¡Yo soy mexicano!

Mi familia

Cuando era niño, vivíamos en Chicago y viajábamos a México cada año. Íbamos mi mamá, mi hermano Daniel y yo. Una vez que fuimos, mi mamá estaba embarazada. Todo mundo le decía que no fuera a México hasta después del parto. Como mi mamá era muy cabezona, nos fuimos a México de todos modos. Pues, mi hermanito Diego nació en Celaya, Guanajuato, en la casa de mi tía. La próxima vez que mi mamá se embarazó, nos quedamos en Chicago y mi hermano Ricardo nació en nuestro apartamento.

Cuando yo tenía doce años y ya todos asistíamos a la escuela, yo, por ser el mayor, cuidaba a mis hermanitos mientras nuestros padres trabajaban. Los vestía para la escuela, los acompañaba a la escuela y los acompañaba a casa después de la escuela. Siempre jugábamos juntos y a veces nos peleábamos como suelen hacer los hermanos. A Diego le daba tanto orgullo de ser mexicano de 100% por haber nacido en México. Siempre nos decía, «Yo nací en México. ¡Yo soy mexicano! ¡Ustedes no son mexicanos como yo!». Según él, Daniel, Ricardo y yo éramos gringos por haber nacido en los Estados Unidos. Diego siempre decía «¡Yo nací en México!» con mucho orgullo.

Pues, cuando volvíamos a casa después de clase, no siempre íbamos directamente a casa. A veces cada uno iba con su amigo y luego nos encontrábamos en casa antes de que llegara mi mamá del trabajo. Pero una vez, no llegó Diego para la hora fijada. Me puse nervioso porque sabía que mi mamá me daría una paliza por haber perdido a mi hermanito. Lo fui a buscar por todo el barrio, pero no lo encontré. Cuando mi mamá llegó, me preguntó, «¿Ya están todos?». Le mentí y le dije que sí en una voz muy tímida. Mi mamá se dio cuenta de que alguien faltaba. «¿Dónde está Diego?» me preguntó. «No sé» le dije esperando una paliza.

Mi mamá nos abrigó y salimos en el coche para buscar a Diego. No lo encontramos. Volvimos a casa y mi mamá hizo varias llamadas a parientes, vecinos y chismosas. Nadie sabía dónde estaba mi hermanito. De repente, vimos por la ventana que se estacionaba un coche grande y negro frente de la casa. Salieron dos hombres de traje negro con mi hermanito. Resulta que Diego volvía a casa solo después de visitar a un amigo cuando los oficiales de la migra lo vieron. Le preguntaron, «¿Dónde naciste?», y mi hermanito naturalmente contestó con mucho orgullo, «¡Yo nací en México!» y se lo llevaron. Después de varias horas, lo trajeron a nuestra casa y mi mamá les enseñó documentos para comprobar que Diego estaba en los Estados Unidos legalmente. Luego mi mamá regañó a Diego y le dijo, «¡Ya no le digas a nadie que naciste en México!». Me salvé de una paliza por el susto que sufrió mi mamá. Hasta hoy en día, mi hermano nunca le dice a nadie que nació en México.


This is my father in about 1976.

Pop. Just Pop. That’s what I call my father now. My brother Jerry’s children who are half Irish call him Papa Diego. I still call him Pop because when I was little we only spoke Spanish at home and my parents were mami and papi. When you’re very little, say up to about five or six years old, calling your parents mami and papi is still acceptable. When I started playing at the Davis Square Park, other kids called me baby if they heard me call my parents mami and papi. So, eventually I began calling them Mom and Pop. Definitely more acceptable by my peers of preteens. But I could never write pap because everyone would mispronounce in English. So that’s how he became Pop, just plain Pop.

I remember, once when I was at the park, Bobby–I never did learn his real last name–started a fight with me. I must have been about six at the time. I still had not learned the protocol that if someone hit you hit them right back or they would forever pick on you. Bobby punched my face and I ran home crying. I got home quickly because we lived right across the street from the park at 4501 S. Hermitage Avenue. Both my mami and papi were home. My father was somewhere in the apartment; how someone could disappear from his family in a four-room apartment is beyond me. Anyway, my mother wanted to know why I was crying. I said, “Bobby hit me!” but in Spanish. “¡Bobby me pegó! My mother thought I had said papi hit me. My mother immediately began scolding my father–who was forced to come out of hiding. It actually took a couple minutes for me clear up the confusion and prove my father’s innocence to my mother. My father took me to the park to look for Bobby, but he had left. Somebody was probably trying to beat him up for some prior transgression. As I would learn later–mainly because Bobby was always in life no matter how I tried to avoid him–no one liked Bobby because he was an all-round  troublemaker. Once someone tried to shoot him, but they missed him and shot the person sitting next to him on the park bench. Luckily, the bullet went through the fleshy part of his thigh. Everyone was troubled by the fact that such an act of violence had failed to restore peace to our neighborhood by ridding everyone of Bobby for good.

