|Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Nov. 13, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
Before we get to the depressing pandemic news and political stalemates of the day, a brief ray of light: This week, the Los Angeles Times launched the Latinx Files — a new newsletter specifically dedicated to the American Latino experience.
Latinos make up nearly half of L.A. County, and there are few Los Angeles stories that are not also Latino stories. But our paper has historically not done the best job of covering Latino communities, when it covered them at all. The Latinx Files is part of The Times’ broader effort to rectify that — and to ensure our paper authentically captures the diversity and complexity of the city it seeks to serve.
Today, there are close to 100 Latino journalists working at The Times, reporting in English and in Spanish. Helmed by audience engagement editor Fidel Martinez, the Latinx Files will build on the coverage being produced across the paper and deliver it to your inbox every Thursday morning.
[Read the first edition of the Latinx Files and sign up here to receive it in your inbox weekly,]
I spoke with Fidel about about his plans for the newsletter, his influences and what lies ahead. Here’s our conversation:
Let’s start with the title. “Latinx” is a new-ish term that’s used by a relatively small segment of the population you’re writing about. Why was using it important to you?
The decision to use the term “Latinx” in the name of the newsletter was solely mine, and it was a personal one. It stemmed out of a desire to be inclusive of everyone, including those who don’t subscribe to a binary view of gender. I recognize that it is by no means the preferred term of self-identification for my community — a majority prefer “Latino”/”Latina,” or “Hispanic.” These two terms don’t exclude me, but they do exclude others. “Latinx,” to me, is the one term that includes everyone.
I also want to make something very clear: The Los Angeles Times isn’t adopting or pushing the word “Latinx.” Official Times style is and will remain “Latino,” but we’ll be using “Latinx” in this new newsletter.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re from the Rio Grande Valley. How did growing up in the borderlands shape your perspective?
I was born and raised in Hidalgo, a small town next to McAllen, Texas, known for the international bridge and for being the home of legendary Norteño artist Ramon Ayala. Growing in a place where it’s feasible to have a foot firmly planted on each side of the border truly makes you see the complexity and duality that comes from being Mexican American.
Before working at The Times, I worked as a politics editor for Mitú, and spent several years in various capacities at Fusion. I was trying to do there what I’m trying to do here: document the vast richness of experiences that exist within the Latinx community.
The “Latinos are not a monolith” discourse has dominated quite a bit of postelection airtime, which is something you address in your first newsletter. Why do you think this extremely obvious fact came as such a revelation to certain corners of the country?
I think it stems from people’s desire to categorize everything and everyone into neatly defined buckets. It’s not just done to my community, either. Take California, for instance. Just about everyone who doesn’t live here sees the state as nothing but bleeding heart liberals, which is absurd, of course. California has more than 40 million residents. And the Latinx population of this country is nearly at 60 million, but that’s not going to stop people from thinking we all behave or think a certain way.
By that same token, I imagine there are quite a few challenges inherent to figuring out what a newsletter for the Latino community should look like, particularly when that target audience describes almost 40% of California. Do you have a guiding ethos, or a certain idea of what a Latinx Files story should look like?
Writing a newsletter about and for Latinxs and our experiences can be tricky — you run the risk of coming across as speaking for the entire community. I am by no means trying to do that. I am after all, just one out of nearly 60 million. As a result, one of the guiding principles for this newsletter is to establish an open line of communication with the audience. Something that I’m looking forward to incorporating is what you already do here and what our colleague Houston Mitchell does with the Dodgers Dugout newsletter, carving out a space for readers to tell us about their experiences.
On a slightly different note, you and I often swap reading recommendations. Have you read anything recently that really resonated with you?
Oh man, what a great question. I still think a lot about the poignant essay that Roberto Andrade Franco wrote for Texas Highways about going back home one year after the El Paso shooting. The way he writes about his part of the borderlands reminds me of the way in which William Faulkner wrote about his South.
Much of my reading the last month or so has been focused on the presidential election, and this year was a shining example of what happens when you let Latinx journalists report on our community. Our colleagues Melissa Gomez and Brittny Mejia did important reporting on how diverse the Latinx electorate in Florida was and co-wrote this story about the role that misinformation might have played in Florida.
Their work, along with that of Jennifer Medina at the New York Times, who reported the heck out of Arizona this election cycle (I’d recommend her story on the macho appeal of Trump to voters), and Dianne Solis and Alfredo Corchado at the Dallas Morning News, who did one of the best postmortems about why Trump made inroads in the Rio Grande Valley, are the benchmark for political reporting about the so-called Latinx vote.
