This Is Your Life: A Companion Guide/Shameless Propaganda for 'Orange County: A Personal History'

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Courtesy Santa Ana Public Library

Orange County: This is Your Life
A companion guide/shameless propaganda for Orange County: A Personal History

Dear Orange County: We’ve come a long way, baby. From Indians to industry, orange groves to master-planned communities, Mexican-bashing to Mexican-bashing, our slice of paradise is playing a bigger role in America’s affairs with each passing year. You can read all about it in my new book, Orange County: A Personal History (appearing in local bookstores Sept. 16), which deals with our collective experience as lived by four generations of my illegal-immigrant, anchor-baby-dropping Mexican family.

It’s a great book, but don’t believe just me—Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review. But Orange County lacks two things: footnotes and pictures. Following are some of the missing pieces, along with chapter descriptions to entice ustedes into buying the book. For those of you who read Orange County, consider this issue a companion guide. For those of you who don’t, I’m sure you can sell this free copy of the Weekly for a couple of bucks on eBay as a collector’s item. See you next Thursday at the Yost Theater in SanTana!

This Is How We Do It In the OC (Don’t Call It That)

Gustavo makes a case for why the Reconquista will ultimately prove to be banal by describing a snapshot of his family’s life . . . Follows with a bird’s-eye description of Orange County, from Old Saddleback to John Wayne’s sad statue . . . Official history of Orange County—Serra, John Birch Society, bankruptcy . . . The importance of half of this book, the necessity of the other part and nachos!

Errata & Miscellany

• Orange County map courtesy of the Orange County Clerk-Recorder office.

• Mile Square Park blowjob information courtesy of . . . um, sources.

• The Halloween segregationists live in Floral Park.

• Foothill Ranch isn’t a city, but it sure doesn’t mind people mistaking it for one.

• Due to development, the Portola ride now only happens on the Rancho Mission Viejo. It’s still hella cheesy.

• Anaheim marks its founding as 1857, when the Los Angeles Vineyard Society purchased the lot that became the original city, but residents didn’t begin moving in until 1859—hence, my confusing-as-hell sentence.

• The Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base was originally a Naval air station when it first opened in 1942, not an Air Force base.

• By far the stupidest mistake in the book: Disneyland opened in 1955, not 1958. My only solace for such idiocy is that it’s not the stupidest error ever published in an Orange County history book; that dishonor goes to former Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Emmons. In his 1988 Orange County: A History and a Celebration, he misidentified Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith as legendary Warner Bros. animator and longtime county resident Chuck Jones.

• Editing mistake: should read “fundamentalist wild child.” But I like the idea of “wild” signifying the great unknown.


Flying Potatoes, Anchor Babies and Kidnapped Teen Brides: The Mirandas Go North

Gustavo’s maternal great-grandfather and grandfather end up in Anaheim in 1918, his maternal grandmother an anchor baby . . . How more than 2,000 Mexicans from one village settled in Anaheim . . . Jaime Crow in Orange County . . . Why San Bernardino is Hell.

Errata & Miscellany

• Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli pleaded guilty to a felony but still must stand trial with former partner Henry Nicholas III.

• The most famous local resident to emerge from Arizona’s copper country is Rueben Martinez, the MacArthur “Genius”-winning barber-cum-bookstore-owner behind Librería Martinez; he hails from the town of Miami, about two-and-a-half hours from the Morenci Mine.

• Area code 562 also touches some Orange County cities, and a bunch of us in the 714 region now have a 657 area code overlay with which to deal. Damn you, fax machines!

• A more famous descendant of El Cargadero-area families than I is Los Angeles council member Jose Huizar; he was born in Los Morales, a rancho in between El Cargadero and Jomulquillo.


“Our Climate Is Faultless”: Constructing America’s Perpetual Eden

Orange County as terrestrial heaven . . . 1936 Citrus War . . . The evil, evil Don Bren . . . Leisure World, San Clemente and other master-planned Gomorrahs . . . Who’s better: The Ink Spots or Glenn Miller?

