In Spanish, the official name of Mexico is los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. The Mexican coat of arms consists of an eagle holding a snake in its talon and eating it on a cactus growing out of a rock that is in the middle of a lake. Huitzilopochti, the Aztec god of war, told the Aztecs to build a new city where they found a snake eating a snake on cactus. Unfortunately, when they saw the eagle eating the snake on a cactus, the eagle was in the middle of a lake. But the Aztecs obeyed the order to the letter and built Tenochtitlan in the middle of the lake. To this day, Mexicans still manage to live in the most difficult of places. And cactus is a common Mexican food. I have yet to eat snake.
The Mexican coat of arms is in the white stripe of the flag. The green stripe respresents Hope, the white stripe Union, and the red stripe the Blood of Heroes. In México, I saw the Mexican flag flying over many government buildings and on the uniforms of government officials. Other than for official government uses, the Mexican flag cannot be displayed without a special government permit. I remember there was some controversy a couple of years ago when Paulina Rubio posed nude wearing nothing but the Mexican flag. She was fined because she didn’t have a permit!
In the U.S.A., I see the Mexican flag everywhere! People fly it on their homes. I see it on t-shirts everywhere. People fly it on their cars. Of course, these flags are not in México or someone would be in really big trouble. But Mexicans are very proud of their flag. Most Mexicans have a Mexican flag somewhere in their home.
The first place I ever lived in Chicago was Pilsen. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a native Chicagoan. I have always regretted not being born in Chicago because I love Chicago so much. Yes, I’m not happy to admit that I’m a foreigner. I was born in Perth Amboy New Jersey. We moved to Chicago when I was about one and a half. We moved into my grandparents’ house at 977 W. 19th Street. We lived in the second floor rear apartment that didn’t have its own bathroom. There was no back door either. There were wooden stairs leading downstairs to the backyard from our rear window. I’m sure this didn’t meet the Chicago building codes, but it was very practical. My brother Danny and I always went down the back stairs to play in the yard. We lived there until we moved to Back of the Yards shortly before I started the kindergarten at Holy Cross.
I still drive through Pilsen when I go to UIC because it’s an interesting neighborhood. I’ve been taking pictures of the neighborhood for years now. Every time I take a different route I find something I have never seen before, like the mural in the picture above. I’ve driven on 16th many times, but I only recently noticed this mural of the Aztec calendar. I know this mural has been there for at least twenty years. Parts of it are slowly fading away into obscurity. I plan on walking through Pilsen and taking more pictures.
When I recall that I learned to drive from my father, I consider myself very lucky to still be alive. I took driver’s ed at Divine Heart Seminary, but I only got to drive the minimum required hours. My father loved teaching everyone how to drive. The only one who ever refused to take lessons from him was my mother. She didn’t like him telling her what to do. Especially, since she knew his every bad–and dangerous–bad driving habits. My father had some very dangerous driving habits that he tried to teach everyone he taught. Including me! Since I was only sixteen, I had to follow his instructions carefully or risk never driving again. I had a permit and I wanted to drive!
I was a very poor driver in driver’s ed. The first car I drove was a 1971 Pontiac Firebird with a manual transmission. We were all excited about driving a sports car! I stalled the engine every time I drove. The instructor told me I would be fine once we started driving the Chevy Caprice with an automatic transmission. Everyone was happy about the automatic transmission because the engine stalling stopped. Until I got behind the wheel. Somehow, I still managed to stall the engine! But that was the least of my worries. I didn’t know how to yield at yield signs, and from years of watching my father drive, I didn’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. I thought stopping was optional. My father never came to a complete stop at a stop sign. Now that I think of it, he never completely stopped at red lights either! Whenever the light turned red, he would slowly stop a couple car lengths from the intersection and slowly creep forward until the light turned green.
I was surprised that my father wanted me to drive his brand new lime green 1971 Ford Maverick. He was so proud that he was teaching his oldest son how to drive! I was even more surprised at some of the driving maneuvers de demanded of me! For example, he would tell me to take short cuts through alleys. When I came out of the other end, he wanted me to lay on the horn in case any car or pedestrian was at the mouth of the alley. He taught me about lane position when making right turns. If you make a right turn, my father told me, you have to get in the right lane. Then, when you get close to the intersection, you swing out wide to the left before you turn! I almost crashed the very first time I tried my father’s technique. My father always made his right turns like this. I’m surprised he didn’t have more accidents.
He also told me to use a turn signal when changing lanes. But sometimes, it was better not to let the other drivers know your intentions. I’m not sure why. I never really understood his explanation. If you got to and intersection without any traffic controls and the other driver signalled you to proceed before him, my father told me to never go. He just wanted to crash into you. To this day, I always give the other driver the right of way.
My father always had trouble staying in his lane. On the expressway, in the right lane, he would exit on the right if he didn’t focus on staying in his lane. Before I started driving, I thought staying in your lane was probably the most difficult driving feat possible. My father would make everyone be quiet whenever we approached exit ramps. In the picture of my father’s station wagon, you can see the result of his not staying in his lane. he was driving northbound on Damen Avenue at 47th Street. That was the site of the infamous Damen overpass in Back of the Yards. The left two lanes took you over the overpass. However, the right lane allowed drivers to veer right and avoid going on the overpass. Well, my father was in the right lane when the exit lane pulled him to the right. Unfortunately, he crashed into the concrete barrier dividing the lanes despite the flashing yellow warning light and warning sign. Luckily, he was alone while driving.
He parked for about ten minutes to calm down from the trauma before he came home. I was the first one to see him and his fender damage. I was sorry I asked him what had happened. It took him about five minutes to explain this two-second traffic crash. Then, he told me to get in the car and he took me back to the scene of the accident. He did a reenactment of the accident. I was riding shotgun, not wearing a seatbelt because back then no one wore seatbelts because most cars didn’t have seatbelts. As he was showing me his path before the accident, he almost crashed into the concrete barrier again! That really shook him up and he had to pull over for a few minutes to calm down before we could drive home.I still have some of the driving habits that my father instilled in me. And that’s why I say that I’m lucky to be alive!
Well, I have to admit that I am a news junkie. I try to keep up with most current events, but with my busy schedule, sometimes it is difficult. I used to keep up with the news when I was a newspaper delivery boy and I would read the newspapers as I delivered them. Then I stopped following the news in the 1980s when I returned to Chicago from the Marines. That is, until one day, I went grocery shopping and I tried to buy a gallon of milk, but the grocery store refrigerators were empty. Apparently, there was a salmonella outbreak that contaminated bottled milk and I didn’t know about it because I didn’t keep up with the local news. Many people became sick from the salmonella because the grocery stores kept stocking the milk and people who didn’t watch or listen to the news didn’t know about the salmonella outbreak and bought the milk anyway. Well, that really scared me into keeping up with the news. I didn’t want to die needlessly if watching the news could perhaps save my life. Not that I ever feared death, but why die stupidly?
However, when I watch the news now, I always think that everything will affect me personally. If I see or read a news story, I think it will affect someone I know in that area. So while I watched the news about the fire at 3034 S. 48th Court in Cicero, Illinois, I immediately thought about my aunt Concepción Rodríguez Molina and her son Peter Molina, my cousin. Normally, news stories do not involve anyone I know. But this time was different. My aunt and cousin lived next door to the house that started on fire and killed seven people. She smelled smoke and so they both ran out of their house grabbing only a laptop. They are lucky to be alive! The village of Cicero temporarily put them up in a motel, but they’ll have to find a new place very, very soon. I will help them out in any way I can. But I still can’t believe this happened to someone I knew!
You may read the article in Spanish from Hoy online by clicking here.
I was never good enough to play on my high school basketball team. I never even played any sport in any kind of league. That may have been due to a lack of opportunity, but I might not have been good enough anyway. Now, as a father of three sons, I play sports vicariously through my sons. I have always encouraged them to try out for every team sport at their school. I enjoy watching them play because they enjoy playing sports so much. They have played little league baseball and basketball and football for their teams at Most Holy Redeemer School.
One of the main reasons that I encourage them to play team sports is that if they didn’t, they would be playing video games in their free time. This way they get some exercise while they’re having fun. Their basketball team usually loses most games. I don’t really mind because they’re getting plenty of exercises whether or not they win. They enjoy playing despite losing. I always tell them that we’ll play more basketball over the summer vacation so they get some practice in. But they never want to. Perhaps that’s why they lose so many games. In fact, whenever I drive around in the summer, I see kids playing basketball in the driveway all over the south side and the neighboring suburbs. In Evergreen Park where my sons live, no one plays basketball in the driveway during the summer! They must all be inside playing video games. Well, that explains why the other teams are so much better.
When I was a boy, we played sports, too, but not as part of any organized league. We literally played baseball all year-round. It’s a great feeling to slide into second base with snow on the ground! In the winter, I loved playing ice hockey. I was a fearless goalie! I was usually picked first or second. We played basketball, but my friends were so lazy! Even when we had five players per team, they stilled wanted to play half court so they wouldn’t have to run as much. Yet they claimed to be great athletes!
My father always want to play soccer with us whenever we went on a picnic or paseo. Actually, he called it fútbol. None of my friends played soccer, so I never wanted to play soccer with my father. Sometimes we would play basketball together, but I didn’t know the rules very well the first time we played. I didn’t know that once you stopped dribbling, you couldn’t dribble again. I would dribble. Stop dribbling. Start dribbling again. In fact, I would do it several times. My father told me that was double dribble. I didn’t believe him because I didn’t know the rules. I remember telling him, “We’re not playing by Mexican rules. Let’s play the American way.” “That is the American way!” he told me. But I didn’t believe him until I asked some of my friends who confirmed that my father was, in fact, right. Imagine that! I was stunned.
Sometimes when I watch my sons play basketball, I remember how I played sports as a boy. I remember how fun my friends and I had playing sports even though we didn’t play in any leagues. I feel as I made up for that by watching my sons play.
I want to tell you about an incident that happened at my old house at 8029 S. Troy Street about eight years ago. My air conditioner wasn’t cooling off my house like it was supposed to, so I needed to have the air conditioner cleaned and the freon recharged, or whatever it is they do to make air conditioners blow cold air again. I don’t remember the exact name of the company I called to service my air conditioner, but it was one of those typically generic sounding names. Something like 24 Hours Heating Cooling. There are many businesses in Chicago with similar sounding names. So I called them and they offered to come to my house withing two days. So a young man comes to my house with all his air conditioner servicing tools. I was surprised when he asked to use my garden hose to clean my air conditioner coil in the backyard. I’m thinking, okay, I’m paying big bucks to have my air conditioner serviced and I have to provide my garden hose and water? I realized afterward that this was something I could do myself and save myself some money. However, he did have to add freon to the system, which I couldn’t have done all by myself.
Anyway, as I was watching so I could learn to do as many of these things as possible myself before I called for service the next time, he started talking to me in Spanish. “He’s talking to me in Spanish!” I thought to myself. Now why would he speak Spanish to me? Well, he had to know my name was David Rodríguez from the service order and so it was logical for him to strike up a conversation with me. But, what I’m getting at is, this guy is speaking Spanish! He doesn’t even look Mexican! He has green eyes, light brown hair, and a light complexion. We converse for about a minute in Spanish. I must have a very surprised look on my face the whole time because he finally tells me, “You’re probably wondering why I speak Spanish.” As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I was wondering! But I didn’t care to admit it. Then he says, “Guess my nationality!” I knew better than to guess since I knew I would definitely guess wrong, although I was beginning to think that perhaps he was Irish. When I didn’t venture a guess, he told me to look at his baseball cap for a clue. There was a scorpion on it. If you ever see a scorpion on a baseball cap or a car, that could only mean one thing. Durango.
He told me he was born and raised in México. He must have been reading my mind because he was answering every question I thought of. He said that he didn’t look Mexican because he was from Durango. He said that no one in Durango looked Mexican. I guess I thrown off because he didn’t look Mexican and by the fact that he spoke perfect English. Well, that was an educating experience that was not wasted on me!
This morning I was driving to UIC when I saw this minivan stopped in front of me at a red light. The license plate read IVAN 925. And there were two scorpion decals on the back windows. I immediately knew the driver was a Mexican from Durango, o sea, un duranguense. I just had to take a picture of his van and license plate. And just verify that he truly was a duranguense, I drove up alongside and saw that he did not look Mexican at all!
Long ago, my brother Jerry had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia for a pet. “Why did you name her Petunia?” I asked him. Well, what is Porky the Pig’s girlfriends name? Petunia! And so in a moment of sheer brilliance my brother had a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia. He was always proud of his naming abilities thereafter.
Petunia had quite a personality. She attracted people from all over the neighborhood since no one else had a pig for a pet. They would drive by just to see Petunia in the yard. One day, Petunia escaped from my brother’s yard and within hours someone had returned her home. Everyone knew where she lived. Petunia was very friendly, especially if you were eating. She would butt her head against your leg until you gave her something eat.
I used to visit my brother quite often, so I used to see a lot of Petunia. I liked her, but not in the same way I would have liked a dog. When I moved next door to my brother I got to see way too much of Petunia, but I was sorry to see my brother move away. But not just because I would miss Petunia!
Once, when he moved to his new house, Jerry left a case of beer on the rear deck and Petunia managed to puncture through the cans with her teeth. She drank the whole case of beer! She staggered around the backyard until she fell over and passed out. There were empty beer cans all over the deck.
I think my brother loved that pig more than any pet he ever had, including our dog Duke. Some days, he paid more attention to Petunia than any one else in his family. Once when I was at Jerry’s house, I noticed that Petunia’s toenails were painted red. Jerry had painted her toenails and his wife Rita wasn’t too happy about it. She said, “He never painted my toenails!”
I’ve mentioned this before, but burritos are not a traditional Mexican food. My abuelita never made even one burrito in her entire ninety years on the face of this earth. Not even my mother made burritos. My father didn’t make burritos either and he used to cook up some weird combinations of ingredients that no one in our family ever ate even though he said it was delicious. Only my father would eat his concoctions, which were only made palatable by adding profuse amounts of salsa and/or jalapeño peppers. And sometimes even he didn’t finish the entire serving. Despite his creativity, he never neared anything resembling a burrito. I guess because no one had invented giant tortillas back then.
Flash forward to the present. Somehow, mysteriously, burritos became American fast food. Yes, I’ve been known to eat a burrito or two on the go. Unlike traditional Mexican food that must be eaten sitting a table–picture yourself eating tostadas with all the trimmings on top–the burrito is the perfect driving food! It is one of the staple foods of American youth today. Including my oldest son. I think my son loves burritos almost as much as me. I think I once saved his life by throwing away a three-week-old burrito he had in the refrigerator. So, last week, he says we should go out to eat together. You know, so we can catch up on things, which usually means we hurry up and eat and then pull out our smart phones and ignore each other. However, we really do enjoy our time together.
Anyway, we ate a place called El Famous Burrito¡ with the exclamation point upside down at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning! We were in a hurry and there was parking out in front, at Madison and Peoria. The most eye-opening revelation of our whole fine dining experience was learning that burritos could come in different sizes! They were offered in large, medium, and mini. But the mini burrito looked more like an egg roll! When I used to eat burritos before my son was born, they only came in one size. Large! I would usually eat one burrito along with three tostadas. Now, I don’t always finish a burrito. So I ordered a medium. Well, the medium was just right for me. Although back in my younger days, I’m sure I would have ordered something else. But these burritos passed the most important taste test of all. They tasted Mexican!
Well, I was watching the ABC World News the other night when the announcer told me not to go away because the next segment would feature the latest space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble space telescope. Of course, I continued watching because I have always been fascinated by space stories and not because I was merely obeying the announcer’s order to stay tuned. So they talked about how the astronauts trained for the mission and how they picked different foods over the course of a year. The astronauts got to choose foods they liked, but the foods had to be practical. I was extremely surprised that one food to make the trip to outer space was the tortilla, which the astronauts really liked. And it was practical because it didn’t leave many crumbs and they take up less space than bread. I really didn’t think the NASA would be all that concerned about space since they can fit the Hubble space telescope, the size of a school bus, in the cargo bay. Bread wouldn’t take up that much space. Besides, they were going to outer space that extends to infinity. Or even further. But tortillas beat out the bread anyway. Knowing the average intelligence of the average American, I would be surprised if any Americans even know that tortillas are the staple food of México.
When I was in Mexico, my cousin Mara invited me to go with her to her health club. I really didn’t expect to go to Mexico to workout, so I didn’t have any workout clothes with me. Mara said that I could just wear some casual clothes. So off we went to the health club. Well, I didn’t expect them to let me right in, but I didn’t expect them to ask me a bunch of personal questions regarding my health. I had to jump through some bureaucratic hoops. I had to answer questions to a woman who entered all my answers into a computer. Amazingly, the process only took a few minutes. Just when I thought she was done and I would enter the health club with Mara, the woman told me I would have to take a physical. And they just happened to have a physician in the building. Well, the doctor himself took my vital signs. I was surprised he didn’t have a nurse in the office the way they have in Chicago. He spoke Spanish with a foreign accent, so Mara asked him where he was from and he said Haiti. When he examined me, he told me that I should lose some weight, despite the fact that he had a similar build as mine. And he told me to eat healthier, but he said he said I was healthy enough to work out. I worked out, wondering the whole time if I was actually healthy enough to work out. Of course, I was curious because I had not seen a doctor in the last ten years. But of course I was healthy enough not to keel over or the doctor wouldn’t have let me in the health club. The doctor was there to prevent civil lawsuits. So I pushed myself as hard as possible at the health club. And, as you can see, I lived to tell the tale.