Column: We all need a pandemic-era hero in 2022. We all need my dad

Lorenzo Arellano, shortly after receiving his booster shot for COVID-19.
(Gustavo Arellano / Los Angeles Times)

As 2021 ends much like 2020 — rampant economic inequality, political turmoil, hospitals filling up with COVID-19 patients as the pandemic’s reach affects all of us in one way or another — we all need some hope in the upcoming year. We all need a hero upon which we can set our 2022 compass.

We all need my dad, Lorenzo Arellano.

Of all the columnas I did this past year, none got more feedback than the one I wrote back in February about how I convinced my Papi to get vaccinated. As I shared then, he once was the king of pandejosthe Mexican Spanish term for covidiots. Through most of 2020, he wouldn’t wear a mask, wouldn’t socially distance, and insisted he would never get the COVID-19 vaccination because — pick your corona-conspiracy — the shot contained Bill Gates-created microchips, killed men and wasn’t necessary if you had a positive outlook on life, as he did.

It was a miracle of God that Lorenzo Arellano didn’t contract COVID-19. I feared Papi would pass away from COVID-19 due to his pandejismo, and would live on in my memories not as the man who taught me the value of hard work, but as the fool who encapsulated these times we live in.


Thankfully, as I revealed in my column, my dad turned around. Not only did he get his first shot, he also got his second one. Hundreds of readers reached out with gratitude for sharing my dad’s example, one that they used to convince the pandejos in their family to take the jab.

Toxic masculinity is a hell of a preexisting condition to have during a pandemic. But Papi was finally able to see that the vaccine wasn’t about him.

Feb. 2, 2021

As 2021 went along, I figured my dad would let down his guard under the assumption that being fully vaccinated was all he needed to get back to normal. But Papi kept surprising me. I’d always smile when I borrowed his ‘90s-era Toyota Corolla during the summer and find face masks hanging from the turn signal lever. I’d find Papi wearing them throughout the fall at his Anaheim home whenever I’d visit him, with the windows open in the dining and living rooms to ensure ventilation.

So when Omicron began to blaze across the world this winter, he needed no convincing when I told him we had to make an appointment for his booster shot as soon as possible.

2021 was a year of fatigue and unfulfilled promises. It was when we were supposed to move on from Trump, from the coronavirus, and all the problems 2020 had wrought upon us. So far, it seems 2022 will offer more of the same for the immediate — and probably long-term — future.

That’s why I go back to my father. The coronavirus humbled him in a way few things have. It affected too many unvaccinated people in his life — a cousin killed, a nephew left incapacitated, a neighbor’s daughter severely sickened, members of his Alcoholics Anonymous group lost — for him to stick to backward beliefs.

Once Papi realized radical individualism wouldn’t defeat the disease — that each of us has a part to play to combat the damned disease — he made sure to do his bit. And if a recalcitrant rancho libertarian like him can reform in the worst of times, so can others.

As the coronavirus raged on, many Latinos scoffed at the pandemic — until it’s too late.

Dec. 3, 2020

We scheduled his booster shot at the Santa Ana branch of the Social Security Administration, where I had received mine at the beginning of December. Then, there were so few people lined up that I was able to obtain mine half an hour earlier than scheduled. I asked the workers when I went whether people were getting boosted. Not really, they told me, but the hope was that crowds would line up once folks realized Omicron was real.


The crowds still hadn’t formed a couple of days before Christmas, when I accompanied my Papi for his appointment. We had barely sat down outside to wait our turn when someone told us to enter.

Papi was so ready that he showed up before I did. He didn’t sport a Stetson like the last time he got vaccinated, but he did bring me a guiso (stew) of potatoes, serranos and tomatoes to take home. The only question he had this time as we walked in was, why was this disease called Microsoft? I feared he had succumbed to COVID-19 conspiracies in the couple of hours since I had last talked to him. Then I realized he was confusing it with Omicron.

We entered a room filled — but not packed — with Latinos and white people of all ages ready for boosters and first-time visits alike. There was no heavy presence of despair or uncertainty like earlier in the year during the first round of vaccinations. This time, those of us present knew that vaccines worked and were there to protect not just ourselves, but also others — well, everyone except the Orange County sheriff’s deputy who walked around with her mask below her chin.

My dad was all business. He proudly told the person who filled out his vaccination card that he was happy to be there. He ignored the white nurse who tried to flirt with him, instead asking about any potential side effects. When someone told me to put away my smartphone when I tried to take a picture of my dad, my Papi said to do it anyway — if a photo could help convince others like my previous write-up on him did, then any hassle we might get was worth it.

I took his photo in the waiting room instead, as we counted down 15 minutes to see whether my dad could now download Excel by blinking his eyes.

He can’t.

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Dec. 22, 2021

I told my Papi that the booster still wasn’t the end of COVID-19, but it was a step forward. I said to continue to wear a mask because breakthrough infections among the vaccinated remain possible — but that the people who seemed to get the sickest remained the unvaccinated.


Que triste que no se vacunan,” my dad said. How sad that people won’t get vaccinated.

A week after his booster, I accompanied my Papi to a funeral. Everyone was masked, but he made sure to sit all the way in the back, so he could sit close to an open door.

My dad remains too prideful and stubborn — too macho — for his own good. He’s nowhere near a perfect person. But the best heroes are those who do the right thing in spite of themselves, learn the errors of their ways while doing so, and then teach others the lessons they learned.

If Lorenzo Arellano can know and practice this, the pandejos in your life have no excuse. But don’t take it from me.

No sean tercos, y vacúnensen, y cuídensen” my dad said when I asked for his message to all of you. Don’t be stubborn. Take the vaccine. And take care of yourselves.