Errata & Miscellany

• The Anaheim orange grove (known as the Pressel orchard) with which I open the chapter is unfortunately suffering from the devastating Quick Decline virus, but the owners are committed to replanting their lot with new trees.

• Mission San Juan Capistrano was returned to the Catholic Church by decree of Abraham Lincoln, not through the good graces of Juan Forster.

• I originally found Leon Rene’s anecdote about his inspiration for “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” on the website of the Afro-Louisiana Historical and Genealogical Society, but it was actually published in a 1979 article for The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


• Carey McWilliams also played an important part in county history besides covering the 1936 Citrus War; his coverage of the Mendez vs. Westminster trial for The Nation was repackaged for his 1949 book, North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States, probably the first Chicano Studies book ever published. During the 1970s, one of the younger Mendez sisters first learned of her family’s involvement by reading North From Mexico at UC Riverside. She had never heard about the landmark desegregation case in Orange County schools.


His Fake Green Card, Her Tomato Packing

Gustavo’s dad sneaks into this country in the trunk of a Chevy, through a sewer, with a fake ID, by hopping a fence . . . And it goes on like this for a couple of pages. . . . Gustavo’s mom drops out of school in ninth grade, begins canning tomatoes in Fullerton. . . . More Mexicans come to Orange County, fights ensue—wait, that’s this year.

Errata & Miscellany

• Fremont Junior High in Anaheim was closed in 1979; condos now stand on the site, next to the Anaheim Central Library.

• The Hunt-Wesson cannery in Fullerton was originally known as Val Vita Food Products and run by the Norton Simon behind the famous art museum. Fullerton could’ve had the museum but bungled Simon’s overture; he instead moved his collection to Pasadena.


Where All the Good Idiot Republicans Go to Die

James “Barefoot Africans” Utt, Nolan “Apartheid Is Good” Frizzelle, Bill “AIDS Caused by Spores” Dannemeyer, Bob “B-1 Baboso” Dornan, Mike “Little Sheriff” Carona—need we say more?

Errata & Miscellany

• The Anaheim school trustee I mention is Joel Dvorman. The Orange County chapter of the ACLU should’ve named themselves after this martyr for liberalism. Dvorman’s widow still lives in Orange County, and his cremains are interred in Santa Ana’s Fairhaven Memorial Cemetery.

• The origins of the Lincoln Club were best covered in Red County magazine by OC Blog founder Matt “Jubal” Cunningham, who is actually an entertaining, articulate writer when he isn’t a GOP hack.

• My Weekly colleague R. Scott Moxley said I was too kind to The Orange County Register in my book. Fine. Here’s the biggest indictment of Orange County’s premier daily: They once employed Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Taliban) as an editorial writer.


The Philadelphia Story

Gustavo “Anchor Baby” Arellano is born. . . . The redemptive powers of Alcoholics Anonymous . . . Gustavo enters school speaking only Spanish, comes out speaking mostly English—take that, Know Nothings. . . . Reconstituting Mexican village life in Orange County . . . Why San Clemente’s Surfin’ Chicken is the best chicken restaurant in OC.

Errata & Miscellany

• The building where my parents first danced was demolished a couple of years ago and is now an Auto Zone.

• First, I get Disneyland’s founding date wrong; then, my father throws up in Space Mountain. That’s what the Mouse gets for not hiring me at a job fair in Fullerton while I was in high school.

• The house where my father attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings still stands in Anaheim. Probably an entire generation of drunk Mexican Anaheimers has passed through there.

• My Uncle Ezequiel still has a T-shirt with “Anaheim Arena” on the back. It can probably fetch some cash on eBay, no?


Gimme That OC Religion

An opening overview of county religion that copies Gustavo’s earlier bird’s-eye intro to OC . . . Hotbed of American Christianity . . . Gospel Swamp . . . Robert Schuller bites into an unpeeled avocado. . . . Chuck Smith saves hippies, turns them into fag-bashers. . . . Jan and Paul Crouch . . . Is Rick Warren the Antichrist? . . . Why Bishop Tod D. Brown IS the Antichrist.

