The ghost of Thanksgiving past


This Thanksgiving Day, I was reminded of how we have celebrated previous Thanksgiving Days with our family. And by our family, I mean the Rodriguez family. That’s my father’s side of the family, which is very, very big. When my Uncle Simon and Aunt Maricela bought their first house, the Rodriguez family began celebrating Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve at their home. All the family tried to come to celebrate these holidays together. We usually had between forty to fifty people in the house. That included family members, friends, and neighbors for Thanksgiving.

I have many fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family. My aunt was such a great cook. I especially loved her baked sweet potatoes. And all those desserts she baked. I used to go with my parents, my brothers, and my sister until my parents got divorced. Then, my father would take us without our mother. Eventually, just my father and I would go alone.

I especially remember the last time I went there for Thanksgiving. Just my father and I went. I think that was the most people who went to this Thanksgiving dinner. There were lots of cousins and their friends.

I had just finished Marine Corps boot camp that week. I flew back to Chicago from San Diego on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is always a very busy travel day. We flew a circling pattern all the way from St. Louis to Chicago. I was beginning to get nauseous. Luckily, we landed before I got really sick.

The next day I called my Uncle Simon’s house and asked if they were still having the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, they were! I didn’t actually talk to my Uncle Simon. My cousin Lulu anwered the phone. I don’t think their family really knew I had enlisted in the Marine Corps. When I told Lulu I just got back from boot camp, she said, “That’s great! Come on over! Wear your uniform!”

So, of course, I wore my uniform to the dinner. My father was so proud to present me to the Rodriguez family in my Marine Corps uniform! Lulu was happy to see that I had listened to her. The dinner went well, but since there were so many people there, we had to eat in shifts. But everyone ate. Then, my aunt brought out the desserts. I remember my Uncle Placido, who is a Roman Catholic bishop, looking at the desserts and saying, “All this and heaven, too!”

After dinner, my cousin told me we were going to Fat City, a bar where she worked. I really didn’t want to go to a bar in uniform, but she insisted. Well, I went, against my better judgment, but people I didn’t even know were happy to see me there. In fact, several people were buying me beers, which I didn’t realize at first. When the waitress brought me the first beer, I told her, “I didn’t order a beer.” She pointed to someone across the room and said, “This beer’s on him! He was in the Marines, too!” I got a few more beers that night.

I have to admit that that was my most memorable Thanksgiving dinner. And, the very few times I saw someone in a military uniform, I bought them a drink.

La cocina


enchiladas
Enchiladas suizas

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.

Wow! That was deep!

¡Buen provecho!


Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

What I love about going to Mexico is all the attention I receive from my relatives who are genuinely happy to see me. They ask me many questions about my life in particular and life in general in America. The only problem with this is that they tend to ask me these questions while I’m eating. So I was always the last one done eating.

I’m a slow eater anyway, but answering questions slows me down even more. And they ask rather personal questions, too. But everyone is so honest when speaking that I feel compelled to answer their questions honestly. And no one judges anyone about each other’s behavior. At least not that I noticed.

So, how did I enjoy a good home-cooked Mexican meal with everyone insisting that I answer their questions? Well, I didn’t want to be rude, so I answered all question immediately. Of course, sometimes I answered with my mouth full of food because I was caught off guard by the timing of the questions. I guess I was being rude by talking with my mouth full just because I didn’t want to be rude!

El americano


Dr. D. in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.

So, I’m in Mexico, visiting mi familia, and the whole time, everyone keeps reminding me that I’m an americano.  Just look at me in the picture. I’m sitting on green, white, and red bench wearing an Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo tourist t-shirt. Now, be honest with me. Do I look American or Mexican? Okay, please tell me after you finish reading this post. I think I’d rather not hear your answer right now.

It’s December 30, 2008, and I’m at my cousin house visiting because all her brothers and sisters are coming in for New Year’s Eve. She has an impromptu dinner because, unexpectedly, she is expecting about thirty guests in her house. No one complains about the fast food (fast for Mexico) that we eat buffet style on styrofoam plates. I already have my food and I’m eating in the living room at the opposite side of the house where the food is on the table in the dining room.

Suddenly, one cousin begins to speak Spanish with a fake American accent. Then, someone else joins in the conversation with his fake American accent. Before you know it, about ten people are speaking Spanish with a fake American accents. I think it’s rather funny. Much laughter ensues until my cousin notices me. Everyone immediately stops talking in Spanish with their fake American accent and everyone looks at me. My cousin asks me if I was offended. Actually, I tell her, I thought it was very funny. I had never heard Mexicans talk in fake American accents before, so I kind of enjoyed it. I heard other people talking like Americans on my trip through Mexico, but they always stopped when they noticed I was near. Everyone seems to think I’m an americano. To be honest, I’m not sure what I am!

My cousin’s husband (my cousin-in-law?) constantly reminded me that I looked American. He couldn’t explain why, but he said I didn’t look Mexican. Other people told me the same thing. I’m sure my skin color had nothing to do with it because Mexicans come in all shades, from dark to light. Perhaps it was my gray hair? Mexicans my age, in general, don’t have as much gray hair as me. Maybe it was my clothing. All my clothes were bought in America. Okay, I bought some of them in Wal-Mart in Evergreen Park, Illinois, but they don’t sell the same clothes at the Wal-Marts in Mexico. I just don’t get it. I have cousins in Mexico who look more American than me, but everyone immediately recognized them as Mexicans.

Conversely, when I’m in Chicago, Mexicans approach me and immediately speak to me in Spanish. How did they know I speak Spanish if I look American? Wouldn’t that make me Mexican? When I’m in Mexico, my cousins eventually concede that I am, in fact, Mexican. Unlike other Mexicans who go back to Mexico to visit their familia, I do eat all kinds of Mexican food and I do understand EVERYTHING they say, including all the colloquialisms and swear words. I always seem to blend in with my familia. Until someone points out that I don’t look mexicano!

Béisbol


Chicago White Sox Promotion in Spanish.

I’m watching the World Series even though neither the White Sox nor the Cubs are playing. “World Series” is a misnomer because it’s not really a world competition at all. However, there are many players from many countries such Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Japan among others.

When I read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow years ago, he described a professional baseball game in the early 1900s. He noted that the ethnicity of the baseball players was representative of the immigration pattern of the period. Here’s the passage from Chapter 30 of Ragtime:

On the Giant side were Merkle, Doyle, Meyers, Snodgrass and Herzog, among others. The Boston team boasted a player named Rabbit Maranville, a shortstop who [sic] he noted roamed his position bent over with his hands at the end of his long arms grazing the grass in a manner that would more properly be called simian. There was a first baseman named Butch Schmidt, and others with the names Cocrehan, Moran, Hess, Rudolph, which led inevitably to the conclusion that professional baseball was played by immigrants.

If you look at the players of today’s Major League Baseball, you will see many Spanish last names. Of course, those, too, are representative of the migration patterns of Spanish speakers from Latin America to the U.S.

When I was in Mexico last July, I watched the All-Star Game with my cousin and her family. We laughed every time the announcer mispronounced a Spanish last name. Both announcers consistently mispronounced Evan Longoria. Well, tonight, I had to laugh when Jason Bartlett stole second base and the announcer let everyone know that Taco Bell had a promotion: Steal a Base, Steal a Taco for every stolen base. So next Tuesday, we can go to Taco Bell for a free taco. They even interviewed Taco Bell president Greg Creed who personally invited everyone to go to Taco Bell to get their free taco!

Writing letters


My best friend!

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.