Ken Burns and the Latino protest

My Uncle Joseph Rodriguez's name is in the middle of this picture of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

There is no doubt that Ken Burns makes some fine documentaries. That would explain why there was a protest for the inclusion of Latinos. Well, the impact of the protests affected the content of the final version of “The War” by Ken Burns and now Latinos are mentioned in the documentary.

I don’t often think about Mexicans in war except in the Mexican Revolution or Vietnam. The Mexican Revolution is part of the Mexican psyche even for those who were too young to recall it. I always recall Vietnam because I met some of these veterans when they returned from Vietnam. My Uncle Joseph died in Vietnam in 1968 and I remember going to his funeral thinking that I would someday have to go to Vietnam, too. Well, all this reminded me of my father-in-law Louis L. Chávez when he lived with us while I was still married. He was proud that his grandfather had been a general in President Porfirio Díaz’s army. However, when the Mexican Revolution began, his grandfather and family escaped to Chicago where they had family. Louis had his grandfather’s commission papers for general signed by Porfirio Díaz himself. Well, during WWII, Louis enlisted in the army was immediately shipped to Europe where he was an MP in a prisoner of war camp. One day, one of the German prisoners, was saying something in German to Louis, which he didn’t understand. Finally, the German prisoner spoke to Louis in Spanish because the prisoner thought he looked Mexican. So Louis carried a short conversation with this prisoner in Spanish. It turns out that the German prisoner was living in Argentina, but was drafted by Hitler. The German prisoner referred to the Fuhrer as “ese maldito Hitler” [“that damn Hitler”].

Well, there were plenty of Mexicans in WWII, but not many people know about them, so Ken Burns should at least make a passing mention of them.


Maxwell Street

I'll have the Polish sausage with mustard, onions, and extra cholesterol!

Last night, I watched The Blues Brothers movie again, mainly to show my sons a classic movie about Chicago. I first saw it 1980 when I was in the Marines. I saw the 25th anniversary edition DVD at my local library and I borrowed it since I always talk about classic movies with my sons. This is an age of reproductions and sometimes my sons will quote something from a song, a TV show, or a movie they have seen without knowing the source of the imitation, parody, or spoof. So whenever possible, I try to educate my sons by pointing out the original source. Perhaps the most famous scene from The Blues Brothers movie is the one that I’ve seen in many contexts and that is the scene where Jake and Elwood Blues go to the Triple Rock Baptist Church and find God. You know the scene where Jake back flips up and down the aisle. I once saw this scene with my sons at a movie theater during the previews. My sons had seen the scene before, too, but they had never seen the whole movie.

I liked the scene at Maxwell Street because I still remember going to Maxwell Street as a boy with my father and uncles when we lived in Pilsen. When we went to St. Francis of Assisi Church on Roosevelt and Halsted, we were right around the corner from Maxwell Street. Sometimes we went to Maxwell Street after mass. My father always went to Preskill’s hardware store where my father could look at tools for hours. I always remember the little shacks that were built in the middle of the street to sell food such as red hots (hot dogs), Polish sausages, and other appetizing greasy foods, but we never ate there.

When I was old enough to drive, I often returned to Maxwell Street, against my mother’s wishes. This was a great place to buy nice clothing cheap. And tailors would alter it for a perfect fit. It was then that I was finally attracted to fine cuisine that Maxwell Street had to offer. Yes, I’m talking about those Polish sausages and pork chop sandwiches, way before they started serving them with French fries. Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage was right on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. That was my favorite eating establishment. Sometimes I would stop there on the way home from the comedy clubs because they never closed. I mean never! Not even Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Where else could I buy a Polish sausage and pork chop sandwich at any hour of the day, any day of the year? Sometimes I would drive by just to smell the all the Polish sausages, pork chops, and onions piled high on the ever-grilling grill that was the equivalent of Maxwell Street’s eternal flame. I would always meet interesting people there, too. I once saw a limo pull up and the passenger got out to buy a Polish sausage and then got back into the backseat of the limo and then it drove off. I’ve often wondered about the true story of that purchase. How cool would it be to go to Maxwell Street in limo?

