Mario’s Italian Lemonade

Mario, the owner of Mario's Italian Lemonade

I went to visit one of my old haunts today because I had a taste for Al’s Italian beef. While eating my Italian beef from Al’s Beef and trying not to drip on my shirt, I looked across the street and saw Mario’s Italian Lemonade. The sign wasn’t up yet, but I’ve been there so many times that I know exactly what frozen delectable delights this summer haven offers to the sweaty throngs on a hot summer day. People like me, with absolutely no will power whatsoever, will stuff themselves at one of the restaurants on Taylor Street and then go to Mario’s for Italian ice. So now that I’ve gotten myself all worked up, I can’t wait till Mario’s opens on May first.

And just for the fun of it, I thought I would cross the street and take a picture of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand to post on Facebook before I went to teach my last Spanish class of the day at UIC. I took a couple of pictures with my iPhone and started walking back to UIC. Suddenly, I hear someone yelling, “Mr. Photographer! Mr. Photographer!” I look back, but I can’t locate who was yelling through the crowd on Taylor Street. As I’m walking back, I see a man in a blue shirt waving at me. I’m not sure, but I have this strange feeling that I’m about to walk into trouble.

The man asks me, “Did you just take pictures of my place?” “Uh, yeah,” I said nervously. “Are you from the newspaper?” he asked. “Uh, no,” I said, confused. He wanted to know why I was taking pictures of his place. I began to wonder, too.

Apparently, someone from some newspaper was coming out to take pictures of his Italian lemonade stand for a feature article and he thought I might be the photographer. I was flattered because this was the first time I was ever confused for a photographer. My faithful blog readers who have seen the pictures I’ve posted know exactly what I mean.

Well, I must admit that we had an interesting encounter. He introduced himself as Mario, the actual Mario in the flesh, owner of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I can truly say that I was in awe as I shook the hand of the purveyor of Chicago’s best Italian ice! He was curious as to why I took pictures of the stand. I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was going to post the picture on Facebook. Then, right at that precise moment, a brilliant idea crossed my mind. I would write today’s blog entry about Mario’s Italian Lemonade! But I didn’t tell Mario! I still couldn’t get up the nerve to reveal my true intentions.

I asked Mario if I could take his picture in front of his stand and he agreed smiling happily. As we walked back, he asked me if I was Hispanic. When I said I was Mexican, he said he could tell. He said the secret of his success was his wife, who is Mexican. It turns out her family is from Guanajuato, México. He smiled when I told him my father’s family was also from Guanajuato.

He posed willingly. However, I think he was a little disappointed that I wasn’t a photographer from a newspaper. As I was taking his picture, I told him that his stand looked strange without people standing in line. He agreed and said he couldn’t wait to open up.

I can’t wait either. I need an Italian ice. Right now! I hope you like lemons if you go there. You see, no matter what flavor Italian ice you order,–watermelon, pineapple, whatever–they all have lemon inside. And that’s exactly what I love about Mario’s Italian ice!

¡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.

José y María

Celaya, Guanajuato, México

In Spanish-speaking countries, the two most common names are José and María. Some parents name their sons José María and their daughters María José. My Uncle Eutimio and Aunt Asunción named their sons José Eutimio, José Ricardo, José Carlos, José Ignacio, José David, José Daniel, and José Agustín. They named their daughters María Concepción, María Elena, María Angélica, and María Carmen. They had fifteen children, but I can’t remember all their names right now. When I first met them on my last trip to Celaya, Guanajuato, they introduced themselves as Timio, David, Carlos, Ricardo, etcetera. Later, I heard one cousin call his brother Pepe, which is the nickname for José. I asked my cousin why he called him Pepe and he said that his name was really José. Later on, another cousin called another brother Pepe. This was a different from Pepe from the first one. I asked how they could both be Pepe. Then they explained to me how all the brothers were named José and all the girls were named María. I still don’t understand how they can name them like that, but they did. Afterwards, I thought about how convenient that would be. If you needed something, you would merely shout José or Pepe and you would have at least two or three sons running in to help you. Ditto if you shouted María.

Te presente a mi hermano José María y a mi hermana María José.

Moving to Mexico

Could I actually live in a condo in a tourist area? I don't think so!

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.

¿Dónde debo vivir? ¿Chicago o México?



