¡Yo soy mexicano!


Los Rodríguez

Cuando era niño, vivíamos en Chicago y viajábamos a México cada año. Íbamos mi mamá, mi hermano Daniel y yo. Una vez que fuimos, mi mamá estaba embarazada. Todo mundo le decía que no fuera a México hasta después del parto. Como mi mamá era muy cabezona, nos fuimos a México de todos modos. Pues, mi hermanito Diego nació en Celaya, Guanajuato, en la casa de mi tía. La próxima vez que mi mamá se embarazó, nos quedamos en Chicago y mi hermano Ricardo nació en nuestro apartamento.

Cuando yo tenía doce años y ya todos asistíamos a la escuela, yo, por ser el mayor, cuidaba a mis hermanitos mientras nuestros padres trabajaban. Los vestía para la escuela, los acompañaba a la escuela y los acompañaba a casa después de la escuela. Siempre jugábamos juntos y a veces nos peleábamos como suelen hacer los hermanos. A Diego le daba tanto orgullo de ser mexicano de 100% por haber nacido en México. Siempre nos decía, «Yo nací en México. ¡Yo soy mexicano! ¡Ustedes no son mexicanos como yo!». Según él, Daniel, Ricardo y yo éramos gringos por haber nacido en los Estados Unidos. Diego siempre decía «¡Yo nací en México!» con mucho orgullo.

Pues, cuando volvíamos a casa después de clase, no siempre íbamos directamente a casa. A veces cada uno iba con su amigo y luego nos encontrábamos en casa antes de que llegara mi mamá del trabajo. Pero una vez, no llegó Diego para la hora fijada. Me puse nervioso porque sabía que mi mamá me daría una paliza por haber perdido a mi hermanito. Lo fui a buscar por todo el barrio, pero no lo encontré. Cuando mi mamá llegó, me preguntó, «¿Ya están todos?». Le mentí y le dije que sí en una voz muy tímida. Mi mamá se dio cuenta de que alguien faltaba. «¿Dónde está Diego?» me preguntó. «No sé» le dije esperando una paliza.

Mi mamá nos abrigó y salimos en el coche para buscar a Diego. No lo encontramos. Volvimos a casa y mi mamá hizo varias llamadas a parientes, vecinos y chismosas. Nadie sabía dónde estaba mi hermanito. De repente, vimos por la ventana que se estacionaba un coche grande y negro frente de la casa. Salieron dos hombres de traje negro con mi hermanito. Resulta que Diego volvía a casa solo después de visitar a un amigo cuando los oficiales de la migra lo vieron. Le preguntaron, «¿Dónde naciste?», y mi hermanito naturalmente contestó con mucho orgullo, «¡Yo nací en México!» y se lo llevaron. Después de varias horas, lo trajeron a nuestra casa y mi mamá les enseñó documentos para comprobar que Diego estaba en los Estados Unidos legalmente. Luego mi mamá regañó a Diego y le dijo, «¡Ya no le digas a nadie que naciste en México!». Me salvé de una paliza por el susto que sufrió mi mamá. Hasta hoy en día, mi hermano nunca le dice a nadie que nació en México.

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La cocina


enchiladas

Enchiladas suizas

In Mexico, I was surprised when my cousin handed me a bag of potatoes and a potato peeler. She actually wanted me to peel potatoes! In the past, whenever I went to Mexico, I was never allowed in the kitchen while the women cooked. So I sat down at the kitchen table and actually peeled potatoes while my cousin and my aunt prepared the New Year’s Eve dinner. Amazingly, there were two other males in the kitchen helping with the cooking. Mexico is changing. I remember when I was a boy and my mother and aunts were making tamales, I got kicked out of the kitchen while they were preparing the tamales. Once my mother made tortillas and she let me roll one tortilla, but then she kicked me out of the kitchen. My abuelita never even let me try to cook anything when she lived with us in Chicago. Now that I think back, most Mexicanas always tried to discourage me from helping in the kitchen. But I think that it’s a conspiracy. Because then when you meet American girls, one of the first things they ask is, “What can you cook?” And if you ever go to their place for dinner, they test your culinary talents by making you help with the dinner. They’ll let you cook the entire meal if you’re able. But if you’re like me and grew up in a traditional Mexican family, you won’t be able to do much more than warm up tortillas! And they’ll settle for you washing the lettuce.

Wow! That was deep!

¡Buen provecho!


Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

What I love about going to Mexico is all the attention I receive from my relatives who are genuinely happy to see me. They ask me many questions about my life in particular and life in general in America. The only problem with this is that they tend to ask me these questions while I’m eating. So I was always the last one done eating.