But back to my father. Pop. When I started calling him Pop, no one made fun of me anymore. One unintended side-effect was that my little brothers stopped calling my parents mami and papi. That was rather sad because everyone knows how cute little children are when they call their parents mami and papi.

That's okay if you don't have salsa. I brought my own.

My father’s vocation


José Diego Rodríguez Rosiles

When I was in Celaya, my tío Timio told me about how all his brothers studied at the Montezuma Seminary in New Mexico. Tío Timio was the only brother not to attend the seminary. My father was at the Montezuma Seminary for eleven years. My father wanted to become a priest, but they advised him to go back home to Celaya for a while. They told him to get to know the world before he made a final decision. So he returned to Celaya and while there he met my mother. Needless to say, my father never became a priest. Pues, como quien dice, en Celaya, se la halla.

My son, you must go out and see the world!

Doctor Tato

Danny, David, Dicky, and Tato.

When we were little, my father took us to the Shedd Aquarium not only because it was an educational trip, but also because it was economical. In fact, there was no admission charge back then. We spent the whole day there and saw every fish, shark, eel, turtle, and every form of sea life that was on display at that aquarium. I liked the transparent fish, while my brothers like the fish that glowed in the dark. What my father liked the most were the tadpoles. Tadpoles! Well, in Spanish, tadpole is el sapo. Just hold that thought for a while. El sapo. I’ll get back to it.

But first I have to explain about how my parents named theirs sons, meaning my brothers and me. When I was born my father wanted me to be named Diego after him. My parents always told me conflicting versions of this naming process. But my guess is that neither version is true. My mother did not want her firstborn son to be named Diego. Especially since my father’s name was also Diego. Let’s not get into the psychoanalysis of my mother just yet. We’ll save that for another day. Anyway, the best my father could negotiate in the naming rights was for me to be named David Diego Rodríguez. At least, I had his firstborn son had his name in there somewhere. Brother number two was born and he was named Daniel Rodríguez. WITH NO MIDDLE NAME! I never received any conflicting stories about this naming ritual between my parents, but I attribute it to the fact that we were much poorer by the time Daniel was born and my parents couldn’t afford to give him a middle name. Then brother number three was born and he was named Diego! No explanation is necessary! Right? My father had finally won an argument in the great Naming of the Sons debate. My third brother was named Diego Gerardo Rodríguez. From that day forward, Diego was my father’s favorite son! And my father was not discreet about showing his favoritism towards my brother Diego.

Well, going back to the Shedd Aquarium, when my father saw the tadpoles, he turned his head and said, “El sapo.” But he was now looking at my brother Diego. “Diego is my sapo!” From that day on, my father called him, “mi sapo, mi sapito,” etcetera. Everyone started calling him Sapo, even his friends. The only one who didn’t call him Sapo was my youngest brother Dicky. (How did he get that name? That’s a long story for another day!) He couldn’t say Sapo, no matter how hard he tried. His four-year-old mouth twisted and contorted whenever he attempted to pronounce Sapo. But all he could utter was Tato. We thought it was so funny that we started calling my brother Diego, Tato. After a while even my father called him Tato. Everyone loved this new nickname except Tato, but the nickname stuck. We didn’t know of anyone else in the neighborhood or Mexico who was also called Tato.

Tato was unique! Until one day, my brothers and I heard the song “Coconut” on the radio. The song where “she put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em both up.” Well, toward the end of the song, the words to chorus, “Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take, I said / Doctor, to relieve this bellyache,” are slurred slighty by the singer so that Doctor sounds like Tato. You can clearly hear the singer sing, “I said, Tato” several times! My brother was world-famous in our neighborhood!!! We would often tell my brother as if we were singing the song, “I said, Tato, is there nothing I can take?” This was certainly much closer to his name than the Fred Astaire song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in which he sings, “You say tomato, I say tomahto / You eat potato, I eat potahto.” Tato was in the Astaire song only if you forced it out, but in “Put the Lime in the Coconut,” Tato is definitely there, loud and clear. It was a proud moment for our family, but especially for my brother Tato.

I said Tato! Is there nothing I could take?