Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois

In Chicago, we have newspaper Hoy that is published in Spanish by the Chicago Tribune. I enjoy reading the news in Spanish because it provides a different perspective. Sometimes Hoy has articles that wouldn’t appear in other local newspapers because they deal with local Hispanic interests. I also subscribe to the Chicago Tribune, but I read Hoy first. Some articles appear in both the Tribune and Hoy. When they do, the articles seem to have been written in English first and then translated into Spanish for Hoy; they contain the same information in the same order. There are many more typos in Hoy than in the Tribune, but I still enjoy reading Hoy.

I have Hoy delivered to my house. Would you believe that this subscription is free? I believe that if you live in the delivery area for the Chicago Tribune, you may subscribe. Here is their telephone number in case you’d like to subscribe: 312.527.8467.

Anyway, I also have the Chicago Tribune delivered to my house. When I ordered Hoy, I started having problems with my newspaper delivery. I’m not sure what happened, maybe the delivery person didn’t think I could read both English and Spanish. I would either get the Tribune or Hoy, but not both. I really couldn’t complain about not getting Hoy since I didn’t pay for the subscription. However, I was paying for the Tribune subscription and I wanted to read the news. I called to complain and now I get both newspapers regularly, more or less. A couple of weeks ago, instead of receiving the Tribune and Hoy, I received the Korean Daily! I can’t read Korean! I wonder how the Korean Daily subscriber reacted when receiving Hoy!

Teatro Villa

After my parents’ divorce, I spent a lot of time with my father. Sometimes he would pick me up just so I could accompany him to run his errands and translate for him. He spoke broken English and he was painfully self-conscious about it. So I would be his translator, although at that time my English wasn’t much better than his. When we spoke to each other, I spoke English and he spoke Spanish; when I first started attending school he insisted that I speak English so he could learn to speak English, too.

In order to do all his errands, he would find parking somewhere near 18th Street, Loomis Avenue, and Blue Island Street. That meant we would either pay his telephone bill, go grocery shopping, eat at a Mexican restaurant, or go see a Mexican movie in Spanish at Teatro Villa. If he managed to find a strategically-located parking spot, we could walk to all these places without moving the car. Sometimes he would drive around for fifteen minutes looking for this ideal parking spot. Now that I think of it, we passed up some good parking spaces that were only a block away and I would tell my father, “Just park already!” But he always insisted on the finding the closest parking space.

After my father was done with all his errands and we ate at a Mexican restaurant, we would buy are tickets to see a movie at Teatro Villa. All the movies and previews were in Spanish. My father loved coming to this theater because it reminded him of Mexico. We would enter the theater regardless of when the movie started. We usually sat down in the middle of the movie and didn’t get to see the beginning until after seeing the entire second movie and the previews. I had fun trying to figure out what had happened prior tp the scenes we were watching. Once the beginning of movie came on again, I liked to see if the movie had foreshadowed the ending. So my father’s unorganized habits had actually helped me to become a better writer.

There was one movie that we saw that I never quite understood even though we saw it twice; when we returned to Teatro Villa the next week it was showing again, but we decided to see it again. I don’t remember the title, but it took place in downtown Mexico City sometime in the 1960s. This movie was also in Spanish. Anyway, people are being mysteriously murdered one by one. No one can figure out who is murdering them. I forget all the details, but eventually we discover that there is a secret society that still practices human sacrifice following the Aztec rituals. These are businessmen who enter through a hidden door in their office and descend to an underground cave where there is an Aztec pyramid with a sacrificial altar. The murder mystery is then solved and the murderers are arrested. But the movie did emphasize the importance of Aztec culture in Mexico even to this day.

We saw many movies together over the years at Teatro Villa. I remember seeing a lot of comedies, but my favorites were with Cantinflas, also known as Mario Moreno. He always made me laugh. Cantiflas was a poor Mexican who never caught a lucky break. He was so poor that he always wore raggedy clothes and survived day to day by his natural wherewithal. His poverty was only surpassed by his ineptitude. No matter what job he worked, he performed it incompetently, even disastrously. When the boss asked him if he had done his work, Cantinflas would begin a longwinded explanation that would distract the listener, but he never fully explained if he actually did the job. His boss would finally ask, “Did you do your job?” And Cantinflas would say, “Pues, allí está el detalle” and explain how didn’t do it. He was always incompetent, but extremely lovable. I always laughed at Cantinflas because I could relate to him. I think because he reminded me of my father in some ways. In fact, after leaving a Cantinflas movie, my father would start quoting Cantinflas. Sometimes my father talked like Cantinflas even when he wasn’t imitating Cantinflas. My father told me that Cantinflas got his name from the saying, “Cuando entras la cantina te inflas.” Meaning that when you go into the bar, you get full of hot air. My father also told me “Cantinflas” was a combination of the verbs cantar and inflar combined. Cantinflas was the master of talking and talking without really saying anything.

