Marina


Mariachis

Marina was a Mexicana whom I met when I was in the police academy. We met just by chance because the Chicago Police Department, in its infinite wisdom, divided all the new recruits into four different classrooms based on race, ethnicity, and sex in order to be politically correct. There we were, in the police academy gym, and the instructors asked all the white males to step forward. They were immediately divided into four groups. Next, they called the females who were sorted out on the basis of their gender regardless of their race or ethnicity. Then, the African-American / Black males were equally divided into the four groups. And last, but not least, the Hispanic / Latino males were assigned to a classroom. The department tried to avoid racial and sexual discrimination lawsuits using this system for hiring new police officers.

Anyway, Marina and I were assigned to the same classroom where the entire class was assigned desks by alpabetical order. Since her last name was Perez, she sat directly in front of me. Well, we became good friends because we were partners for many of the training activities. She was a very pretty Mexicana, but a little on the plump side. However, she could meet all the physical requirements for calesthenics, running, and self defense. I was single at that time, but she had a boyfriend then, so we remained just friends.

One day during self-defense class, we had to practice applying a wrist lock on each other. We had to command each other to walk in a certain direction, lay face-down, and then handcuff our “arrestee.” If the arrestee didn’t obey, we applied more pressure on the wrist lock until they complied. By then, I knew Marina well enough to joke around with her. The instructor observed everyone to make sure they were applying the wrist lock properly.

Well, when I had Marina in the wrist lock, the instructor told me that I did it well and then walked away. I took advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t be back for a few minutes. So, I steered Marina around the mat by tightening my grip on her wrist. I told her to get on her knees and she did. I told her to lie down and she did. Then, I asked her if she wanted to go out me. I was just joking, of course. She immediately said “No!” I applied a little more pressure on her wrist and she changed her answer to “Yes!” even though she had a boyfriend. Then, I told her to tell me that she loved me. With a little bit more pressure, she did. I just had to smile.

When I released her, she said, “You’re gonna get it!” Now it was her turn to restrain me! Well, I immediately apologized, but it was too late to be sorry. But I was surprised when she applied her wrist lock on me. I was able to control the pain. You see, I would just recall all the times that my mother used to hit me with the belt, the broom, the extension cord, or whatever else was within reach whenever I angered her. Thanks to my mother, I had a high tolerance for pain and Marina wasn’t able to make me do anything I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I just went through the motions and let myself be restrained. After classes were over, we saw her boyfriend and I told him what I had done. He wasn’t very amused, but I thought it be better if I told him instead of Marina.

Eventually, we finished our academy training, but I always saw Marina at traffic court since they assigned our courtrooms by alphabetical order. She later broke up with her boyfriend and invited me to go to her family Thanksgiving Dinner, which I did. Later, I went to her family Christmas party, but we remained merely friends. I didn’t see her again for a couple of years.

I met her again through her fiance who happened to work in my district. We just started talking one day after roll call and I learned that he would soon marry Marina. We became friends after that. He was Lithuanian so he had lived in the same neighborhoods as me. We had a few things in common. Well, when they married, they invited my wife and me to their wedding. When I asked Marina about his family, she told me that they weren’t too happy that he was marrying a Mexicana. They wanted him to marry a nice Lithuanian girl. So at the reception, the hall was evenly divided with the Lithuanians on one side and the Mexicans on the other. They had hired a DJ for the music, but they had also hired some Mariachis to play while everyone ate dinner to show everyone how wonderful Mexicans are. However, the Mariachis were late! And his side of the family was upset. Eventually, the Mariachis showed up, but dinner was almost over. The police had pulled over their van for running a redlight and the driver didn’t have a driver’s license or auto insurance. So it took a while before they got to the reception. Well, the Lithuanians were upset at the Mariachis and the Mexicans were embarrassed by them!

Melanie


After my first divorce, I moved back home with my mother to 2509 W. Marquette Road. At first, she didn’t even know I was living with her. She lived on the second floor and I moved back into my bedroom in the basement. When I separated from my wife, I lived in the basement for about two months before I finally told my mother I had moved back home. I guess I needed to feel comfortable about telling her. Plus, I thought that the possibility of a reconciliation still existed. I didn’t want to tell everyone I was getting divorced if we got back together again! The reason she didn’t know I moved back home was that she worked the day shift and I worked midnights. We hardly ever crossed paths, and not just physically, but also ideologically and morally. Anyway, when I told her I was getting divorced, she said I was making a big mistake and that I would never find another wife as good as her. You know, the usual speech a Mexicana gives her oldest son upon discovering that he’s getting divorced. A speech filled with sentiments that would make any Mexican son feel guilty for breaking his mother’s heart by not giving her grandchildren. I was hoping to get a reception like the prodigal son, but I got The Mexicana Mother Speech! I got over it in about two days.

