Newsletter: An East L.A. abuelita celebrates her 100th birthday

Angelita Arellano
Angelita Arellano, grandmother of L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, celebrated her 100th birthday this weekend.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Sept. 26. I’m Gustavo Arellano, writing from Orange County — and I’m a columnist, so I’m allowed to have opinions.

Like: My grandma is cool.

I told the story of my abuelita, Angelita Arellano, two years ago in my column. Back then, my family wanted to celebrate her 98th birthday, but COVID-19 regulations in L.A. County prohibited us from doing the type of party — big dinner in a banquet hall, thundering tamborazo music and a lot of people — we’re accustomed to. So my cousins pulled off a successful mini-parade outside my Tía Nacha’s house in East L.A., where my grandma lives.

Grandma (we cousins alternate between that and abuelita, because assimilation) sat outside my Tía Nacha’s porch wearing a tiara and a sash that read “Birthday Queen” and waved as we drove by in our cars. It was a memorable experience, but we vowed that if Grandma made it to 100, we’d hold something bigger.

The “bigger” happened this past Saturday.

It started with mariachi outside Tía Nacha’s home while my grandma got ready, then proceeded to St. Alphonsus Church off Atlantic Boulevard, where she has been a faithful parishioner for decades. Rev. Rodolfo Prado officiated the Mass, starting off with a playful “¿Cómo está la quinceañera?” (How’s the quinceañera gal?) when he saw my grandma. A crowd of about 200 — mostly family, but also friends — sang “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional birthday song of Mexico. We thanked God for her good health, and Grandma offered the roses that my wife and I gave her to the Virgin Mary.

“Go enjoy yourself tonight,” Father Rodolfo told her in Spanish. “You’re going to be in the pews tomorrow at 9 in the morning for Mass, right?”


“No, 11:30,” she replied, to much laughter from everyone.

Afterward, most of her progeny lined up to take photos in front of the St. Alphonsus altar. The count: eight children, 32 grandchildren, 69 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great grandchildren, with the youngest born just three weeks ago and another on the way. We were supposed to line up according to generation, but because I was too busy tweeting when it was the turn of the nietos, I got grouped in with the great-grandchildren.


The photographer for the day saw my cinto piteado (the arabesque leather belts popular among the rancho libertarian set) and asked if we were from Jerez, Zacatecas, the mighty diaspora that has sent hundreds of thousands of people to Southern California over the past century. “Of course,” I replied.

“This is the fourth Jerez party I’ve taken photos for this month,” he replied. “Man, ustedes know how to party!”

The reception was at Fiesta Hall in Uptown Whittier. My grandma sat on a humongous, comfy throne with “100” next to her and greeted well-wishers. My cousin Lety’s daughter, Chabelita, did some awesome baile folklorico. The excellent Mariachi Tierra Azteka strolled around taking requests (my choice: “La Feria de las Flores”). Dinner wasn’t birria de res, asado de boda or other zacatecano party favorites but ... roast beef with a baked potato. At least the table salsa was spicy. Dessert? Porto’s and Grandma’s favorite chocolate, Ferrero Rocher.

I had to leave early, so I missed the dancing, the catching up with all the cousins and the roll call of all the branches that make up the Arellano clan. But it was a grand, inspiring afternoon. I know it’s not cool to talk about the American Dream anymore, but we were it. Healthcare, law enforcement, military, teachers. Bosses and workers. Homeowners, mostly. White collar and not. College degrees and not. Immigrant and native-born. Sharp suits and tejanas, high heels and cowboy boots. Eastlos and Montebello mostly, but also the San Fernando Valley, Las Vegas, O.C. and beyond.

All here because of 100-year-old Angelita Arellano.

La queremos mucho, abuelita. Que Diós la bendiga.