¿Lo hice? Pues, allí está el detalle.


For our family, Sunday was a very special day that began at sunrise and didn’t end until we returned home well after sunset. My parents would get up long before my brothers and me in order to prepare for our big day. My father usually prepared his car by making some last-minute adjustments under the hood and then washing the car in front of the house. My mother would–actually, I’m not sure what my mother did; whenever I woke up early enough to help her, my mother would be very secretive and then tell me to go help my father with the car. Once the car was packed, we would all dress up in our Sunday clothes, which were the very best clothes we owned, and go to Sunday mass at the Mexican church in the neighborhood because the priest said the mass in Spanish. This was a welcome change from the Latin mass at the Lithuanian church where I was really supposed to attend mass with my classmates from the parish grammar school.

After mass, we would all pile into the car, sans seatbelts or child safety seats, and head to the beach, Lincoln Park Zoo,Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, or the Museum of Science and Industry to spend the day there. We usually went somewhere that was free. On the way there, we would stop at el supermercado to buy our food for the picnic. I always thought my mother was packing a picnic basket at home until we went to el supermercado. Anyway, we would buy bolillos, carnitas, chicharrón, atole, and anything else that didn’t require cooking. I guarantee you that nothing tastes better than a bolillo stuffed with carnitas on a beautiful, sunny Sunday at the beach on the Chicago lakefront after going to mass in Spanish! I really loved going to the Museum of Science and Industry and then swimming at the beach afterwards.

Of course, we varied our habits occasionally. Sometimes we would meet friends of the family at the church and ask them to come along with us, or if they had better plans, we would go with them. Once we had a caravan of four cars. This was fun because we would have more children playing together.

Sometimes after mass, we would visit other family members without notice. Sometimes we would go to several houses before we found someone who was actually home! Nothing was ever really planned. Perhaps, that’s why I still like to take spontaneous, unplanned vacations with my sons to this day. When it was time to go home, we would always say good-bye for at least an hour. Well, everyone would say good-bye right away and set a date for the next get-together, but then someone would remember what he or she had been wanting to tell everyone for the longest time. And that, in turn, would remind someone of somebody else who was no longer living in the neighborhood, and so on … But we always had fun!

Well, I don’t want to drag out this good-bye too long. You get the idea. Besides, it’s Sunday and I’m on the way out the door! ¡Adiós!

Did you bring the carnitas?


My parents always argued. About anything and everything. If they were together, they were arguing. This may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I never, ever once heard them have a normal conversation. They would always argue over money because my mother always wanted more and my father didn’t make enough. My mother also wanted to work outside of the house because my father didn’t make enough money, of course. My father wanted her to stay home, so they constantly argued over this, whether she was working or not. When she worked, my father lost partial authority over her. There were certain things that mother could do without my father’s criticism as long as she was a wage earner. For example, she could buy as many records and magazines as she wanted because she had earned the money herself. Of course, when she stopped working, she continued her same shopping habits causing–would you believe it?–more arguments. While the arguments were never physical, they were certainly passionate.

One Sunday morning, my mother woke me up and asked, “Is this a pair of socks?” I could sense by the anger in her tone of voice that not only was she arguing with my father, but that this was a job for me, as their oldest son, to act as a mediator for them. I was still sleepy because on Saturday nights I liked to stay up late watching old movies on TV. My eyes were barely open and the room was barely lighted because the sun was still rising. “Is this a pair of socks?” my mother asked me again in Spanish, holding up a pair of orlon socks in her hand. I said, “It looks like a pair of socks to me.” “No, this is not a pair of socks!” she yelled. I was now fully awake. I was once again trapped by one of her trick questions.

“Look at these socks,” she said. “Do they match?” Well, in the darkness of my bedroom, they looked like they matched. “Your father wants to wear this pair of socks to church. If he wears these socks to church, we’re not going with him. I would rather burn in hell than be seen with your father in church wearing these socks!” My mother always loved to be overly dramatic. “What’s wrong with those socks?” I asked her, knowing full well that I would be the recipient of my mother’s wrath. “You are just as blind as your father! Look! One sock is blue and one is black!”

I couldn’t see the difference of the colors in the darkness, so I turned on the light. Even with the lights on, I thought my mother was holding up a pair of matching socks. If my father had worn those socks to church, no one would have noticed anyway because: 1. They looked like a matching pair of socks; 2. My father’s pants covered up his socks anyway; and 3. In our parish, no one went to church to check out other people’s socks. By then, the sun was out and my mother took me out to the front porch along with my father. “See?” she said. “One sock is blue and one is black!” As I stared at the socks, I observed that one sock was indeed blue, a dark navy blue, that if you looked quickly, appeared black. And the other sock was black, but it had faded in the wash a little so it had a bluish tint to it. Overall, this looked like a matching pair of socks to me.

As I nervously examined the socks in my hands, my mother awaited my verdict. My father sent me signals through body language that I failed to correctly interpret. My father and I were both doomed. The well-being of my entire family rested on my decision. I felt sorry for my father because he could never dress for Sunday mass without experiencing my mother’s harsh criticism about his fashion sensiblity. I could feel my mother glaring at me. I had to make a diplomatic decision. What to do? What to do? Finally, I stated what I believed to be true of the socks even though I knew I would anger my mother. “This is a pair of socks,” I said. “Wait, Mom! Let me finish. The blue sock is so dark that it looks black and the black sock looks like it has a little blue in it.”

My mother exploded! “I told you to stay out of our arguments,” she yelled at me. Just then, she saw two girls from our parish walking to mass. She called them over to our front porch. “Is this a pair of socks?” she asked them. They both shook their heads. “See?” my mother said to my father and me. “One sock is blue and the other is black,” one of the girls said. The other girl nodded in agreement. However, the girls couldn’t agree on which sock was the blue sock and which one was the black one, which infuriated my mother.

Well, we eventually went to church that Sunday, albeit, a little late. And my father wore brown socks.

If you love me, why don't you argue with me?

Enrico Mordini


Enrico Mordini with Jerry Rodríguez at Divine Heart Seminary

Years ago, I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana. I recently went to a DHS reunion where my classmates and I remembered our Spanish teacher Enrico Mordini. Señor Mordini was the Spanish teacher who taught me a lot about being Mexican even though he was an Italian born in Italy and raised in Spain. He taught me that there is more than one way to speak Spanish. I never realized there were so many dialects. I was originally in his Spanish I class, but he moved me up to Spanish II because I knew some Spanish. I had always wanted to learn Spanish formally so that I could read and write it. As an aside, when I attended Holy Cross Grade School, since the Lithuanian school didn’t offer Spanish classes, I asked if I could go to Saturday morning classes to study Lithuanian. I was told, “First, you have to learn English.”

Once I started classes with Señor Mordini, I questioned whether I even knew Spanish. He said some words so differently from my mother that it took me some time to recognize them. For example, “to drink” to my mother and me was “tomar” and to Señor Mordini it was “beber.” I had never even heard the word “beber” before! When my mother said “good” in Spanish, she would not say it the same way as Señor Mordini’s “bueno,” but rather, she would say, “güeno” instead. The Spanish word for needle was “aúja” to my mother and me, but to Señor Mordini, it was “aguja.” Our word wasn’t even in the dictionary without the letter g. When I informed my mother of these differences, she said that’s because Señor Mordini spoke “castellano” and not “español.” When I told Señor Mordini what my mother had said, he said that “castellano” and “español” were synonyms for the Spanish language. My mother never really believed him! After all, he wasn’t Mexican. In fact, he wasn’t even Spanish either. He was Italian!

Once while discussing Mexican culture in class, I said that I knew all Mexicans were a mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood. I was shocked when he said that was only partially true because not everyone, in fact, not many people were purely of Spanish and Aztec ancestry. I insisted that I was right. Even my father had told me so. Even after several convincing arguments by Señor Mordini that there were people in Mexico of pure, unmixed Spanish blood , I still didn’t believe him. When I reported this to my mother, she said that not all Mexicans were only of Spanish and Aztec ancestry. In fact, her grandfather had been Irish! “What?” I was so shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked my mother. She just nonchalantly said, “I didn’t think it was important.” Suddenly, I was sixteen and learning for the first time that I had more than just Spanish and Aztec blood coursing through my veins. In fact, I might not even have Spanish or Aztec blood coursing through my veins. I was in shock! It took me years to adjust to this new discovery about my ancestry. Was this a possible explanation for why my best friend in the Catholic Lithuanian grade school was Patrick McDonald from Ireland? But the fact remained that Señor Mordini was right again!

Years later, when I applied to teach Spanish at a community college, I was hoping against hope to get the position because I saw in the school catalogue that Señor Mordini was on the faculty! But such was not my luck. Señor Mordini died that year and I didn’t get the position! I suffered two severe blows at once. But I was lucky enough to have met Señor Mordini when I did. He certainly made more aware of myself and made me a much better person.

La clase del señor Mordini


Above: This was the Spanish classroom at Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana, in the 1970s. This is one of the many schools where Señor Enrico Mordini taught. As an aside, Señor Mordini had a good sense of humor and got along well with the students. Once my classmates talked me into hiding in the fire escape, which was a giant slide in a huge metal tube on the right in the picture but out of view, and Señor Mordini humored us by looking for me wherever my classmates suggested: under his desk, under the student desks, behind the bulletin board, etc. 🙂

¡Buenos días! Me llamo Señor Mordini y yo hablo español y castellano.