Hot dogs, chop suey, pizza, and burritos. What do all of these apparently different ethnic foods have in common? They are all American foods! As American as Mom, apple pie, and the Fourth of July. And while we’re on the topic of American foods: just how Italian is spaghetti? Marco Polo brought the noodles to Italy from China and there were no tomatoes in the tomato sauce until Columbus sailed to the New World.
My friend once returned from a vacation to Mexico and complained to me that Mexican restaurants in Mexico didn’t sell burritos. “I thought burritos were Mexican food!” he complained. Actually, burritos are just another American popular fast food that you can order to go and eat while you drive. Because real Mexican food is extremely messy to eat and must be eaten with your fingers at a table. Just try to imagine someone attempting to eat a chicken tostada while driving. It’s not a pretty sight, is it? By the way, if you ask for a burrito in Mexico, you will get some strange looks. A “burrito” is a small donkey and they’ll wonder what you plan on doing to that burrito. My point is that you won’t get a burrito in Mexico. So don’t order a burrito unless you really want a small donkey.
When I teach my college Spanish classes, students are amazed by the photograph of the Mexican dinner table in the Spanish textbook. They are shocked! “Where is the basket of tortilla chips?” they ask. Well, mis amigos, you will only see a basket of tortilla chips in a Mexican restaurant in the U.S. The last time I went to Mexico to visit mi familia, no one ate tortilla chips, Tostitos, Fritos, or Doritos! When mi familia visits me from Mexico, I never say, “You must be hungry for some real Mexican food. Let’s go to Taco Bell!” Because Taco Bell does not really sell Mexican food. However, Taco Bell has opened restaurants in Mexico and is planning on expanding there. I just wonder if they claim to sell authentic Mexican food in Mexico?
One day, I realized that I had become my father and had married my mother. Not literally, of course. Once, when I was at the show with my sons, I fell asleep during the movie. My oldest son woke me up, but I told him that I wasn’t sleeping. So he asked, “Then what was the movie about?” And I didn’t know. So he updated me on the movie.
But I had to ask myself, “What was this movie REALLY about?” Well, the truth is that I realized that I had become my father, who used to take us to the show and then fall asleep. The poor man worked the night shift, slept a few hours, and then would take us out to the movies on Saturdays without our mother. I have now become my father when I take my sons to the show, and fall asleep at the show. But we all enjoy going to the show together! I was happy to go the show with my father even if he did fall asleep. Otherwise, I would have missed a lot of good movies. My sons are happy going to the show, too, and they never complain if I fall asleep.
As a child, my father always took us to the circus every year. When I had children, I began taking my sons to the circus. The last few years, I have been going to the circus with my sons and my father, who is now 81 years old. On the last trip to the circus with my father, I told my sons, “See how I take my father to the circus? When I get that old, I want you to take me to the circus with your children!”
Well, it turns out that I did, indeed, become my father and marry my mother. But then I divorced her, just as my father did. Like father, like son. The candy doesn’t fall far from the piñata!
No, no, no! Scream it like you mean it! Yell it with passion! Now try it again.
That’s much better. Now listen to me: “¡Lotería! ¡Lotería! ¡Lotería!” Did you hear the tone of my spine-tingling, blood-curdling, eardrum-shattering scream. You have to make your voice demand the attention of everyone in the room and the surrounding environs in order to brag to the world that you are the proud winner of ¡Lotería! Now get ready to be awarded your prize: a pack of Chiclets.
When we were little, we always played Lotería, whether we were in Chicago or Mexico. Lotería is a game very similar to Bingo–and sometimes people call it Mexican Bingo–where each player places markers on a card as the names of squares are called out. The first player to fill the entire card shouts, “¡Lotería!” and usually wins a small prize. Each card contains 25 pictures with the names listed below: La rosa, La dama, El valiente, El barril, etc. The names of the pictures are called out from a deck of cards that contains all the pictures. The cards are shuffled and called at random. The pictures on the card are marked by uncooked pinto beans. I always have fun playing Lotería. Especially when I win and I get to shout, “¡Lotería!” At our last family picnic, we played Lotería for 25 cents per card and the winner won the pot. It was certainly more exciting than playing for Chiclets.
When we were little, we once played Lotería with my cousins at their house. When we returned the next week, my mother noticed that my cousin Lulu had a strange odor emanating from her face. When my mother approached Lulu, she noticed that Lulu had extremely bad breath. My mother couldn’t understand how a five-year-old could have such foul-smelling breath. My mother looked in Lulu’s mouth, but saw nothing. However, while looking in Lulu’s mouth, my mother saw something suspicious in Lulu’s nose. My mother couldn’t tell what it was because it was so far up into her nasal passage. My mother and my aunt Marcela held Lulu down forcefully and used tweezers to pull the foreign object out of Lulu’s nose. Both my mother and my aunt shouted, “¡Ay, Díos mío!” They had extracted an uncooked pinto bean from Lulu’s nose. But the pinto bean had been in her nose so long that it had sprouted roots! Lulu must have put the pinto bean in her nose the week before when we played Lotería. So beware the dangers of playing Lotería, niños!
I love Chicago, that toddling town. The City of Big Shoulders. The City that Works. Chi-Town. The Windy City. Well, you get the idea. Living in Chicago is always an adventure. I love to analyze the little ironies of living in our fair city. Somethime driving directions don’t make any sense. I remember once driving northeast on Southwest Highway, then driving southbound on Western Avenue, then going east on North Avenue, and driving North on Southport Avenue. Only in Chicago. Western Avenue was named Western Avenue because it used to be the western border of Chicago. And North Avenue was named North Avenue because it used to be the northern border of Chicago. Michigan Avenue was named that because it ran along the Lake Michigan shore before it was filled with rubble from the Chicago Fire.