With the election over, I’ve finally had a chance to read “Unforgetting,” Roberto Lovato’s memoir on the Salvadoran diaspora and it’s just stunning prose. I found out about it thanks to a profile on Lovato written by our colleague Daniel Hernandez.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
California officially surpassed 1 million coronavirus infections on Thursday, with health officials warning dire action must be taken to stop the spread of the illness. If the surge continues in Los Angeles County, “additional actions” could become necessary to bring the rate of transmission back under control, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. Though she didn’t elaborate on what potential new measures could be implemented, Ferrer emphasized that L.A. County remains on a knife’s edge and that everyone needs to do their part to keep conditions from worsening. Los Angeles Times
Could L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti find new political life in the Biden White House? With roughly two years left in his mayoral term, a possible move to Washington would give Garcetti new opportunities for advancement yet also affect his legacy at home. Los Angeles Times
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One of L.A.’s most important art exhibitions is stuck in COVID-19 limbo. The Hammer Museum’s 2020 biennial, this year presented with the Huntington, waits for pandemic restrictions to lift. It could take months — or not happen at all. Los Angeles Times
Billie Eilish’s new music video was filmed entirely at the Glendale Galleria. Rough day for the Americana at Brand. Los Angeles Times
If you stare at this pre-pandemic photo of the Glendale Galleria in all its splendor long enough, you will actually have a sensory reaction. Why yes, that is the faint but distinct aroma of Wetzel’s Pretzels, teenage sweat and Abercrombie cologne wafting toward you. (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)
L.A.’s evolution as a music powerhouse may have started earlier than we think: A Silver Lake-based early-music collector’s serendipitous purchase may be the key to pinpointing the existence of L.A’s first record company. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
More than a week after his electoral defeat, President Trump continues blocking transition efforts and making baseless claims about election fraud as the nation struggles with a worsening pandemic. Los Angeles Times
How climate fared on the ballot: Energy reporter Sammy Roth takes a look at the down-ballot races that are getting relatively less attention but could have significant climate and environmental impacts at the local level. Los Angeles Times
Three California congressional races still had yet to be called, as of late Thursday. All three are seats that flipped from red to blue in the 2018 midterms.
· In north Orange County, incumbent Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros trails Republican challenger Young Kim by just over 1%. Republicans have already succeeded in reclaiming one of the four Orange County House seats they lost in the 2018 “blue wave,” with Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda conceding to GOP challenger Michelle Steel on Tuesday.
· In the San Joaquin Valley, the rematch between a former three-term GOP congressman and the Democrat who unseated him continues. Former GOP Rep. David Valadao currently leads by about 4,000 votes, but the Fresno Bee reports that Democratic incumbent Rep. T.J. Cox still has a potential path to victory “because the majority of ballots left to count are in Kern County, which has trended toward Cox by 20 points in the 37,000 votes counted in that race so far.” The district in question includes all of Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.
· In the suburbs north of Los Angeles, Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia and Democratic challenger Christy Smith remain fewer than 200 votes apart. This particular district has already had its fair share of red-blue whiplash. Former Rep. Katie Hill turned it in blue in 2018, but after Hill resigned, the GOP took back the seatin a May special election between Garcia and Smith.
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The first amusement park to reopen in the state closes after a single weekend. Rides and most other attractions at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk were shuttered after a countywide increase in coronavirus cases forced Santa Cruz back into the red tier of the state’s color-coded reopening system. Los Angeles Times
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The San Francisco Opera’s famous rummage sale goes virtual this weekend. “There’s nowhere in San Francisco you can’t wear a costume,” says the opera’s costume supervisor, in case you were wondering what you’d do with that knights’ armor or velvet robe. San Francisco Chronicle
“Work from anywhere” is here to stay for tech companies and other segments of corporate America. How will it change our workplaces?Los Angeles Times
The very rich are different from you and me. They have their own lazy rivers. That “aqueous amenity” is among the many wild features of this Hollywood Hills mansion, which just went on the market for $58 million. The story describes the house style as “exuberant,” which is a very polite euphemism for staggeringly bad taste. Wall Street Journal
A poem to start your Friday: “Come. And Be My Baby” by Maya Angelou. A Year of Angelou (Today’s poem was recommended by Aisling Carroll, an Essential California reader in San Francisco.)
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Los Angeles: sunny, 66. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: rain, 57 . San Jose: rain, 63. Fresno: sunny, 64. Sacramento: rain, 54. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Brad Daniel:
In 1988, I was 19 and my parents had saved enough miles for our first plane trip. After flying all day, we settled into our Sunnyvale hotel right on the El Camino Real and unbeknownst to us, the cruising strip. We opened the window to let the Bay breeze in. My Dad and my younger brothers were up half the night on the balcony watching the low riders rev their engines and do their thing. I go back to that night every time I hear a muscle car rev its engine on a perfect California summer night.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.