When I became a Chicago police officer, if I drove past Maxwell Street, I just had to stop for a Polish sausage and a pork chop sandwich. No matter what district I worked, I somehow found myself going by Maxwell Street on the way back from the Cook County Jail, the Cook County Hospital, or the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Of course, I would stop at Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and partake of their fine cuisine.

Follow your nose to Jim's Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage!

Gold Cup


Last Sunday, I watched the Gold Cup soccer / fútbol match between the U.S. and Mexico. Okay, I have to admit that my allegiance was divided. Not only could I not decide which team to root for, Mexico or USA, but I was also switching channels so I could watch the White Sox play the Cubs. Talk about mental anguish! No matter which team won, USA or Mexico, I would feel some sort of disappointment. On the other hand, I wanted the White Sox to win since I am a south sider. The Cubs won. 😦  Sniff!

Well, team USA won, much to the disappointment of the Mexico fans who outnumbered the USA fans at Soldier Field. Almost three million households tuned in to watch the game. However, it was broadcast only on Univision, a Spanish-language station. Not enough Americans were interested in watching a soccer game. Ironically, a female announcer interviewed a flagged-draped American from the winning team and he spoke to the announcer in fluent Spanish! Doesn’t this send mixed signals to the general public about American culture? How do we deal with the English only issue when Americans are speaking languages other than English? At least we beat someone at their own game, that is, a non-American sport.

This reminds me of the immigration debate now before President Bush, the senate, and congress. No matter how many amendments are added to the bill, someone is disappointed, particularly the illegal immigrants who seek amnesty. There are too many issues to satisfy everyone. The immigration issue will not soon be resolved.

My mother the coyote

Immigration issues seem to surpass the Iraq war criticism on some days. Of course, I have always thought about immigration, legal or otherwise, since I was little. I was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, so I am an American citizen by birth. However, I have known legal and illegal immigrants from many countries who have settled in Chicago. As long as they assimilated to the American way, no one gave them any trouble.

My mother once brought her sister and her family to Chicago illegally and my mother didn’t think she did anything wrong because she was helping her sister improve her lot in life. Back in 1980 when I was still in the Marine Corps, my mother drove her van down to Mexico, picked up her sister and her children, and drove them to the Mexico-Texas border where my mother dropped them off. My mother, a legal U.S. citizen, then drove through customs into the U.S. and went to the Rio Grande where she picked up her sister and her children after they had waded across the river. It was that easy! They then drove to Chicago without a problem. When I came home from the Marines on leave, my aunt and cousins were temporarily living with my mother. “Good morning!” they greeted me with a heavy Mexican accent. They wanted to learn English immediately. Eventually, they adapted to American life quite well.

Everyone seemed alarmed after all the immigration marches last year when they realized that there are approximately 12 million illegal aliens, most them Mexican. No one should be surprised since it’s so easy to enter the U.S. illegally. Most of our borders are unprotected. Anyone who really wants to enter the U.S. will find a way; some ways are easier than others. And the federal government never really tried to prevent everyone from entering illegally in the first place. Occasionally, the feds conduct cursory raids of a few factories to round up a few hundred, out of 12 million, illegal aliens and deport them. The government turns a blind eye to this illegal immigration because factories, farms, and businesses need employees. Sometimes only illegal aliens are willing to take those jobs, regardless of the complaints that they’re taking away jobs from Americans. These jobs were vacant until filled by illegal immigrants who really wanted to work regardless of the substandard wages and working conditions, at least by American standards.

The immigration issue will not be easily resolved until the immigration laws already in effect are strictly enforced. Until then, we shall see politics as usual with no true immigration reform.

