Estados Unidos Mexicanos


My Mexican Passport

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.

El Zócalo, México D.F.

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.

Aztec cleansing


El Zócalo, México D.F.

If you go to el Zócalo in Mexico City, you may see all kinds of Mexicans. You really can’t say you’ve been to Mexico City unless you’ve actually visited el Zócalo. So every time I go to Mexico City, I end up in the Zocalo at least once.

I really love this public square because many Mexicans feel compelled to visit it. El Zócalo is the center of Mexican life. You’ll also see many foreign tourists. Cathedrals, the presidential palace, and colonial buildings surround the Zocalo. If you look down in front of the cathedrals, you will see some glass inlaid into the sidewalk revealing the remains of Aztec pyramids below, which the Spaniards razed to construct the cathedral under orders of Hernán Cortés. As a reminder of Mexico’s past, Aztec dancers are ever present near el Zócalo dancing for the public. They will also do a cleansing for you. They will cleanse you of any bad spirits that are hindering your happiness and wellbeing. Whenever you see the Aztec dancers, they are always cleansing someone with at least several others waiting for their turn.

I told my cousin that I probably needed a good cleansing and she said I should get one. She confessed that she was once cleansed when life wasn’t treating her well and it improved her life for the better. She insisted that I should be cleansed. I would become a much better person. Well, I didn’t really believe a cleansing would really help me, so I passed. But now I wonder.

Mexican stereotype


 

Mariachi Sponge Bob by Burger King

When Americans think of Mexicans, one of the most prominent images that comes to mind is the Mariachi. There’s nothing wrong with that since the Mariachi does have positive connotations and reflects favorably on Mexicans. The Mariachi has become the epitome of Mexico even though Mariachis originated in the state of Jalisco. There are many more cultural facets to Mexico than just the Mariachis. As further proof, think of Hollywood movies that depict Mexicans. Okay, please try to block out Beverly Hills Chihuahua because it’s not representative of all Mexicans. I haven’t actually seen the entire movie, so I’m not qualified to comment on it. Okay, I did see the previews where they showed the Chihuahuas as advanced civilization similar to the Aztecs. When Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short made the movie The Three Amigos, they dressed like Mariachis. I once took my sons to Burger King and the toy in the Kid’s Meal was a Mariachi Sponge Bob. I often take Mariachi Sponge Bob to Spanish classes with me and the students love him so much I make I keep my eye on him so no one steals him from me.

Ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores.

Tortillas


Ancient tortillas in a modern tortilla warmer.

A Mexican meal without tortillas is not really a Mexican meal. You can mix and match different entrees, but you always need tortillas with every meal. Tortillas have been around since Aztec times and are the equivalent of bread in many cultures. The tortilla, tlaxcalli to the Aztecs, is flat, round, made from corn, and may serve as a plate or an eating utensil such as a fork or spoon. When the Spaniards first encountered them, they called it a tortilla because it was circular like their Spanish dish of the same name.

Tortillas have always been part of my life. My father could eat a bowl of soup using only corn tortillas! My abuelita and mother were always heating up tortillas at the stove for every meal. They even made their own. They would use a rolling-pin to flatten the masa out, or in case of an emergency, a Coke bottle. My mother once bought an aluminum contraption that flattened the masa into a tortilla, but everyone agreed that they didn’t taste the same.

When we went to Mexico, I used to like going to the Tortillería to buy tortillas. They had a giant machine that would just make hundreds of hot tortillas for the customers waiting in line. You didn’t need directions to find the Tortillería because you would find it by following your nose. I would always eat at least one or two before I took the rest home.

Tortillas were also good for an afterschool snack. I’d sometimes come home and heat up some tortillas on the stove and eat them with butter. I rolled them up very tightly like a flauta. Sometimes I would eat them with just salt inside. Sometimes I would just heat them up and eat them plain. I really loved tortillas. When we kept the tortillas too long and they got hard, my mother would fry them and use them to make tostadas or chilaquiles. No tortilla was ever wasted in our home.

Occasionally, we ate flour tortillas, tortillas de harina, but they were always store-bought. We just preferred the taste of corn tortillas. Mexican restaurants use giant flour tortillas to make burritos. Other restaurants use them to make chicken wraps, where the “wrap” is actually a flour tortilla. Tortillas also evolved into the tortilla chips in Mexican restaurants, Frito’s corn chips, Tostitos, Doritos, thanks in no small part to capitalism.

I still have a comal to heat up my tortillas. Occasionally, I’ll eat them with cheddar cheese inside. Or I’ll eat them plain when I feel like reminiscing. But I definitely eat them when I make huevos con chorizo. I always keep a dozen corn tortillas in the freezer so I’ll have them whenever I crave them. They keep very well in the freezer and thaw out quickly in the microwave before I heat them up on my comal.

I can’t imagine life without tortillas!

It’s all in the frijoles


This book makes a great gift!

What’s a Mexican meal without beans? I remember having beans with almost every meal, including breakfast. A meal that usually consisted of beans, rice, and tortillas, provided all the necessary proteins for a healthy diet. And so meat wasn’t always necessary. Most Mexicans eat healthy diets until they come to America and start eating fast food. Mexicans must never forget to eat their beans, rice, and tortillas. When I say beans, I really mean frijoles. They were always frijoles to me. Even when I speak English, occasionally slip and I accidentally say frijoles instead of beans.

In Chicago’s Millenium Park, we have a sculpture by Anish Kapoor called Cloud Gate. But somehow, someway everyone started calling it the Bean. Everyone except me. To me, it’s ¡El Frijol! It’s a giant frijol to me. All the sculpture needs is the accompanying rice and tortillas. But I’m not the only one who associates Cloud Gate with something Mexican. In fact, in one of our downtown bus shelters, I saw a poster of El Frijol over the bottom half of the Aztec calendar forming a symmetrical circle. The two figures actually complemented each other.

Anyway, I read this book called, It’s All in the Frijoles: 100 Famous Latinos Share Real-Life Stories, Time-Tested Dichos, Favorite Folktales, and Inspiring Words of Wisdom by Yolanda Nava. I have to admit that the book has a very impressive, all-encompassing title, and at first, I felt too intimidated to read it. So I bought is a birthday present for my father for his eightieth birthday. After he opened his presents at his party, a few people started leafing through the book. My sister thought the book was interesting after reading some of the dichos (sayings); at least she didn’t judge the book by its cover alone, which is very pretty by the way.

So I bought myself a copy of the book piled it on my stack of “to read” books. When I finally read it, I suffered from an identity crisis. I wasn’t like anyone of those Latinos in the book. Whenever I’d read about a person of Mexican descent, I’d think, okay, I’ll have something in common with this Mexican. But no! When I compare her life stories with mine, I question whether or not I’m actually Mexican!