I’m a slow eater anyway, but answering questions slows me down even more. And they ask rather personal questions, too. But everyone is so honest when speaking that I feel compelled to answer their questions honestly. And no one judges anyone about each other’s behavior. At least not that I noticed.

So, how did I enjoy a good home-cooked Mexican meal with everyone insisting that I answer their questions? Well, I didn’t want to be rude, so I answered all question immediately. Of course, sometimes I answered with my mouth full of food because I was caught off guard by the timing of the questions. I guess I was being rude by talking with my mouth full just because I didn’t want to be rude!

El americano


Dr. D. in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.

So, I’m in Mexico, visiting mi familia, and the whole time, everyone keeps reminding me that I’m an americano.  Just look at me in the picture. I’m sitting on green, white, and red bench wearing an Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo tourist t-shirt. Now, be honest with me. Do I look American or Mexican? Okay, please tell me after you finish reading this post. I think I’d rather not hear your answer right now.

It’s December 30, 2008, and I’m at my cousin house visiting because all her brothers and sisters are coming in for New Year’s Eve. She has an impromptu dinner because, unexpectedly, she is expecting about thirty guests in her house. No one complains about the fast food (fast for Mexico) that we eat buffet style on styrofoam plates. I already have my food and I’m eating in the living room at the opposite side of the house where the food is on the table in the dining room.

Suddenly, one cousin begins to speak Spanish with a fake American accent. Then, someone else joins in the conversation with his fake American accent. Before you know it, about ten people are speaking Spanish with a fake American accents. I think it’s rather funny. Much laughter ensues until my cousin notices me. Everyone immediately stops talking in Spanish with their fake American accent and everyone looks at me. My cousin asks me if I was offended. Actually, I tell her, I thought it was very funny. I had never heard Mexicans talk in fake American accents before, so I kind of enjoyed it. I heard other people talking like Americans on my trip through Mexico, but they always stopped when they noticed I was near. Everyone seems to think I’m an americano. To be honest, I’m not sure what I am!

My cousin’s husband (my cousin-in-law?) constantly reminded me that I looked American. He couldn’t explain why, but he said I didn’t look Mexican. Other people told me the same thing. I’m sure my skin color had nothing to do with it because Mexicans come in all shades, from dark to light. Perhaps it was my gray hair? Mexicans my age, in general, don’t have as much gray hair as me. Maybe it was my clothing. All my clothes were bought in America. Okay, I bought some of them in Wal-Mart in Evergreen Park, Illinois, but they don’t sell the same clothes at the Wal-Marts in Mexico. I just don’t get it. I have cousins in Mexico who look more American than me, but everyone immediately recognized them as Mexicans.

Conversely, when I’m in Chicago, Mexicans approach me and immediately speak to me in Spanish. How did they know I speak Spanish if I look American? Wouldn’t that make me Mexican? When I’m in Mexico, my cousins eventually concede that I am, in fact, Mexican. Unlike other Mexicans who go back to Mexico to visit their familia, I do eat all kinds of Mexican food and I do understand EVERYTHING they say, including all the colloquialisms and swear words. I always seem to blend in with my familia. Until someone points out that I don’t look mexicano!

Béisbol


Chicago White Sox Promotion in Spanish.

I’m watching the World Series even though neither the White Sox nor the Cubs are playing. “World Series” is a misnomer because it’s not really a world competition at all. However, there are many players from many countries such Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Japan among others.

When I read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow years ago, he described a professional baseball game in the early 1900s. He noted that the ethnicity of the baseball players was representative of the immigration pattern of the period. Here’s the passage from Chapter 30 of Ragtime:

On the Giant side were Merkle, Doyle, Meyers, Snodgrass and Herzog, among others. The Boston team boasted a player named Rabbit Maranville, a shortstop who [sic] he noted roamed his position bent over with his hands at the end of his long arms grazing the grass in a manner that would more properly be called simian. There was a first baseman named Butch Schmidt, and others with the names Cocrehan, Moran, Hess, Rudolph, which led inevitably to the conclusion that professional baseball was played by immigrants.

If you look at the players of today’s Major League Baseball, you will see many Spanish last names. Of course, those, too, are representative of the migration patterns of Spanish speakers from Latin America to the U.S.

When I was in Mexico last July, I watched the All-Star Game with my cousin and her family. We laughed every time the announcer mispronounced a Spanish last name. Both announcers consistently mispronounced Evan Longoria. Well, tonight, I had to laugh when Jason Bartlett stole second base and the announcer let everyone know that Taco Bell had a promotion: Steal a Base, Steal a Taco for every stolen base. So next Tuesday, we can go to Taco Bell for a free taco. They even interviewed Taco Bell president Greg Creed who personally invited everyone to go to Taco Bell to get their free taco!

Writing letters


My best friend!