¡Hola! I'm back from Mexico

Ask Marilyn

From the Chicago Tribune Parade Magazine.

I have always been different from everyone else around me. Even as a boy, when my friends were gaga over the bikini-clad girls, I was always attracted to the librarian-type, glasses- wearing, bookworm type of girl. I don’t know why, but I have always fallen for the intelligent girl. In grade school, I had a crush on the smartest girl in the class, who, incidentally, was also the smartest student in the class. In high school, during study hall, we had the option to go to the library instead. I spent every study period in the library reading books of all sorts, instead of doing my homework or studying for my classes. The school librarian took a liking to me and invited me to Springfield, Illinois, for the Future Librarians of America Club field trip. I only went because I knew that I could then spend more time talking to the student librarian who was also in my Physics class. I had a really big crush on her, so I went on this librarian field trip.

Anyway, my latest crush is on Marilyn vos Savant who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame for “Highest IQ.” I read her Ask Marilyn column religiously and I’m always amazed by how well she answers her mail with a wry sense of humor. I’ve been meaning to e-mail Marilyn, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten around to it. Nevertheless, when I finish up my to-do list, I have a few questions that I would like to Ask Marilyn.

  1. Did Microsoft make Solitaire more difficult to win so that employees become more productive?
  2. When you turn on a light, does the light bulb gain weight?
  3. If your car travels at the speed of light and you turn on the headlights, does anything happen?

Nonetheless, these are easy questions for Marilyn since she is so intelligent anyway. Therefore, I’m sure she could answer some of my more deeply profound and philosophical questions. I have quite a few of those questions. Below are a few examples of some of my more ontological question and is not intended as a comprehensive list.

  1. Why do my sons stop listening to their favorite rock band when they realize that I like their music, too?
  2. If the Chicago White Sox board the Red Line from the Southside at the same time that the Chicago Cubs board it on the north side, who arrives at the World Series first?
  3. Why do I only receive important phone calls when I am sitting on the toilet suffering from the runs?

If Marilyn answers these questions, I will never doubt her intelligence (not that I ever did in the first place). I have always meant to e-mail these questions to her, but I’m sure she’s too busy to answer me personally. So here they are for my loyal readers to ponder.

High on LSD

This sign is not on Lake Shore Drive.

As long as I now have your attention, I would like to inform you that, yes, indeed, I am still high from my drive this morning on Lake Shore Drive. That’s LSD as in the acronym for Lake Shore Drive and not the hallucinogenic drug (for those of you who are actually high on LSD).

I have always loved cruising on LSD! I mean, Lake Shore Drive. I love it! LSD begins/ends at Hollywood on the north end; I’m not sure where it begins/ends on the south end because every time I passed the Museum of Science and Industry, I would mysteriously find myself NOT on LSD.

There is something very relaxing about driving on Chicago’s lakefront on beautiful, sunny day. I have so many fond memories to my earliest driving days of speeding on LSD in my buccaneer red 1975 Pontiac Firebird in 1975 when I was only 18. Whenever I felt depressed, or extremely happy for that matter, I would cruise up one end of LSD and then back to the other, for no practical reason other than it was FUN! You see, I loved driving my car! Despite all the usual problems of an eighteen year old, I drove a brand new Firebird that I bought all by myself!

Every time I drove on LSD, I played special driving songs on my car 8-Track player: “I’m in Love with my Car” by Queen, “Ventura Highway” by America, “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, “AutoBahn” by Kraftwerk, and of course, “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah. LSD was so soothing since I was under so much stress at the time. I was unhappy at home, I worked full-time on the midnight shift at the Derby Foods peanut butter factory while I was still in high school. Driving was a nice emotional release from all my problems.

So this morning as I’m driving on LSD, I had this incredible flashback to the days of my youth when I was to know what it meant to be a man. Oops, I just quoted Led Zeppelin, another favorite of mine. I kind of miss my 8-track player now.