Gustavo Arellano, Cantinflas and the Babosos Blogueros

“A movie director told me, ‘You can be the next Cantinflas,’ ” he said, referring to Mario Moreno, a revered Mexican comic actor who died in 1993. “I just said ‘No, no, you’re missing the point. This is satire. Outrageousness mixed in with jarring truth.’ ”

Gustavo Arellano as Cantinflas

Gustavo Arellano as Cantinflas. (Ed. note: “Babosos” means “drooling” or “slobbering.” Muchos gracias, Ricardo!)

Cantiflas was like Charlie Chaplin, actors who often portrayed the downtrodden in a humorous way. The quote above is from an interview that Gustavo gave to the NY Times in 2007. This interview sheds interesting lights on Gustavo’s personality that many times have driven us crazy. His talent at portraying the life of mostly Mexican immigrants and their assimilation to this country, highlighting the reactions and contradictions of our society, has been recognized at a national level.

Gustavo is so chingon that he is the mero mero editor of a newspaper, the Weekly, in a predominantly but fast fading hardcore Republican county. On top of that, he was born and raised in Mickey Mouse’s city. He makes us, la raza de Anaheim, very proud of him as he is a role model for our youngsters. He is the whole enchilada from one of our taquerias, but sometimes he tastes like a Taco Bell burrito.

It took until this month of July for Gustavo to clarify his position on the major contemporary civil rights issue in our city, which until then had made him yawn. I was lucky to find the statement of a professor in Chicana/o studies confirming from his perspective that the at large system clearly violates the voting rights of Latinos. I posted an excerpt of Dr Guerra’s hoping that our friends at the Weekly would read it, and get the message that supporting districts elections is the right thing to do.

I felt vindicated when Gustavo did come around, as I always felt that his heart is in the right place — although his support is kind of lukewarm because of …Los Amigos! Damn it! I agree with Gustavo that certain type of Latinos will be supported by one group or another, and we may end up with Solorios, Pulidos, Lou Correas or Murrays’s chosen types like Chavez Lodge…  Disney/Pringle and its operatives may still control the council. On the optimistic side, we may end up with people genuinely representing the interests and needs of the community. At least the playing field could be a little more even.

I do blame Los Amigos for pissing off Gustavo, not so much because of the Gigante and Pringle fiasco, but because of this:

“I don’t see the humor in the way he describes our culture,” said Amin David (in the 2007 NYT article), president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a civil rights group. “He’s feeding the prurient interest of people who are against Mexicans.”

I finally found the real reasons of Gustavo’s grudge against Los Amigos!  Old Amin David did not understand the generational gap, and what came across as a lack of respect was just another way of looking at the Latino experience. That was the wrong thing to say to Gustavo, a nerdy guy, who often acts like a prima donna, by definition a temperamental talented person unwilling to work as a part of a team, unless he/she is in charge or recognized as the star.

Since then, we have been under a curse, any Latino who dares to match or exceed Gustavo’s achievements and is associated with Los Amigos, is a candidate for the “scariest person of the year’” — and to become an untrustworthy political figure. This happened to the current president of Los Amigos, Dr Moreno, who is blamed for trying to keep Gustavo for participating in an event at his Chapman Alma Mater, plus proposing to honor the retiring Chief of Police, and now his alleged involvement in the controversial transferring of a popular school administrator.

We are cursed, messed up. We eat each other up and stay divided.

This would be funny, but it isn’t.  The most meaningful challenge to the power held by the “whitest man alive” and his associates is the Voting Rights lawsuit, filed by Los Amigos.  This group has for years been advocating for changes on behalf of our community, and correctly or incorrectly made political alliances with the relevant players.  In the meantime, others like me and Gustavo were silent.

I am an amateur blogger, so I don’t matter — but Gustavo does. Although he states that he has” fought Pringle and his minions longer and harder than anyone else,” he would not for a while write about Anaheim:

“I try to not write about Anaheim politics… — the anger that accumulated over the years about what’s going on rendered me silent.”

This desire to protect relatives and friends is understandable. What is not acceptable is to condemn the people who were doing something to change the system and hold a grudge against them forever, even if the grudge is legitimate.

We don’t have to like every person or groups, but on certain issues there is a common ground. To question whether Latinos have been victimized or not as a minority group, as Gustavo did in one of his recent tirades against Dr Moreno, goes beyond of the personal animosity between them and makes a mockery of the disenfranchisement of our community.

To claim “fighting Pringle longer and harder” but you were silent for a significant amount of time, or to “truly caring about minority representation” but then questioning whether Latinos have been victimized or not, is Cantinflas at his worst. One of the Cantinflas trademark ability was his communication skills to confuse others and get away from embarrassing, contradictory situations or not say anything coherent at all.

Being the editor of the Weekly is a position of influence. If its editor were a white guy, I would have been crying foul for the excessive negative portrayal of Latinos as criminals, and for the sexist depiction of women. Gustavo knows what he is doing, it is not all his call after all, as he must be following the parent’s company business model. A critique of the Weekly no longer being an alternative paper was already done by UCI professor Jon Wiener in 2007. Some of this critique is still valid.

Gustavo’s advocacy —  within the limits of journalism, which is by nature expected to be objective — is appreciated. The question is what to think when that advocacy is confusing, manipulative, and does not help to change what is wrong.

At the end, Gustavo’s status of celebrity based on his talent to portray the life and experiences of immigrants falls short of making profound contributions to change the life of this population as a whole. The pro-democracy movement in Anaheim is entering a crucial stage, and the support of everybody is needed. I hope that Gustavo gets engaged in this movement. As the chant in the meetings of the organizations supporting the lawsuit: It is time Anaheim! ¡Si se puede!

What about the babosos blogueros? Local blogs would never pretend that they are going to replace professional media, like the Weekly or Voice of OC. As long as the operators of the blogs are transparent on what they represent, they are a democratic tool in the sense that allows anybody with access to the Internet, to express our opinions.

If you do not like a particular one, say so and move on; do not keep saying “I will not dignify or add to the traffic to this shitty blog” — and then keep coming right back. The editors/operators of the blogs should be responsible and sensitive when covering issues impacting our immediate community. Otherwise they are indeed going to come across as babosos.

About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly.