My Mexican sons

These are my Mexican sons! Are they Mexican enough for you?

I have confession to make. My sons are Mexican! Why wasn’t aware of this all along? There are some things that I just never think about until someone points them out to me–like the fact that I’m also a great-uncle. I never felt that old until my brother Jerry pointed out that I was now a great-uncle when his grandson was born. I have two younger brothers who are already grandfathers and I’m not. So maybe I’m not that old.

So I was at the birthday party for my grandnephew when my brother Rick, the grandfather of the birthday boy, says to me, “You are the only one in our family who has Mexican sons.” I had never thought about this before, but it’s true. My brother Jerry married an Irish girl, Rick married a Polish girl, and Joe married a German girl. So all their children are only half-Mexican. Yes, I’m the only one with 100% Mexican children. So how did this occur? I’m not sure. I guess just because I love Mexican girls.

I'm Mexican, but I don't speak Spanish!

Mexico City Olympics

Mexico D.F.

After Carlos Mojaro moved back to Mexico, we just didn’t have as much fun as before. Most of the time we just played baseball in the prairie or just sat on somebody’s porch talking about the good old days. Then we saw the Mexico City Olympics on TV, mainly because our parents were so proud of the fact that an international event could take place in Mexico. So all my friends and I watched the Olympics religiously.

I especially liked the track and field events, but I also liked women’s gymnastics. Whenever we talked about the Olympic events we watched, we couldn’t help but act them out. Soon we started up our own Olympics. For the shotput, we through a brick in my backyard. Luckily, we weren’t strong enough to throw it out of the yard. We had competitions in many events. We even made charts with the athlete and team standings and the “world records” that we had achieved. After watching the Olympic marathon, we were amazed that anyone could run 26 miles. However, as we discussed this amazing feat, we realized that when we were very active on those long summer days, we ran quite a lot distance without realizing it. I even suggested that we could probably run a marathon if we tried. There was some dissension amongst us at first. But then we decided to put ourselves to the test.

There were about fifteen of us and we decided that we would run the Mexico City Olympic Marathon. I felt as if Carlos Mojaro was still with us. Well, we didn’t exactly know how a long marathon was, and since our mothers wouldn’t let us cross the street, we decided to run around the block until we competed the marathon or dropped dead like Phidippides. I didn’t know much about running back then, but I did know that we had to pace ourselves to go the distance.

After the opening ceremony, we toed the line and ran at sound of the exploding firecracker. Douglass sprinted from the start and only made it around the block once. The rest of us ran as a pack as we had observed the Olympic marathoners do. I’m not sure how long our Chicago city blocks are, but I believe our block at 4405 South Wood Street was about one-third of a mile when we ran completely around. As we ran around the block we would shout out the lap number as we passed my house. It was getting dark fast. We were actually having fun running around the block in the Mexico City Olympic Marathon.

My mother came out to see what was going on because a crowd had gathered in front of my house. We didn’t actually expect to have any spectators. This was just like the Olympics! By lap ten, a few runners had dropped out of the race. The spectators shouted out the lap numbers with us. About lap twenty, my mother said it was time to go in the house. My friends’s mothers were also waiting for their sons to go home. My mother insisted that I go inside so my brothers would go home, too. I knew if I went in, then the marathon would stop and everyone would go home. I begged my mother, without breaking my stride, to let us keep running a little longer. We ran a few more laps and we were still having fun, but we were also getting tired and starting to feel pain in our legs. When we reached lap 27, my mother said that if I didn’t go in right now, she would beat me: ¡Te voy a dar una paliza! That was just the excuse we needed to save face. There were only six of us left running and we all complained to our mothers about interrupting our marathon. But we all went home, secretly thankful to our mothers for saving us from embarrassment.

However, we always felt great about our running accomplishments. We always talked about how much farther we could have run if weren’t for our mothers stopping us. Of course, we never attempted to run another marathon either.

Carlos Mojaro y la Copa Mundial

Carlos Mojaro was quite a good friend of mine when we were growing up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. I can’t even remember if Mojaro was his actual last name. The trouble with getting older is that I remember things that never even happened. But I’m pretty sure that what I’m about to write now did happen to some extent. Carlos lived two houses away from mine. They lived on the first-floor apartment and Carlos had a little clubhouse in the basement. His father also had a gigantic printing machine in the basement that he was always repairing. Carlos was about a year or two older than me and he had a younger brother Octavio whom we called Tavo. I spent a lot of time at his house because he was so cool.

When Carlos’s father wasn’t repairing his printing machine, he was repairing cars to sell. Once, my father sent me to ask Carlos’s father to borrow one of his cars so my father could go to work. My father had a car that didn’t always start up, so he bought a second used car as a backup. When the second car didn’t start up, my father told me to ask about borrowing their car. Carlos’s father told me to tell my father to ask for the car himself. I had told my father that he should have asked for the car in the first place, but he was too afraid. Finally, my father went and asked to borrow the car. He borrowed the car so often, that Carlos’s father told him that since he drove the car so much, he should just buy it. Eventually, my father did buy the car.

