Health Advice



Gustavo Arellano: How do you show up en masse to celebrate Grandma's birthday without killing her with COVID-19?

By Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES - There was no question that my dad's side of the family would celebrate the 98th birthday of our matriarch, Angelita Arellano, which happened on Oct. 1.

OK, there was one: how?

We're a tamborazo-loving, food-crazy, hug-addicted clan where a family party of some sorts - wedding, baptism, quinceanera, or carne asada just for the hell of it - seems to happen every weekend.

But Los Angeles County, where nearly all of my dad's side of the family lives - my siblings and I are the weirdos who ended up in Orange County - is still under strict coronavirus lockdowns, spontaneous Lakers celebrations notwithstanding. And none of us wanted to kill Grandma - which we call her as much as we do abuelita, because assimilation - after she's lived almost a century.

So after a bunch of texts and money transfers via Venmo, a bunch of cousins decided on a plan: A socially distant fiesta that would still make the Arellanos proud.

We asked Grandma to sit on the front steps of the house of my Tia Nacha in East L.A. on Oct. 3, a Saturday. A caravan of cousins would drive by and wish her a happy birthday.


The sweltering heat didn't keep Grandma from dressing in a matching cream-colored skirt and women's sports coat, glittering tiara, and a ribbon that read "Birthday Queen." Grandma looked as elegant as Britain's 94-year-old whippersnapper of a monarch.

With a mask over her mouth, and guests off to the side six feet from each other, Grandma awaited a procession of a fraction of her eight children, 35 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren.

It was the first time since Christmas that so many of us had gathered in person.

"She's had a rough few months isolated from all of us," said Maribel Bermejo, daughter of my Tia Mela. She and her sons staked some balloons on my Tia Nacha's front lawn and put water bottles in a cooler. "So why not celebrate her? Her health is all of our priority, but that also means to make sure she's happy."


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