I don’t know why, but Mexicans find it difficult to write letters to each other.

When I left Mexico, both times, I said I would write back and send pictures. Well, it took me a while took write back, but I finally wrote back! And guess who wrote back? One cousin to whom I didn’t even write. So, I felt guilty and wrote her a letter.

I wrote to my aunt and then she relayed a message to my cousin who e-mailed me telling me that my aunt said hello. This same aunt still had letters that I had written to her thirty years ago. They were tucked away in her picture box along with my Chicago Marathon medal, which I have no idea how she obtained it. Perhaps, I gave it to my mother before she went on one her trips to Mexico. Now it’s starting to come back to me. My mother said if I wanted to give something to my aunt, so I gave her my marathon medal. Actually, it was a lot easier than writing a letter. Even with the Internet we don’t seem to be writing to each other any more frequently. I still have a long list of relatives to whom I will write before my next visit. But even if I don’t, we’ll pick up the conversation right where we left off the last time. My cousin likes to IM me and that’s fine when I have time. It is a lot easier than writing letters.

Duke


Duke

Duke was the best dog that our family ever had. When we lived at 4405 S. Wood Street, he followed my brothers and me home from school. He really did. At first, he followed us at a distance and that was fine by us because we weren’t sure if he would bite us. He was already full-grown and he was at least part Golden Retriever and maybe a little bit German Shepard and Chow Chow. We were sure that, since Duke got along well with the whole family, he probably was also part Mexican.

He followed us into our backyard and we went into the house. When we looked out the window later, he was still there. We gave him some bologna and went back inside. The next day, he followed us home again and we gave him some milk this time. He let us pet him and he seemed very friendly. He was too clean to be a stray dog and he didn’t have the battle scars of street dogs, but he didn’t have a collar or dog tags either. We never let him into the house because we knew our mother would get mad at us. But Duke kept following us home after school. He knew what time we got out of school and he would meet us at the corner of our block and follow us home so we could give him something to eat.

One day, my mother came home from work and asked us about the dog on the back porch. “What dog on the back porch?” I asked, knowing we were about to get in trouble. We didn’t admit to anything. Eventually, my mother brought Duke into the house and we all started playing with him. He was really happy with us and never even growled when my little sister pulled his ears or fur. We asked our mother if we could keep it, but she said it probably belonged to someone else and they would eventually want him back. We could keep him until someone claimed him.

We were so happy to have a dog again. And the good news was that he was already house-broken. At first, my mother would open the door to let Duke go out by himself thinking that he would eventually go to his real home. But he always came back. After a while, I started walking him without a leash. He always stayed close to me and he would never run away. I walked him all over the neighborhood so that maybe Duke would recognize his original home, but we never found his original owner. Soon I knew I was Duke’s master because one of the neighborhood bullies threatened me with Duke at my side and Duke growled at him ready to defend me.

Duke had some pretty good street cred, too, because when other dogs would see him, they would run away. I didn’t need a leash to control Duke because he so obedient that he listened to my every command. However, he loved to chase squirrels, but he would only do say when I gave him permission. Whenever he saw a squirrel at a distance, he ears would perk up and he would growl, but he would stay by my side until I said, “Go get him, Duke!” And he would run at full speed toward the squirrel. He never once caught a squirrel because the squirrels were usually too far away from us and too close to a tree that they climbed to escape. Only once, did I think that Duke would actually catch a squirrel in his mouth. He was rapidly closing in on a squirrel that was foolish enough to try to outrun Duke instead of climbing a tree. I think that Duke slowed down to give the squirrel a running chance and the squirrel got away.

When we moved to 2509 W. Marquette Road, Duke moved with us. By then, he was part of our family. Somehow, I remained Duke’s master. My brothers and I had to be careful when we wrestled because Duke would attempt to bite my brothers in my defense. Even after I married and moved away from my mother’s house. Once I was visiting and I started wrestling with Tato, my brother Jerry, in the basement just like in the good old days. Duke just stood there watching. He was a lot older now and he didn’t growl at my brother as he once did. Well, I could still out-wrestle all my brothers even though we were all about the same size now. I managed to throw my brother down on his back on the sofa. I jokingly said, “Sic him!” and Duke ran and bit my brother’s face. I really didn’t think he would attack my brother. I immediately grabbed Duke by his collar and he finally calmed down. My brother had some puncture wounds on his face from being bitten a few times. I apologized profusely to my brother. Neither one of us thought Duke would attack. But he did. I was still his master even though I had lived away from him for about a year. I still feel badly about this even now as I described the incident.

Duke lived to be very old, but we never knew his exact age since he was already full-grown when he started living with us. Eventually, he had so many health problems that my sister had him put to sleep. He was such a great dog that I can still visualize him.