In the summer, I would go with Carlos and his family for ice cream and then we’d go cruising around Chicago. We usually went out after dark, got ice cream, and then drove around aimlessy for a couple of hours. Well, at first I thought it was aimlessly, but then I realized that somehow we always managed to drive by every strip club in Chicago on every ride. His father seemed to know where every strip club in Chicago was. These clubs featured nude female dancers whose shadowy silhouttes were visible against a white sheet in the front window. Of course, his father acted surprised as if he had inadvertantly come across the strip clubs by accident. Carlos’s mother would look at the nude female silhouttes unblinkingly and laugh extremely loud. Somehow, I got the idea that she liked these summer-night cruises just as much as her husband because she never once complained.

Carlos was the most popular boy on the block because was always so creative and energetic. He put on shows in his clubhouse, held raffles, organized clubs, and was just so much fun to be around. He could make everyone laugh. One day, Carlos announced the formation of a new soccer league, but he called it “fútbol” like our fathers did, which caused everyone to resist the idea of joining the league. But Carlos was so charismatic that he talked everone into joining. We would play for the World Cup, actually la Copia Mundial. He even showed the trophy that would be awarded to the winning team: It was merely a plastic coffee cup with one handle. He wrote the words “Copia Mundial” on masking tape and taped them onto the coffee cup. This was his mother’s favorite coffee cup and he didn’t want to ruin it and wanted to be able to return it to her intact just in case she discovered it missing. All the games would be played in his backyard, which was about 25 feet by 25 feet.

We were so full of questions, but he already had answers ready for all of them. He divided all the boys into teams of two, each representing a Spanish-speaking country. He and his brother Tavo would, of course, be Mexico. He made up posters that he hung around the backyard fence. He made charts with brackets of the team schedules. He was so contagiously into this, that soon, we were all into it, too. That is, until we actually started playing the games. You see, Carlos and Tavo were the two best players out of everyone in the league. They had actually played in soccer leagues when they had lived in Mexico. When everyone complained that team Mexico was undefeated and would go on to certain victory, Carlos started the tournament again, this time trying to balance the talent on the teams. Carlos and Tavo were now on separate teams and each was paired with the weakest players in the league. Of course, Carlos and his team Mexico were still undefeated. His teammate was supposed to play goalie and just stay out of Carlos’s way during the game. Carlos would attack and score goals. When the opposing team actually took a shot at Mexico’s goal, Carlos would push the goalie out of the way and block the shot himself. Eventually, Mexico went undefeated and won la Copia Mundial. Even though we knew we had no chance to win, we enjoyed all the excitement of World Cup action because of Carlos.

Then one day, I went to Carlos’s basement and I saw his father putting the printing machine into a wooden crate. Carlos and Tavo were packing there treasured belongings from their clubhouse. His mother was packing their clothes into boxes. The whole family was moving back to Mexico.

This is the World Cup? A plastic coffee cup?

La migra

Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Nothing scares an undocumented Mexican more than the words “la migra.” Immigration agents seem to pop up out of nowhere and roundup illegal aliens at their place of employment. As a warning, someone will shout, “¡la migra!” But sometimes, they mistakenly pickup legal aliens and citizens by mistake. This happens all the time.

When I was about ten, I was in charge of making sure that my brothers and I walked home safely after school while my mother was at work. Most days this was an easy task. However, other days, we would walk our separate ways and meet up at home within a half-hour. We were always home together before my mother returned from work. Usually, we did this when we wanted to walk home with friends from our class, or occasionally, when we were mad at each other and didn’t want to talk to each other. My three brothers and I would form different alliances depending on who was mad at whom. One of the most bitter was the one that pitted the Americans against the Mexicans. There were four of us: David Diego, Daniel, Diego Gerardo, and Dick Martin, in order of birth. Guess which brother was born in Mexico! That’s right, Diego Gerardo was born in Mexico. All because my mother insisted on going to Mexico while she was nine months pregnant even though everyone warned her not to do it. And my father Diego finally had a son named after him.

Anyway, when brother Diego would get mad at us, he would exclude himself from us because we were American and he was Mexican. He would proudly remind us that he was born in Mexico during these arguments. It was after one of these arguments after school that he walked off alone away from us. Well, I started to get worried when he didn’t return home within a half-hour. I went out looking for him, but I couldn’t find him at his usual hangouts.  I knew my mother would be furious when she came home.  Well, she came home and Diego still wasn’t home. She didn’t explode like I had expected, but she made me go with her and look for Diego everywhere. We looked for about an hour and still didn’t find him. We returned home to take a little break. While there, we heard a knock on the door. Two immigration agents were at the door with my brother. They had mistakenly picked him up after school. My mother explained to them that he was a legal resident and showed them the documentation to prove it.

Well, it turns out that the agents drove up alongside Diego and asked him where he was born. Of course, he said, “Mexico!” proudly. They scooped him up into their car and took him into their office for further questioning. Of course, Diego was only about six at the time and he didn’t know his address. When no one called for him at immigration, the agents asked my brother to show them where he lived. That’s when we saw him at home again. Would you believe we never the the Mexican-American wars again? In fact, he never again bragged about being born in Mexico.

Bellyache Day

Celebrating Bellyache Day!

I hope that you have recovered from eating all that rich food yesterday, Thanksgiving Day.

When I was in school, we were also off from school the Friday after Thanksgiving. I wondered what holiday it was and everyone told me it was Bellyache Day. But nowadays this day has been converted to Thanksgiving Part II. On this day everyone goes to see the other family and friends whom they couldn’t visit on Thanksgiving Day. And you know exactly what I mean if several members of your family have have experienced several divorces and remarriages.

While I was married, I would celebrate Thanksgiving Day with my wife, children, and in-laws. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, my wife, children, and I went to the circus at the United Center. I stopped going to the circus last year when my sons suddenly decided they were “too big” for the circus. So much for family traditions.

In 2003, when I moved into my first new house after my divorce, I had to work on Thanksgiving Day. So my girlfriend decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house on the Friday after, her Thanksgiving Part II. However, I was going to the circus with my sons and my father in the morning. She started roasting the turkey at her house and then finished roasting it at mine. Before she came over to my house, she told me that her brother had driven in from Iowa. Yes, there are Mexicans living in Iowa! I was a little worried about how her brother’s family, seven in all, would fit into my little 1100-square-foot house. There were five in my family, three with my girlfriend and her two sons, plus her brother and his family. We would be all scrunched up in my little house!

Imagine my surprise when everyone showed up, plus their in-laws and friends. There were about forty Mexicans occupying only the first floor of my house, or about 700 square feet. I’m sure the Chicago Fire Department would have disapproved. And none of the small children wanted to go upstairs to play because they were afraid to be alone, so everyone was cramped into my tiny living room, my small dining room, and my minimalist kitchen where the women reheated the Thanksgiving leftovers they had brought with them. There were only enough seats for the grandparents, so everyone else had to eat while standing. I couldn’t believe how crowded my house was. So, I called my brother Danny to come over and take a look. But I think he just came because he was hungry. We stood around eating and talking for hours. If you ever go to a party and wonder why the Mexicans don’t sit down, it’s because they’re used to standing at Mexican parties where there are never enough chairs.

My house had never seen so much food while I had lived there. And I was thinking about the wonderful leftovers would nourish me for days to come. I could already imagine myself eating turkey sandwiches, turkey omelets, and turkey tacos. When we said our final good-byes (for about two hours), the women packed up all the leftovers and took them home with them! Sniff! They didn’t even leave one tortilla behind. ¡Ay, Dios mío! They even took the turkey bones home for their dogs!

Día de Acción de Gracias

Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m about to go out to a Thanksgiving dinner. While others are busy preparing for this cornucopious feast by shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, or cooking dinner, I’m, I’m–well, I’m busy writing my blog entry for today. However, I will buy an alcoholic beverage so I don’t arrive empty-handed at the Thanksgiving dinner today. I will also participate in the festivities by attempting to drink most of it. I love Thanksgiving because, well, because of all the food. Oh, yes, and the people with whom I eat and talk.

I always fondly remember my childhood Thanksgiving dinners at my tío Simón and tía Mari’s house. My father had a very large family, so the house was always packed with people, most of whom were related to my aunt and uncle somehow. Some of the others included friends of the family and neighbors past and present. My aunt did most of the cooking herself. She was an excellent cook! And there were never any leftovers!

As soon as people starting coming in, my aunt would start serving the food because there no possible way for everyone to sit down at the same table, at the same time to eat dinner. We had to eat in shifts and you didn’t want miss your turn because all the food would be devoured if you devoted too much time to your Margaritas. My parents in particular loved going to this dinner because this was the time to catch up on all the latest family news. My brothers and I loved going because we got to play with cousins we rarely saw. To this day, I love going to family parties because I always meet someone new who turns out to be related to me in some remote way.

Thanksgiving dinner was a special family occasion, so we had to dress up in our best clothes, something I hated to do because we’d get in trouble if we dirtied or ripped our clothes while playing. One year, my brothers and I actually wore suits and fedoras to the Rodríguez family Thanksgiving dinner. My grandfather had died the previous August and my mother said we had to wear suits to his funeral. So my three brothers and I went to Meyer Brothers on 48th and Ashland Avenue in Back of the Yards where she bought us all matching suits on credit. Since my mother had spent so much money on those suits, she would make us wear them for every special occasion, which eventually included going to Sunday mass.