On the door of St. Petronille Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Guadalupe is a common first name in Mexico. In Chicago, I have met both males and females who have this name. My sister’s middle name is Guadalupe. The adult nickname for Guadalupe is Lupe for both genders. Small children are called Lupito or Lupita, depending n their gender.

In Chicago, I knew a male Lupe who hated his name because non-Mexicans had trouble accepting his non-American name. They also mispronounced Lupe as “Loopy.” He hated this. But his name was Guadalupe Gonzalez, so he remained Lupe because he wanted to honor the name his parents had given him. He learned to not only accept his name, but also flaunt it, much to the annoyance of all non-Mexicans within earshot.

When I bought my house in Bridgeport, one of my tenants was named Guadalupe. she was a single mother with three children. As I later learned, only her youngest son was a U.S. citizen. I bought a four-flat because Derby foods was about to close down and move to Sylvester, Georgia. My plan was to rent out three apartments that would pay the mortgage while I was unemployed. All the tenants came with the building. Guadalupe lived in the second floor rear apartment.

Guadalupe spoke hardly any English, but she understood most everything that was said. Her daughters were seven and six years old. Her son César was one. César, coincidentally, was also the name of the previous owner of my house. In fact, I bought my house from him. Well, it turns out that the previous owner was in fact César’s father, but he didn’t even worry about his son’s wellbeing at all. Guadalupe had to go to the welfare office to fill out some paperwork for her son, but she needed a ride and an interpreter. I offered to help her because she was struggling to get by. At the welfare office, I translated the social worker’s questions, which Guadalupe answered. Finally, we get to the question, “Who is César’s father?” Guadalupe has a hard time answering. The social worker turns to me and asks, “Are you César’s father?” “No,” I said. “I’m just her landlord and I was trying to help her.”

One day, she told me she couldn’t pay the rent. She was already about six months behind, but I didn’t have the heart to evict her. Eventually, I told her that I would have to evict her. I just couldn’t afford the mortgage unless all my tenants paid their rent. She was packing up one day when a nun stopped by her apartment to ask for donations. Guadalupe told the nun that she was moving out because she wasn’t working and couldn’t afford the rent. The nun said that her church could help her with the rent and find her a job. The nun talked to me and asked me not to evict Guadalupe and her children. She promised that she would pay all the back rent and find Guadalupe a job.

Well, this was a very agreeable arrangement for all of us. When Guadalupe needed repairs or rooms painted, she would make dinner for me afterwards. She didn’t like that I was always in a hurry to leave, but I was always so busy back then. Once she told me that she wanted her living room painted again even though I had just painted it about three months earlier. I wanted to know why her living room needed to be repainted so soon. She told me that her son had written on the walls with a magic marker and she couldn’t wash the walls clean. I refused to paint again. She told me that if I didn’t paint she would move out. I didn’t paint and she moved out.

I saw her about a year later. she had moved about two blocks away. She wasn’t feeling well. She had another baby a few months earlier and she never fully recovered from the delivery. I asked her if she had gotten married, but she said no. The father of the baby was her present landlord. She was sorry she had moved out from my building. That was the last time I saw her.

Irma Serrano

Irma Serrano at the People's Theater, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I never understood why my mother went to Mexico when Irma Serrano came to Back of the Yards to perform at the People’s Theater. She absolutely loved Irma Serrano. My mother had all her records. My mother saw all her movies. Yet, my mother went to Mexico the summer of 1970 when Irma Serrano came to People’s Theater.

But my mother had a plan! While she was away in Mexico, I would go for my mother to see Irma Serrano in concert! I was only fourteen at the time, so I was a little nervous when my mother explained her plan to me. I would go see Irma Serrano in concert and then tell my mother all about the concert when she returned from Mexico. My mother thought her idea was absolutely brilliant. I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. Because of my mother, I, too, loved Irma Serrano as a singer and an actress. I just couldn’t let my friends know this dirty little secret about me. What if my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater to see Irma Serrano? What would I tell them? What if they wanted to tag along? That was my dilemma of the summer.

My mother arranged everything. She bought another camera just for the concert because she always took her camera to take pictures in Mexico. I was to take pictures of Irma performing on stage. I was to take pictures of every outfit she wore. She changed a few times during her performance, so I made sure I took pictures of every outfit. I have to admit that this was kind of fun, especially since Irma seemed to welcome the additional attention of an adolescent male admirer. My mother also wrote a letter to Irma that I was supposed to hand deliver to Irma Serrano personally. Those were my mother’s orders! My mother wanted me to go backstage after the performance to talk to Irma and take more pictures of her.