Errata & Miscellany

• One of the great local religious mysteries: Why does the mothership Calvary Chapel say it’s in Costa Mesa when its address lists Santa Ana as the host city? Oh, right: Santa Ana.

• Howard F. Ahmanson Jr.’s Fieldstead & Co. has donated $400,000 for the passage of Proposition 8, which seeks to define marriage as between a man and a woman. He’s also a fan of ¡Ask a Mexican!—go figure.

• Sarang Community Church is in Fullerton, which has become a focal point for Korean Christianity in the United States over the past decade. The former Hunt-Wesson plant where my mom worked is now occupied by Grace Korean Church.

• Charles E. Fuller’s groves were among those that hired scabs during the 1936 Citrus War.


• Former Times religion reporter William Lobdell read this chapter and offered great feedback. But he took issue with my describing the Crystal Cathedral as “tacky yet godly and hard to hate,” noting Phillip Johnson’s masterpiece has won many architectural honors. I still say it’s as classy as fake zirconium.

• Saddleback Church is off the 241 Toll Road, not the 261 Toll Road. Can you tell I stick to the 5, 55 and 91 freeways a bit much?

• One major local Christian I didn’t examine was televangelist Benny Hinn. The omission was purposeful—though he keeps a multimillion-dollar home in Dana Point, Hinn didn’t play as crucial a role in the county’s development as the other individuals I profiled. Same with Muzammil Siddiqi—although the head of the Islamic Society of Orange County is one of the country’s most prominent imams, Islam is only now beginning to influence Orange County.


Genesis and the Stetson

Why Stetsons are so important to Mexicans and why Gustavo looks stupid in one . . . Gustavo dates a second cousin, likes it. . . . Mexican dances and French rolls . . . Gustavo goes through puberty, showers once a month. . . . His one plagiarism scandal.

Errata & Miscellany

• Some of the halls where El Cargadero has held its dances: UFCW Hall in Buena Park, Laborers Union, Local 652 off Chestnut and Grand avenues in Santa Ana, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Anaheim.

• How embarrassing: I repeat the sentence “We’ve skipped surfing and skateboarding here, but only because they’re not real sports” in the same paragraph on page 160.

• Rick Reilly: Please don’t sue me for plagiarizing you in eighth grade.

• Forgot to mention the 605 freeway (a mile of it, anyway) in my list of Orange County freeways.


The Beaner-Bashing Capital of America

California Coalition for Immigration Reform Nuremburg rally . . . History of the Yost Theater, where Gustavo will read next Thursday . . . Lynching of Francisco Torres, burning of Chinatown by Santa Ana residents . . . Mendez vs. Westminster . . . Mulkey vs. Reitman . . . Little Saigon. . . Minuteman Project . . . Why Mexican-hating is the county religion.

Errata & Miscellany

• I haven’t been to a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) in a couple of years, but I’ve always made sure to keep moles on the inside to inform me of their looniness.

• CCIR didn’t technically birth the Minuteman Project, but founder Jim Gilchrist said he got his inspiration from attending the group’s meetings. If head witch Barbara Coe isn’t the Minuteman Project’s mother, she’s at least the godmother.

• Both Jim Sleeper and Charles D. Swanner are cavalier in their descriptions of Modesta Avila, but you can forgive Swanner. He and his brothers owned the Swanner Ranch, where San Juan Capistrano officials recently booted out 84-year-old Ignacio Lujano after nearly 40 years of service. According to Lujano’s son, the Swanner family will pay him a small stipend for the rest of his years.

