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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Looking Back at 2020--From a Distance!

Nordmenn call the time between Christmas and New Year's "Romjul," an occasion for hibernation and reflection. The Mexicas deemed the final five days connecting calendar years "nēmontēmi," or "useless days," a period of caution and chaos.

Caution, chaos and hibernation? 2020, is that you?

While I may not do as well as the Mexica who fasted before the birth of a new year, especially as I gorge on tamalli, I can definitely channel the Norwegian call for reflection through this Slingshot. I'll do so by sharing a few of my favorite things about 2020 (and then I won't feel so bad?).

Let's start with the stories I've flung through this intrepid newsletter, a good reprise for newer subscribers!

Favorite Slingshots of the Year

"Luxury Beachfront Hotels Quietly Ride OC's Waves of Coronavirus Discontent"

This May 10 newsletter looked at a lawsuit making the most out of anti-"Newscum" lockdown temper tantrums. Early in the pandemic, the governor's beach closures in OC prompted protests. The hospitality industry in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach was quick to capitalize on the angst, arguing Newsom's order was a bad look for tourism--a far cry from the right-wing populism assembled at the pier. If anything, this affair gave me another opportunity to wield my favored Spanglish alliteration, "Newsom nalgada!"

"Black Lives Don't Matter in Brea--Unless They're Blue!"

With America's racial reckoning in full swing, I wrote of Black barbershops reopening, dead Klansmen crumbling from buildings named after them and the history of racism endured by Disneyland's first Black carpenter.

But a story out of Brea brought out my investigative chops. The former oil town was also a Sundown Town with a strong KKK presence back in the day. Given that, it was inspiring to see George Floyd protests in downtown this June. Keri Kropke, a former school district trustee, attended with her Black son--only to be singled out in a smear campaign that followed. Brea police dumped a bunch of records online; haters rejoiced.

I dug in the documents--all of them--to ascertain the truth.

"OC Gallery of Ghouls: Part 1 & 2"

How could 2020, an "Annus Horribilis" if there ever was one, go without a Halloween-themed thrashing? I dabbled in OC Weekly nostalgia to bring readers a two-part list of OC's "Gallery of Ghouls," a tribute to Covid creeps, above all. Let's hope 2021's crop ain't so copious. Oh, who am I kidding?

"How the 1918 Pandemic Segregated Santa Ana's Schools"

There's much to miss about OC journalism these days. The art of longform stories is all but gone. I'm thankful to have been able to pen my lengthiest one yet on Ole Hanson and San Clemente for Gustavo Arellano's Weekly. And there's still many more "gunkist memories," as Arellano calls 'em, to unearth. Only, few are left to grab a pickaxe and have at it. Heading into the Christmas holidays, I decided to scour old newspapers to see what times were like in OC during the holidays amid the 1918 pandemic when a favored past time of the county's emerged: hating Mexicans!

City health officials blamed Mexicans for influenza outbreaks in Santa Ana during the fall. That led to the much-clamored for segregation of its schools once they reopened in November. Mexican and white children wouldn't mix until Mendez, et al v. Westminster, et al found the state's segregated schools unconstitutional.

Amid another pandemic that's ravaging la raza in OC a century later, the insight proved enlightening and infuriating!

Favorite Books

Aside from the Slingshot, I also write a monthly column for LibroMobile called "Off the Page." It's about arts and literature from a people of color perspective. It's one place to find my thoughts on good reads.

Even if you didn't get to reading any of these new titles in 2020 quarantines, there's always next year!

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

This horror novel by Blackfeet author Stephen Graham Jones is equal parts a haunted house, slasher and stalker story. It creeps along a general premise that something from our past may lurk behind until opening up to swallow us whole. Yikes! Netflix: adapt this into a series already and up both your horror and representation game!

Manufacturing Celebrity: Latino Paparazzi and Women Reporters in Hollywood by Vanessa J. Diaz

Diaz's debut takes us through the reality of celebrity media, from precarious Latino paparazzi on the hunt for the next exclusive photo at the end of a 16-hour day to the perils faced by women on the beat of powerful, famous men. It's a unique contribution to the field of media studies--and urgent AF, too!

Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato

I've known Lovato for many years in my line of media work. But I knew I'd learn another side of the Salvadoran activist and journalist through his anticipated memoir. It didn't disappoint, as I wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Through a fragmented narrative--much like the inner workings of traumatic memory, itself--Lovato traverses the chapters of his life and threads them through the political history of El Salvador and the United States. A big reveal awaits--and is as novelistic as it gets for a nonfiction memoir.

Favorite Song

Samantha Crain -- "When We Remain"

The last time I headed out for vacation, I stayed in Santa Fe, partly because of a song by Samantha Crain by the same name. A Choctaw from Oklahoma, Crain's been singing more folks music in her native language lately. There's "Red Sky, Blue Mountain," off of her 2017 album You Had Me at Goodbye. And when Crain released A Small Death this year, it featured another song in Choctaw. "When We Remain" is a living, breathing testament to the preservation of an Indigenous language and the people who speak it despite a history of settler genocide.

Here's the lyrics, first in Choctaw language and then in English:

"Okla e maya momakma, tamaha chito okla imihaksi tuko i foni aiyokli ahoba hapiachi kiyo. Okla e maya momakma, napakanli, micha iti, micha nan vpi ahoba osh ohmi tamaha chito okla imihaksi tukon okla il vbachike. Yakni i natanna ibachvffa hosh okla il ilai achonli tuk. Hapi fiopa ya, shotik chinto okla il itibani tuk."

"When we remain, we will not be like the beautiful bones of a forgotten city. When we remain, we will be the flowers and the trees and the vines that overcome the forgotten city. We have woven ourselves into the cloth of the earth. We have mixed our breath into the expanding sky."

And that does it for 2020, folks! Gracias to each and every one of you who've subscribed to the Slingshot this year (531, so far!), especially those who've donated. I'm so damn appreciative of the support. Without you, I have no voice. And I don't intend on quieting down anytime soon (especially not with a book in the works)!

More on that in 2021. Until then, may the new year ease up on us all.

- Gabriel San Román

Like what you're reading so far? This independent newsletter in OC depends on readers like YOU! To keep the Slingshot! flinging the truth Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. PayPal: @gabrielsanroman2

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

Speaking of reflection:

As the Slingshot heads into 2021, what would you like to see in addition to the main feature delivered every week? More "Mouse Muckraker" musings? New installments of another nature?

Email me your ideas, comments and complaints at: donpalabraz[at]gmail[dot]com!

Lead photo: Sign of the Times / Photo by Gabriel San Roman

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