Meet the Mexican-in-Chief

Esteemed journalist visits campus

Annalisse Galaviz

NEWS EDITOR

In April of 2000, Gustavo Arellano,  a 40-year-old, educated Latinx, probably bored, grabbed a copy of the OC Weekly  newspaper expecting the usual, bleak American news. Instead, he found an article called “5 Latinos We Really Like” that named only non-Latinos, notorious figures, and the Taco Bell dog. Naturally, Arellano was shocked and did the normal thing any Latinx would do: he laughed. He realized it was the OC Weekly’s April Fools’ issue and, after appreciating the joke, wrote a fake letter of outrage to their editor that was printed next to an educated historian’s complaint in the paper’s next issue — someone who obviously did not get the joke.

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But Allerano has always been in the know and has been taking risks from a young age. While working with a political campaign, he decided to follow up on his fake angry letter to let the newspaper in on his joke and ask how to get a story published. After suggesting pieces he could write, the OC Weekly hired him to write about one of his pitches he was passionate about: the Democratic Party using Pete Wilson to scare away Latinx voters. From there, Arellano began writing as a journalist and never stopped. “Once I saw my name in print, I wanted to write more,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘How far can I take this?’”

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He certainly did not think he would become Editor-in-Chief of the same local newspaper he fell in love with. On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Gustavo Arellano visited Professor of English Joe Donnelly’s journalism classes to help students learn from his wisdom and experience in the industry. Not that Arellano would ever refer to himself in that way, he claimed the title “Mexican-in-Chief” during his time as the head editor at the OC Weekly as a joke regarding the racial disparity of journalists in Orange County. He worked his way up the ranks of the publication, working as a freelance writer, food critic, investigative journalist, and Managing Editor. 

Arellano studied film in college, which likely contributed to his ability as a storyteller. However, he believes it was his work ethic, rather than an intrinsic talent, that made him and makes others good journalists. “Am I the most talented journalist? No, but I’m the hardest working,” he said. “You have to have a perpetual drive to work hard within you. Be like a shark — keep moving forward [despite criticism].” 

And receive criticism Arellano did. He tackled tough issues of discrimination within his OC community, including exposing Neo-Nazi groups in the early 2000s. As a Latinx journalist, his column “Ask a Mexican” pushed boundaries as well by encouraging readers to seek answers to whether stereotypes about Mexican people were true. The column, Arellano assured, was all in good fun, but the racial discrimination that revealed itself through this outlet was serious and well alive in the OC. 

Arellano fought back against discrimination by “punching back,” or having the courage to perform thorough investigative journalism to expose such prejudiced attitudes. Simply by pursuing his passion with eagerness, Arellano defied stereotypes: “I thought, ‘What’s the biggest ‘f you’ to the people I don’t like?’ It’s to be [me], a Mexican nerd. I don’t care if you like me or hate me, as long as you read me.”

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Unfortunately, Arellano recently stopped being read by OC Weekly readers. Around 2017, the newspaper received new management that asked him to lay off “half the staff” of journalists. Arellano, in his typical fashion, refused to be spared by firing people he had come to call his family. He quit without the opportunity to receive severance for his years of hard work at the paper, stating that they could not “buy his silence.” Arellano then began working as a freelance writer and has been published in many publications including, impressively, the New Yorker. He works as a Features writer for the LA Times and wrote the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, a testament to his experience of years writing articles as a food critic. 

As news publications experience massive layoffs similar to that of the OC Weekly and transition more and more to online media, Arellano maintains hope that journalism will not die. He advises students to “subscribe to news sources” to support journalism, and said, “We as humans love stories; that’s never gonna change.”