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.
In Mexico, I was surprised when my cousin handed me a bag of potatoes and a potato peeler. She actually wanted me to peel potatoes! In the past, whenever I went to Mexico, I was never allowed in the kitchen while the women cooked. So I sat down at the kitchen table and actually peeled potatoes while my cousin and my aunt prepared the New Year’s Eve dinner. Amazingly, there were two other males in the kitchen helping with the cooking. Mexico is changing. I remember when I was a boy and my mother and aunts were making tamales, I got kicked out of the kitchen while they were preparing the tamales. Once my mother made tortillas and she let me roll one tortilla, but then she kicked me out of the kitchen. My abuelita never even let me try to cook anything when she lived with us in Chicago. Now that I think back, most Mexicanas always tried to discourage me from helping in the kitchen. But I think that it’s a conspiracy. Because then when you meet American girls, one of the first things they ask is, “What can you cook?” And if you ever go to their place for dinner, they test your culinary talents by making you help with the dinner. They’ll let you cook the entire meal if you’re able. But if you’re like me and grew up in a traditional Mexican family, you won’t be able to do much more than warm up tortillas! And they’ll settle for you washing the lettuce.
Whenever I go to México City, I’m always certain to visit mi tía Jovita. I believe she was my mother’s favorite sister. And tía Jovita has always paid me a lot of attention whenever I’m in México. I know I can go to her house anytime and I’ll be welcome there. The earliest I can remember visiting her is 1965 when we spent about two months in México from December to February. My mother had told the nuns at Holy Cross School that we were going to México for two months and the nuns told mother that if my brothers and I missed that much school we would all fail to be promoted to the next grade. My mother didn’t take the nuns seriously and we stayed in Mexico for two whole months and didn’t come back until the end of February. And guess what! My mother bragged that the nuns didn’t fail all of us! They only failed to promote me! Danny and Tato were promoted, but I wasn’t. Well, two out of three ain’t bad! I had to repeat the fourth grade, but my mother viewed this as a victory against the Holy Cross nuns. I, however, was distraught about being considered a retard! Kids were cruel like that back then. Now, I look back and think of it as 4th Grade 2.0.
Anyway, when we first went to tía Jovita’s house it only had one floor. The house is built on the side of a steep mountain slope. At the top, stood a little brick building that served as the bathroom. It’s now a two-room house where my cousin Mauricio lives with his daughter and her daughter. But when I first went there, it was a very small house with all of tía Jovita’s children living there. She eventually had ten children and her grandchildren would often be there, too. There were always a lot of children there because her brother-in-law lived right next door and there was a door that opened to my tía Jovita’s back yard. I remember my cousins would call their cousins primo or prima I would also call them cousin. But they would tell me that they weren’t my cousins. They were just their cousins. And they were right. But as a nine year old, I just didn’t get it. Now that I think of it, I’m still confused by our family tree.
I went there in 1978 and it still had only one floor. And then I stopped going to Mexico for about twenty-nine years. But I got to see the house, because every time my sister Delia went she brought back pictures of the house. Well, not exactly pictures of the house, but rather pictures of the family. I couldn’t help but notice the house in the background in these pictures. One time, I told my sister, “Wow, tía Jovita now has a second floor!” When I returned last December, I saw that she now had a third floor. When I left, I asked her to build a fourth floor so I could move in.
So, tía Jovita has a son living on the second floor with his two daughters, a daughter living on the third floor with her husband, son and two daughters. And another son living in the little house at the top with his daughter and granddaughter. An NO ONE pays any rent to tía Jovita! Even in México, this just isn’t right! But she doesn’t say anything. She is just such a nice woman.
Thanksgiving Day was a reunion of sorts for the Rodriguez family in Chicago. I really enjoyed getting together with my family as much as possible. As usually happens, this reunion was a last-minute get together that turned out better than if someone would have planned it for weeks.
I really had no plans for Thanksgiving Day since my sons would spend the day with their mother and her family. When we were married, many relatives came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. But now, I never know what I’ll do for Thanksgiving until the last minute. I’m not really very good at planning too far in advance. Anyway, our family started the day with a memorial mass for three relatives who had died in the last six weeks: My cousin Shirley, my Aunt Marcela, and my Uncle Meño’s mother-in-law.
My Uncle Placido was coming in from Lubbock, Texas, where he is the bishop of the archdiocese and he would say mass for us. We all agreed to meet at St. John Fisher Church for the 9:00 am mass and then go our separate ways because everyone, presumably, already had Thanksgiving Day plans. Well, we stayed in the back of the church talking awhile and then we started taking pictures. Lately, we can’t take enough pictures of each other. I took extra pictures on my iPhone so I could add everyone to my directory, even though I had no immediate plans to call anyone.
