an era that historians compare to other momentous upheavals, like the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the 1960s. These were times where societies were shifting course, whether people liked it or not. These are times that leave too many people feeling helpless.
Some can’t and won’t accept a world that’s no longer going to be the same, and thus fall into holes from which they may never emerge. Others don’t have the social equity necessary to stay above the rising tides, and sink into a worse place from where they were before.
And into this maelstrom come all of you.
Social Ecology graduates, y’all are simultaneously the lifeboats and lighthouses that can take and guide the rest of us to a more just world.
Change is your vocation. You have dedicated yourselves to dive into the depths of uncertainty and emerge with answers to take on our ever-shifting existence. And it’s about time the rest of us listen to ustedes — because you all know change and its contradictions.
You know that change that sticks, fundamental change, takes thankless work to dismantle institutions and biases, create something new, then get people to let go of a problematic past and embrace the future.
But you also know there is no leisurely pace to change. It requires the stamina of a marathon, but the frenzied strain of a 100-yard dash. Change can be instantaneous, and blow past you when you’re not expecting it — so you gotta know when to run with it and when to and resist.
Your disciplines have prepared you to know the difference — imagine how much better we’d all be if everyone else had your perception?
Change requires you to be of the moment. In your studies and internships and jobs, you have to be “on” all of the time — teach others and keep learning, help and be helped, research and do, be aware of trends and adapt accordingly.
But change also forces you to realize…it’s not about you. All of you embarked in your programs knowing that you’re humble participants in grand traditions created to improve our condition. A tradition of change that started before you, and will continue long after you.
To be at your best, you must be selfless yet self-aware, and realize that your rewards won’t be many, and may never even be acknowledged — and that’s okay, because your work is righteous, and you continue for the possibility of change.
Imagine how much better we’d all be if everyone else had your resilience?
Change can lead to success, and oh, what joy we experience when that happens… But change oftentimes comes in a way that we didn’t want it to. When that happens, too many folks want to give up. But you all know that you can’t. That’s not how to improve things.
So you continue…you have to. Going forward is the only way forward, because your effort makes it that much easier for the person who follows you or the folks you serve to have an easier path to success.
Imagine how much better we’d all be if everyoneyou’re your spirit of sacrifice?
Change is scary…but change is also hope. The hope — nay, the assurance! — that what you do leads to good. Yours is a school of dreamers and doers, a rare one-two punch with incredible power.
It reminds me of a quote from Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magón: “The dreamer is the designer of tomorrow. Practical men…can laugh at him; they do not know that he is the true dynamic force that pushes the world forward. Suppress him, and the world will deteriorate toward barbarism.
Despised, impoverished, he leads the way…sowing, sowing sowing the seeds that will be harvested not by him, but by the practical men of tomorrow, who will at the same time laugh at another indefatigable dreamer busy seeding, seeding, seeding.”
Social Ecology Anteaters: Imagine how much better we’re all going to be with ustedes out of college and fully among the rest of us?
Change us. Teach us how to change. The world needs it, the world needs all of you. Gracias, and God bless.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
American Dirt. I wonder how the novel got a complete package with a film rights already sold. Regardless of who wrote it, and how one-dimensional or stereotypical it is, are Latino actors going to embrace it in exchange for an opportunity to act out something many of us closely relate too? How far has raza in Hollywood progressed, or have they?
Is there a much larger talent pool but fewer opportunities? Is it too far fetched to think people are praising it hoping to get a role?
The table settings were disgusting. How could anyone think that was ok? Please answer from your insider point of view of publishing and writing.
Eh, I’m not an insider of Hollywood or book publishing. And you also asked too many questions for your one GAG. I can tell you that Latino actors will do most anything for a paycheck — and if you don’t believe me, look at all the actors who sign up for narco bullshit or the umpteenth George Lopez series.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Birria de res — the real stuff, not the chipster shit that has taken over America like kudzu — arroz, frijoles, and salsa de chile de árbol.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “My idea of America is the right to be as Mexican as I want.”
—Criminally underappreciated Orange County Chicano artist Sergio O’Cadiz
LISTENING:“Lonely Dozer,” La Luz. My wife has played this surf-noir group for a while, and I immediately liked them because I’m a sucker for harmonies and organ. But TOTAL respect for them forever because they allowed my wife’s kitchen manager to play bass for them for a song during their recent gig at the Observatory because she’s a super-fan.
READING: “Distance”: Even the New Yorker doesn’t do profiles like this New Yorker profile of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson anymore. And it’s a goddamn shame. The recently departed Roger Angell flies to Omaha to swim in Gibson’s pool and hang out at his bar, and you get a study of a proud, fierce man formed by the racism of Omaha, a city few EVER talk about when it comes to Black history even though it’s also the birthplace of Gale Sayers AND Malcolm X, among others.
PODCASTING: “Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day”: The dictionary’s regular podcast is great as well, but NOTHING can beat a daily two-minute dive into a word, complete with etymology and examples and a studied yet gripping host. Surely, you can spare two minutes?
SHOUTOUT TO: Rayna, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! No plug yet again!
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!
Friday, June 24, 7 p.m.: I’ll be in conversation with UCLA profe and Macarthur genius Kelly Lytle Hernández about her incredible book at Village Well Books & Coffee, 9900 Culver Blvd, Culver City (424) 298-8951. Talk is FREE; books, BARATO.
Gustavo in the News
“Sheriff Villanueva moved to the right. A weak election showing now makes him vulnerable”: My L.A. Times colleagues shout me out.
“Los Angeles Area Emmy Nominations: Spectrum News 1 Leads The Field For First Time”: The Fernandomania series I hosted gets nominated!
“756: Up Close with Evan Kleiman, Host of Good Food”: My legendary friend shouts my #tortillatournament out at the very end of her interview on The Splendid Table.
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!
“Covering COVID on ‘sacred ground’”: I talk with another incredibly talented photographer colleague of mine, Francine Orr.
“Welcome to Portugal, now go home”: Gentrifiers go global.
“What the Summit of the Americas means”: Not much if AMLO ain’t there.
“How mass shootings affect young voters”: Sigh…
“The drag mothers of Los Angeles”: Great voices and insights.
“Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.
“What could happen if Democrats take control of OC Board of Supervisors?”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” offered a preview of OC’s primaries.
“Can Dems succeed in Latin America, at the polls, with constituents?”: My latest KCRW “Left, Right & Center” guest host turn talks about the the Summit of the Americas, California’s primary results, and Angels owner Arte Moreno.
“This time, election night is a real party pooper for L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna takes me to a coronation turned embarrassment. KEY QUOTE: “The sheriff didn’t come down for a while. When he did, his smile now seemed tacked on, like the grin on a Mr. Potato Head.”
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