We all love you, Grandma. May God bless you.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Los Angeles homeless count raises doubts about accuracy. Is it time for a new way? When the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority this month published a spreadsheet breaking down its homeless count by every census tract in the county, those with knowledge of Venice were incredulous. Los Angeles Times

Rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters face neglect at L.A. city shelters, volunteers say. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — humans don’t deserve pets. Los Angeles Times

Here’s what led KTLA to fire anchor Mark Mester after a week of drama. Like I said at the L.A. Times Facebook page: Stan Chambers and Hal Fishman are rolling in their graves over what has become of their station. Los Angeles Times


‘There’s our family name’: Sacred book honors Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII. In the next year, survivors and their descendants will make a pilgrimage to the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo to stamp a blue circle next to the names of their loved ones — 125,284 in total. Los Angeles Times

Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Column: Isn’t Karen Bass the victim? Why all the questions about her stolen guns? My fellow columnista Erika D. Smith is also allowed to have opinions, and does so regarding the hubbub over the L.A. mayoral candidate. Los Angeles Times

Karen Bass voting
L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass casts her ballot at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall during the primary.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names. In a ceremony joined by Native American tribal leaders, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill that will remove the word from nearly 100 geographic features and place names. Some aren’t happy. Los Angeles Times

Portugal’s president set to visit Gustine, other cities during California trip. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa swings through the Central Valley, home to tens of thousands of people of Portuguese descent — muito bom. Modesto Bee

Opponents of California’s abortion rights measure mislead on expense to taxpayers. Proposition 1, step right up to the election silly season. Kaiser Health News

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California’s EV charging network could use a jolt, a trip down I-5 shows. L.A. Times automobile reporter Russ Mitchell drove from Berkeley to Southern California in a Ford F150 Lightning EV. The ride? Great. The charging? Terrible. Los Angeles Times

Salmon are nosing at the riverbanks trying to escape the Klamath River. As dam removal along northern California’s mighty waterway inches into view, fish have to survive increasingly compounding calamities. High Country News

How a loan-to-own program in San Diego is boosting e-bike access. A nonprofit in America’s Finest City is working with California to implement an e-bike incentive program by helping low-income residents adopt e-bikes. Next City


How the pandemic saved one of California’s smallest public schools. My sister from an Okie madre Hailey Branson-Potts travels up to Kneeland, which, as she describes, “isn’t so much a town as a rural fire station and a smattering of homes in the forest,” to find education at its finest. Los Angeles Times

Vintage cookbook collecting is often kind, sometimes cutthroat and extremely online. Though this article focuses on San Francisco collectors, the scene is huge in Southern California as well — take it from someone who owns original copies of the L.A. Times’ first-ever cookbook (from 1901, I believe) and “The Landmarks Club Cook Book,” a 1903 collection by beloved Angeleno antiquarian Charles Fletcher Lummis that helped to save California’s missions. Taste

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, a new reason to feel guilty. My former editor Rob Eshman — with whom I recently enjoyed margaritas at Casablanca in Venice — kvetches about modern-day interpretations of tashlich, the tradition of throwing bread in water during the Jewish New Year to atone for one’s sins. The Forward

Folkloric dance group brings ‘a little piece of Mexico’ to Fresno festivals. With all respect to my fellow zacatecanos, ain’t no party like a Oaxacan party, and the Oaxacan parties are BACK. Valley Public Radio

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Los Angeles: 91 and sunny. San Diego: 80 and sunny. San Francisco: 69 and cloudy. San Jose: 84 and partly cloudy. Fresno: 98 and sunny. Sacramento: 94 and sunny.


Today’s California memory is from Sheryl Luxon:

I grew up in Sunland in the ’50s and ’60s. Everyone knew their neighbors, and kids played outside until dark. On weekends, we would pile in the 1956 Ford station wagon and drive up Big Tujunga Canyon to Bill’s Place, a picnic area and trout farm. It also had a pool and barbecues to cook your freshly caught trout. Kids were delighted catching trout from the overstocked pond! Our other adventure spot was Carpinteria Beach, an hour and a half drive through Simi Valley and Ojai, where orange groves enveloped the two-lane highway known as 101. The “World’s Safest Beach” was our coveted treasure.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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