“But how am I supposed to go backstage?” I asked my mother. “Just tell them that you’re delivering a letter to Irma Serrano from Carmen Rodriguez! They’ll let in then!” I was always painfully shy, but now I was truly afraid to follow through with my mother’s plan. She wanted me to meet someone who was really a successful star and really, really famous. I was scared to approach Irma after the show. But I was even more afraid of how my mother would punish me if I didn’t take pictures of Irma and deliver my mother’s letter backstage.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert! Of course, that was also due to the fact that none of my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater that afternoon. Luckily, the concert was on a Sunday afternoon when most of my friends spent the day visiting relatives. I recognized every song Irma sang because my mother always played them at home. The only time I didn’t like listening to my mother’s Mexican music was on Saturday mornings. She played her music starting at sunrise. If I told her to turn it down a little, she would yell at me for being lazy and staying in bed. I would put the pillow over my head and the music didn’t sound so loud that way.

Since I was at the Irma Serrano concert of my own free will, according to my mother (under duress, if you asked me), I attempted to enjoy myself as much as possible. The audience consisted of less than about a hundred people, but they were all really into Irma. Myself included. It was a really good concert! And since the audience was so small, it was also very intimate.

After the concert, I was able to get backstage my mentioning my mother’s name. I seriously doubted that would work, but I was amazed that I got to meet Irma Serrano in person. I told her that Carmen Rodriguez had written her a letter and I then handed her the letter. She smiled as she took the letter and said, “So you’re Carmen’s son? She told me about you.” I don’t know if Irma really knew my mother, but she knew how to treat fans appreciatively.  I asked Irma if I could take more pictures of her and she consented. I was thrilled to be backstage with Irma Serrano all by myself!

So that was my closest encounter with a very famous star!

Señora Independencia

Una verdadera mexicana
Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez as Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez (1768-1829)

I went to see a dramatized reading of Señora Independencia last Friday at the National Museum of Mexican Art. We certainly need more productions in Spanish in Chicago. The play was by the Carlos Theater Productions starring Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez as la señora Independencia. You may remember her as the Guatemalan girl Rosa Xuncax in the 1983 movie El norte. Considering this was only a dramatic reading, I was impressed by the performances of all the actors. I seemed to always focus on the scripts the actors held in their hands and whether or not they read from the scripts. This detracted from enjoyment a little, but very little. The writing was a little dense and heavy-handed. The playwright needed to illustrate with more concrete examples of how Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez contributed to Mexican independence from Spain. I was also bothered by the stage prop of a repeating rifle that was constantly referred to as an escopeta. The characters constantly referred to cartuches or cartridges for the ammo. The sight of the repeating rifle and the mention of cartridges appear to be anachronisms. Perhaps this play is merely in its initials stages and all these details will be resolved.

Another pet peeve I had about the play was how we were admitted to the theater. Above, I have posted my ticket, or rather what’s left of it, as evidence of my attendance of this performance. This used to be a beautiful ticket before it was mutilated. Many people, as they handed over their tickets, asked to keep them as souvenirs. But they were all brutally ripped in half. Some theater goers even shrieked as the ticket was ripped. I, I’m proud to say, was able to control myself, despite feeling my ticket’s pain.

On the plus side, complimentary appetizers and refreshments were served while we waited to be seated in the theater. Yes, I had a couple of glasses of white zinfandel. I had never been to a Carlos Theater Production before, but if they are all like this, I will certainly see more of their productions. If you ever have the opportunity to see this play, by all means go see it! Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez gave a superb performance with the help of her supporting cast.

Dreams: A history

Matehuala, México

I have been dreaming for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember my dreams. Immediately upon waking up, I feel little confused as to which is the real world and which is the dream world. In moments like these, the dream world seems more real than the real world that I had pleasurably avoided while sleeping. As a boy, I used to dream about eating candy or Twinkies. In my dreams, I had every toy I ever wanted. My favorite toy in the first grade was G.I. Joe, but I didn’t have one. Some of my friends had G.I. Joes, so I would play with them at their house. So, at night, I would end up dreaming that I was playing with my very own G.I. Joe. I remember in one dream where I realized that I was about to wake up, but I wanted to take G.I. Joe with me to my waking world so I could play him after school, or whenever I felt like. In my dream, I consciously placed G.I. Joe under my bed before I woke up. I kept reminding myself, while I was dreaming, that when I woke up I would finally have my own G.I. Joe. I really believed I could do it. But, alas, I woke up and I soon as I remembered what I had done in my dream, I looked under my bed. But G.I. Joe was gone. AWOL! I tried it a few more times–unsuccessfully!