Then, my brother Jerry suggested we go back to his house for coffee for an hour or two, but then we’d have to go because his wife was having dinner for her family in the afternoon and it was the first Thanksgiving without her father because he had died earlier this year. Whoever was available could come back at about 7:00 pm. Well, some of us stayed and never left. I won’t mention any names, but I could name all the people who came and stayed, and all the people who left at the appropriate time–because I was there until midnight. And I didn’t come alone either. I brought my father, my Aunt Conchita, and her son Peter. No one complained that there was extra company in the house, especially not the people who had overstayed their invitation. Uncle Placido showed us the 25th anniversary book for his archdiocese in Lubbock, Texas. Later, we looked at more pictures after we ate a huge dinner. Despite the fact that there were more people there for dinner than were invited, there was plenty of food for everyone. In fact, everyone was invited to take leftovers home. We all said good-bye and promised to see each other very soon. We shall see.
I don’t know why, but Mexicans find it difficult to write letters to each other.
When I left Mexico, both times, I said I would write back and send pictures. Well, it took me a while took write back, but I finally wrote back! And guess who wrote back? One cousin to whom I didn’t even write. So, I felt guilty and wrote her a letter.
I wrote to my aunt and then she relayed a message to my cousin who e-mailed me telling me that my aunt said hello. This same aunt still had letters that I had written to her thirty years ago. They were tucked away in her picture box along with my Chicago Marathon medal, which I have no idea how she obtained it. Perhaps, I gave it to my mother before she went on one her trips to Mexico. Now it’s starting to come back to me. My mother said if I wanted to give something to my aunt, so I gave her my marathon medal. Actually, it was a lot easier than writing a letter. Even with the Internet we don’t seem to be writing to each other any more frequently. I still have a long list of relatives to whom I will write before my next visit. But even if I don’t, we’ll pick up the conversation right where we left off the last time. My cousin likes to IM me and that’s fine when I have time. It is a lot easier than writing letters.
Over the years, I have had one identity crisis after another. The identity crisis recurs most often is the one in which I can’t decide if I should live in Chicago or Mexico because I’m not sure if I’m Mexican or American. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong here in the U.S. because I feel so Mexican and like a foreigner here. When I’m Mexico, I feel very comfortable there. Of course, that could be merely because I’m a guest there and the excitement and the newness of my being there hasn’t worn off yet. If I stayed much longer, everyone might not be as friendly toward me. I’ve mentioned to some of my friends that I was thinking of moving to Mexico and they immediately offered to help me pack! Wow! What friends!
I went to Mexico when I was 22 and I seriously considered staying there. But then I realized that I would have to get a job in order to support myself. But Mexicans don’t really want foreigners coming in and taking away their jobs. Besides, I didn’t really want to work a back-breaking job in Mexico when I already had a back-breaking job in Chicago. So I went back home to Chicago. However, I often daydreamed about living in Mexico.
Now, I am actually in a position where I can afford to move to Mexico since I have a small pension. I now have to work a job in order to live comfortably in Chicago, but I could live more than comfortably if I moved to Mexico. And I won’t have to work at all if I lived in Mexico. I could sit at home all day writing blog entry after blog entry. Wait, that’s what I’m doing now! But I have to teach in order to supplement my pension. In Mexico, I would always find something to keep me busy since they do have the Internet down there. And I wouldn’t be lonely because I have a lot of family in Mexico in several cities. Our family, both on my father’s and mother’s side, was very prolific. That’s why Rodriguez and Martinez are some of the most common Spanish last names in the world. So I wouldn’t be lonely. And even though I’m American, Mexicans–my family in particular–consider me Mexican, sort of. Since I’m American, everyone in Mexico was surprised that I spoke Spanish and ate tortillas. I’m glad that Mexicans thought of me as a Mexican, at least most of the time.
When I go back to Mexico in July, I’ll take another look at where I could possibly live in Mexico. I really love Celaya, Guanajuato, the home of my father’s family. It’s a fairly big city with a small-town feel to it. And, I have an uncle, two aunts, and fifteen cousins who live there! Plus, there’s a university in the city where I could possibly find a teaching position if I ever have the urge to teach again. That would be quite an adventure for me. So now I’m struggling to redefine myself and resolve my latest identity crisis. I’m sure that this time I’ll find myself. Or, maybe not.