• Some of the men who hanged Francisco Torres belonged to a lynching gang called the Vigilantes. The only recorded instance of their existence in the Orange County history books is in Adelina Pleasants’ 1931, three-volume History of Orange County, California. In a section about the history of Orange written by Margaret Gardner, she briefly mentions the Vigilantes’ role in the death of Torres and the murder of a Mexican for suspected horse stealing. “No apology is needed for the Vigilantes,” Gardner wrote, describing them as a “great group of men.” “The application of their methods among us now would be both wicked and foolish. Situated as they were, in a small community too far from the seat of government for the due administration of justice, among men of great strength of character and high standards of honor, it was wise and right.”

• An Orange County pioneer Ku Klux Klan connection: the Emma Sansom tree at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art. Read our Navel Gazing blog’s Notes From the Banana Republic category ( for more info.

• Barbara Coe has told two separate origin myths about her emergence as an anti-immigrant warrior, but the one I included is the only time I’ve ever heard her tell this version. For a more thorough investigation, read Navel Gazing’s Illegals! Illegals! Illegals! category.


My Mexican Awakening

How disgraced Anaheim school trustee Harald Martin inspired Gustavo . . . His Aztlanista days at MEChA de Chapman University . . . Funny girlfriend stories . . . Gustavo returns to Mexico, isn’t impressed.

Errata & Miscellany

• “Wab” is a word unique to Orange County and is used by Mexicans and others to make fun of less-assimilated Mexicans. Etymology unknown.


Orange County Business Journal is the finest Orange County publication outside of the Weekly. Editor Rick Reiff is God.

• On page 203, it should read, “the stench of pubescent sweat wafted,” not, “the stench of pubescent wafted.”

• Yvette Cabrera no longer writes about Latino issues for the Register. Can anyone tell me what her role is?

• Don’t build the 241 Toll Road extension! Save Trestles!


The “Real” Real Orange County Reel, or: About Those Stupid Television Shows, Why Orange County is “Hip,” and What’s Really Real and What’s Somewhat Real—For Real!

The Real Housewives of Orange County . . . Laguna Beach: The Real OC ?. . . The O.C. . . . “Surfer Joe” . . . Zack de la Rocha . . . Arrested Development and why it’s the greatest chronicler of OC.

Errata & Miscellany

• My new litmus test to see if you’re an Orange County jerk: if your license-plate frame reads, “Fletcher Jones Newport Beach.”

• I finally got into Coto de Caza this year gracias to Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, who used to live in the area. Coto de Caza is scary.


Becoming “The Mexican”

The genesis behind America’s spiciest column . . . Gustavo discovers the Weekly . . . What made him finally move out of his parents’ home at age 27.

Errata & Miscellany

• I was working on the campaign of current Santa Ana council member Claudia Alvarez when I discovered the Weekly. I saw Alvarez devolve from a promising politician to a political harlot.

• The television show I saw Will Swaim on was Real Orange, which hasn’t had a Weekly writer on in years. Inside OC With Rick Reiff, on the other hand, gladly has us on again and again.

• The Weekly staffer who cried when Swaim announced my book deal was Rebecca Schoenkopf, our longtime Commie Girl columnist who left in early 2007 and is now the editor of Los Angeles CityBeat. Recently, Schoenkopf let it be known she no longer hates me. Ain’t that sweet?


Insert Concluding Orange Cliché Here

OC Weekly’s takeover by Phoenicians, and why it’s okay . . . Becoming American . . . Carl Karcher . . . Buy the book!

Errata & Miscellany

• I’ll inevitably be accused of being a corporate stooge for praising my current overlords, Village Voice Media (previously reviled as New Times), but so be it. If you readers have learned anything about me in my time at the Weekly, it’s that I value a paper that treats Orange County like the insane fun house it is. I still think the Weekly does that—and the day it doesn’t, I’m off to Tierra del Fuego.

• If you’ve made it this far, gracias. Now, buy my book!

Orange County: A Personal History by Gustavo Arellano; Scribner. Hardcover, 269 pages, $24. Listen to the Mexican read from his book at the Yost Theater, 307 N. Spurgeon, Santa Ana. Thurs., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. For more info, call (714) 973-7900, or e-mail the author at

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