Of course, I’ve also had some scary dreams. They seem to have different themes depending on my age. From Kindergarten through about the fourth grade, I used to have dreams about running, but not really get anywhere. Usually, I was being chased by someone from the neighborhood who wanted to beat me up, the Werewolf, Dracula, or some other creature from a horror movie. I almost always woke up before I was ever caught. I would also dream that I was walking to school, and I would be about halfway there, when suddenly, I would realize that I was completely naked. How could this happen in the first place? I’m sure I would notice as I left the house that I had forgotten to put on my clothes. Especially if it was snowing as it did in some of these dreams.

My favorite dreams from that era when I was about ten or eleven involved some of my female classmates. I dreamed the most about a mexicana named Yolanda Gonzalez. I never even thought about Yolanda once while I was awake. I didn’t sit by her and I never went out of my way to talk to her. Then, one night, she walked into my dreams. She was interested in me romantically. Why didn’t I ever see her in that light before? In my dream, I called her, “Querida” just like Gomez called Morticia in The Addams Family. When I woke up, I realized that Yolanda did resemble Morticia somewhat. They both had long black hair and large beautiful eyes. The next time I saw Yolanda, I was absolutely sure that she loved me! She had told me so in my dreams. I sought her out. We would talk when we would “accidently” bump into each other in the playground during lunch. Well, maybe it wasn’t true love, but she did take at least a liking to me because I was paying so much attention to her. After Yolanda was no longer in my life and dreams, I dreamed about other girls whom I never even had considered in my conscious world. I even dated one of the girls of my dreams.

As I grow older and wiser, I now dream about sleeping in late and realizing that I should be at UIC teaching my Spanish class! Sometimes I dream that I teach two classes and then go home. Suddenly, I realize that I left UIC before I taught my third and last class. But by the time I realize this, it’s too late to go back to teach it. Who knows what I’ll dream of when I reach my next stage!

Al’s Beef

Little Italy, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Al’s Beef with my sons today. Why? Because my sons asked me to take them. Why? Well, I was wondering the same thing myself. They heard about Al’s Beef from the Travel Channel, a restaurant TV show, that showcased Al’s Italian Beef. When they first mentioned going to Al’s Beef, I said okay, nonchalantly. They probably thought I wouldn’t take them because I didn’t sound that enthusiastic. They even doubted if I had even ever heard of Al’s Beef. But, nay, I had stories to tell them about Al’s Beef. And told them, I did. Hesitantly. I really thought they would cut me off. But they didn’t. In fact, they kept asking me for more details. This was the longest we had talked in a long time. Luckily, it was about a subject that was near and dear to my heart. Chicago food!

Ah, the memories! I have been going to Al’s Beef since the 1970s, but I couldn’t tell you the exact date. They may be getting a lot of television exposure now, but Al’s Beef is a veritable ghost town in comparison to when I used to go in the 1980s. The place used to be packed, especially in the summer. I remember going there with my friends Jim and Vito. Sometimes I went with my running friends after track practice. We would eat in the parking lot and go across the street to Mario’s Italian Ice for dessert. Then, we’d sit in the parking lot drinking beer! Those were the days.

Al’s Beef is a little different today. It’s the same building. It still has the same charming decor. And, for as long as I can remember, they always have someone working behind the counter who speaks Spanish. It is a universally acknowledged fact that Italian beef tastes better when it’s served by a Spanish speaker. I remember my friend Jim had a crush on a Mexican girl who used to work there. As single men, we often ate at restaurants. But when he discovered this Mexican girl at Al’s Beef, we ate there at least three times a week! I must admit that she was pretty and she had this really cute Mexicana accent. I asked Jim, “If you married her–” “Do you really think I have a chance with her?” he asked me hopefully. “Let me finish! If you married her, would you really enjoy her coming home smelling like Al’s Italian Beef?” He smiled so I could see a sweet pepper stuck in his teeth and said, “That would be like dying and going to heaven!”

La cocina

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!