Celaya, Guanajuato, México

No Mexican party or picnic is complete without a piñata. Piñatas are usually store-bought nowadays, but once upon a time they were made at home by the hosting family. At some point during the party or picnic, after everyone has eaten, one of the drunk uncles remembers about the piñata and struggles to hang it from a nearby tree. The children form a circle around the piñata while watching one blindfolded child attempting to strike the piñata with a stick. Of course, the fix is in because no one wants one of the first few children to break the piñata right away. Every kid should get a turn to hit the piñata. Before a child gets a turn, he or she must be blindfolded and spun around a few times. This child is so disoriented by then that he or she must be pointed in the direction of the piñata and starts swinging wildly at the piñata. Meanwhile, everyone sings the piñata song: “Dale, dale, dale, / No pierdas el tino / Porque si lo pierdes / Pierdes el destino.” Everyone sings the piñata song repeatedly until the child swinging the stick gets so sick of hearing it that he or she finally breaks the piñata.

I have broken a few piñatas in my lifetime. But I definitely enjoy watching children break them a lot more. When I was in Mexico as a boy, my aunt made a piñata from a clay pot that she filled with candy. I was so fascinated watching her make it. Ever since, I have believed that this is the truly authentic way to make a piñata. However, when the piñata breaks, those flying shards could seriously injure someone. Never mind the swinging stick that’s still swinging as the children are diving toward the falling candy! Perhaps the new supermercado piñatas are safer for everyone involved.

Once, before my sister went to Mexico, she asked me if I wanted her to bring me back anything. I knew I was supposed to ask for something, anything, so that she would feel useful and wanted. Finally, I said, “Yes, I’d like a piñata bat.” “What is a piñata bat?” she asked. I wasn’t actually sure if there was such a thing as a piñata bat, but surely some ingenious Mexican must have invented one since there are so many piñatas in Mexico. My younger sister has always looked up to me, so I didn’t want her to think I was as soft as the tortilla of a tostada after sitting on the buffet table at the birthday party all day because the kids found out it was made with tongue. “What!” I told my sister, “You never heard of piñata bat? What kind of Mexican are you?” She was visibly embarrassed. “Okay, I’ll bring you back a piñata bat,” she promised. Imagine my surprise when she returned from Mexico proudly waving a piñata bat over her head. “You don’t know how much trouble I went through to get this!” she said. “I hope you appreciate it.” And then I realized she was actually swinging the bat at me. But I dodged it since I never had the ambition to be a piñata. Apparently no one in Mexico had ever heard of a piñata bat, either. However, my sister actually found one. And a beautiful bat it was! Someone had carved designs in the bat and painted it in many bright colors. The bat is so beautiful, I have never actually brought it out of storage to break a piñata! At every party, my sister keeps asking about the whereabouts of my piñata bat.

When I was a boy, my mother made a piñata so indestructible that not even a crowbar could break it! But it always looked like it was just about to break. So everyone took several turns trying to break it. After the third turn, no one even wore the blindfold and we were using a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. But alas, the piñata would not yield its precious cargo. When it was Lupe’s turn to break the piñata, she insisted on wearing the blindfold and using the stick. We tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. So, we spun her around a few extra times after she was blindfolded and we didn’t point her in the direction of the piñata. We started singing the piñata song and Lupe started swinging. And swinging and swinging. And missing and missing. Then, someone shouted, “Go to your left” and Lupe turned to her left and swung. And missed, of course, because there was no piñata there. “Go straight,” someone else shouted. And Lupe moved forward a few steps and missed again. All the children started giving her different directions and she would follow them. Someone had the brilliant idea to have her go outside of our backyard. No matter what direction we gave her she obeyed it. Soon she was going around the block blindly swinging wherever she imagined the piñata to be. We all tried not to laugh to make this last as long as possible. We actually went around the block on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Lupe was followed by all the children at the birthday party and quite a few adults, too. Soon some of the neighbors also started following. At least a hundred people where now following Lupe, who was oblivious to all this excitement. We finally led her back to our yard and everyone else came into the yard. Finally, we told Lupe where to swing and she broke the piñata! She never even knew that she left the backyard. Even after we told her several days later, she didn’t believe the story!

¡Dale! ¡Dale! ¡Dale! No pierdas el tino.