Let’s not forget my favorite Chicago street, Lake Shore Drive. Alliota, Haines, and Jeramiah wrote “Driving on LSD” about that street , but they admit in the song that they were high on LSD. Another favorite street of mine is Wacker Drive with its upper and lower drives. Most Chicago streets run east-west or north-south. However, the almighty Wacker Drive actually runs in all four directions! What other street in the world can use all the compass directions in their addresses and give us such addresses as 200 South Wacker Drive, 20 North Wacker Drive, 5 West Wacker Drive, and 71 East Wacker Drive? Only Wacker Drive in Chicago can make that curious geographical claim!
Why didn’t someone think of this before? I guess it takes a politician! Pass an ammendment that makes English the official language of the U.S. and then everyone–citizens, naturalized citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal aliens alike–will all speak English. Let’s begin by teaching President Bush to speak English. I love the beauty and simplicity of this ammendment. As is well known, everyone who resides in the U.S. obeys and upholds all the laws of the land.
Of course, legislating any language into law will not force anyone to learn the language. Some people are destined to speak only one language, their first language, for the rest of their lives. Just think of Columbus and the Spaniards when they came to the New World under the aegis of Spain. Right from the beginning, the Spaniards attempted to get everyone to learn Spanish. The official language of New Spain, the name of the new Spanish colony, was Spanish. Spanish scholars wrote hundreds of books recording indigenous languages and customs. They even managed to get the Maya to write their Popol Vuh in Spanish. The goal was for everyone under the Spanish crown to speak one common language. Books published in languages other than Spanish were censored. In fact, the very first grammar book of a European vernacular language was published in 1492 by Antonio de Nebrija. He had the idea of using Spanish as the one common language that would unify the Spanish Empire. Under Ferdinand and Isabella, Spanish became the official language of Spain and the New World. Did everyone learn Spanish? Of course not! Even to this day, there are people in many Spanish-speaking countries of Hispanoamérica who do NOT speak Spanish. In Mexico alone, more than fifty different languages are spoken and not everyone speaks Spanish. Maybe Americans better stay close to the tourist resorts when visiting Puerto Vallarta and Cancún.
Well, if the U.S. makes English the official language of the land, will everyone learn English? Not necessarily. Just look at the president. One need only look at the immigrant groups that have come to our country throughout American history. The first generation learns just enough English to get by on. Only with the second generation does English become part of the immigrant family. If English becomes the official language, will bilingual government publications of all languages suddenly disappear? Will we still have interpreters of all languages in our court rooms? Will people only speak English then? The answers are obvious. Legislating English as the official language would be a waste of time, resources, and tax dollars.
Well, it’s all about imperialism. And Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. So what do they all have to do with Mexicans? Actually, it’s a long story that goes way back. I am often amazed by how events of thousands of years ago still affect us today. We should never forget the past because we are always repeating it! For example, history has a long, long history of repeating itself through imperialism and colonization. That is, one nation conquering another and then imposing their laws and culture upon the conquered (colonized) nation. Eventually,that empire is, in turn, conquered by another newer, bigger, “better” empire. So what does all this have to do with Mexicans in the United States? Actually, a lot!
On the one hand, Mexicans don’t physically resemble other European races or African-Americans. However, Mexicans assimilate into the work force without much rebelliousness or resentment. Mexicans come from a culture that has European roots. They come from a Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman culture, much like most citizens of the U.S. It all started when Spain arrived in the New World that was “New” to the Europeans, but not to the local inhabitants who had already lived there for thousands of years. It’s all a matter of perspective. The Spaniards mixed with all the indigenous people they met in the New World resulting in the fusion of races and cultures that still affects us today. The reason the Spaniards could create their own melting pot was because they had a history of thousands of years of mixing with other races. However, since Spain was also colonized many times throughout its own history by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors, among others, Spain merely applies the lessons they learned to the New World.
But let’s look at Spain’s name. The country’s official name of España is derived from the Phoenicians who arrived there about 1100 BC and saw rabbits. They named their new colony “i-saphan-im,” meaning “coast or island of the rabbits.” When the Greeks arrived about 500 BC, they called the tribes the met “iberos” after the Ebro River, hence Iberia. Being fond admirers of the Greeks, the Romans also colonized Spain beginning in 218 BC giving the region the name of “Hispania” because the Romans didn’t bother to learn the local language and couldn’t pronounce the Phoenician name. (Does this sound familiar?) It seems like local residents always hate when foreigners come and don’t bother learning the language.
But getting back to Mexicans, what does all this have to do with the U.S. today? Well, by analogy, Spaniards–and Europeans in general–have a lot in common with Mexicans when you look back far enough in history. For example, when the Spaniards came to the New World, not everyone wanted to leave Spain to make their fortune. But some of those who left Spain did make their fortune and sent money back home. And that occurred for generations, including other Europeans who came to what would eventually become the United States of America. And Mexicans are no different. Except for some Mexicans in America’s southwest who never left Mexico but somehow found themselves living in America when the U.S. took over the northern part of Mexico, some Mexicans want to come north to America to make their fortune. Those who do come have many goals such as improving the living conditions of their family, here and in Mexico. If we examine previous generations of European immigrants to the U.S., not everyone learned to speak English. Usually the first generation learned just enough English to get by, the second generation learned their native tongue at home and then English when they entered school, and most of the third generation only learned English. However, more Mexicans than other ethnic group seem to continue being bilingual due to the constant influx of Mexicans from Mexico who are actually related to them, and therefore, have an actual need for speaking Spanish.