Once I could freely go upstairs to my mother’s apartment on the second floor–she rented out the first floor to paying tenants–I used to see my mother staring out the window a lot. Our house faced north on Marquette Road, just west of Western Avenue, so there was always plenty of activity to observe. One day, as I was trying to sneak downstairs behind her back–she always knew when I was in the room–she called me over to look out the window. A young Mexicana holding the hand of a little girl was was walking past our house. They lived in a basement apartment across the street. My mother had noticed her walking past our house previously. I don’t think that my mother would have taken such an interest in them if they hadn’t been Mexicanas. The next day, my mother saw them again. “They always walk by at the same time,” my mother said to me. “She needs a babysitter. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.” I told my mother to be careful because she might not trust her daughter to a complete stranger, especially one who is waiting for her on the street. The next day, when I went to my mother’s apartment, the young Mexicana and her daughter were in the living room. The mother was a very pretty Mexicana who was completely bilingual. In fact, when I heard her speak English so fluently, I didn’t think that she could speak Spanish at all, but she was just as fluent in both languages. It turns out that Chayo, her actual name was Rosario, took her daughter Melanie to daycare every morning before going to work. Somehow, my mother talked her into dropping off Melanie at our house before going to work. How did my mother convince Chayo to trust her with her only child? Well, my mother was waiting outside about the time that Chayo and Melanie walked back home from the daycare and my mother greeted her in Spanish. One thing led to another and they were talking on the corner for about an hour before they went into my mother’s house. Apparently, they both knew some of the same people. So that was the connection! Mexicans always try to find a common bond, whether it be friends, family, or the same place of origin in Mexico. So my mother had a babysitting job now.

So the next day, Melanie was upstairs when I woke up in the afternoon after working the midnight shift. I love children, so it was nice to have a little girl in the house again. She was like my mother’s daughter and my little sister. We both pampered her. Melanie looked much happier now than when she walked home from the daycare. Melanie’s first day at our house was very exciting for Melanie and us. Then Chayo, who was about my age, came to pick up her daughter. We talked for a while and when it was time for Chayo, and Melanie to leave, Chayo asked my mother how much she charged for babysitting. I knew mother didn’t want any money, but she had to name a price, so she said, “One-hundred dollars! Cash!” Chayo’s mouth dropped open. And then my mother laughed. She said that she would babysit for free. Chayo said that she had to pay her something because she was saving so much not taking her daughter to the daycare. Chayo tried to slip some folded dollar bills into my mother’s hand but she wouldn’t accept them. As far as I knew, my mother never charged her for babysitting.

Melanie took quite a liking to me. She had just turned four and she was at that age where she was so much fun. She had long, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. She looked liked the cutest Mexican girl ever. She would always anxiously await me going upstairs when I woke up in the afternoon. We played games together and she always sat next to me at the dinner table. When I started working the day shift, she would look out the window waiting for me to come home. She was always happy to see me. Soon, she wanted to go with me whenever I went out. At first, I didn’t want to take her with me, but my mother said it would be okay. Melanie and I walked to my car hand in hand. I was going to the store to buy some groceries for my mother. Melanie sat in the front seat with me. Actually, she kept standing up and putting her arms around my neck, holding on for dear life. This was in the 1970s before it was mandatory to have small children in safety seats. Well, I almost got into an accident because Melanie obscured my vision, so I had to swerve and slam on the brakes. Melanie lost her grip around my neck and slid across the front seat until her head hit the passenger door. Luckily, she didn’t even get a bruise. I learned my lesson and from then on Melanie wore a seatbelt. After that, I felt more comfortable driving, too.

Then, my mother started talking to me about Chayo. She was available. I should ask her out. But what about Melanie’s father? He was in jail. I didn’t even want to know what crime he had committed to wind up in jail soon after Melanie’s birth and I didn’t want to know. Besides, he never married Chayo. No, I never asked Chayo out and she soon met someone else, something I have never regretted. One day, Melanie, out of the blue, started telling me, “I love you.” Somehow, she had become like my daughter. I didn’t mind, either. I like having Melanie around. Then, it all ended when I enlisted in the Marines. My mother told me to look for Chayo’s brother who was also in the Marines. In one of those unbelievable coincidences that you’re not supposed to write about because no one would believe it anyway, I actually met Chayo’s brother at Camp Pendleton. I wrote about this accidental meeting in a previous blog entry. And in yet another one of those unbelievable coincidences, I met one of Chayo’s sisters at the University of Chicago Track Club. But wait! Here’s another coincidence. When I was a member of the Marquette Park Track Club, Joe Gregory, one of our runners, announced the he was getting married. To whom? To another one of Chayo’s sisters. After I was honorable discharged from the Marine Corps and I had my own apartment near Marquette Park, Chayo called me. We talked awhile. My mother had previously told me that she would try to set me up with Chayo. So Chayo called me, but I wasn’t really interested. She called me a few more times, but that was the end of it. My only regret? That I didn’t ask her about Melanie!

I love you, Daddy!

Private Cloud


Private Cloud

I met Leslie Cloud when I was in the Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego, California. He was proud of the fact that he was a Chippewa Indian from Wisconsin.

In boot camp we only knew our fellow Marines by their surname because first names were unimportant. However, if we took a liking to someone, we introduced ourselves. Leslie approached me first. He said, “Hi, my name is White Cloud.” I started laughing because I immediately thought of the toilet paper by the same name. When I noticed he was staring at me with a menacing look, I stopped laughing. Then he laughed and said, “My name’s really Leslie.” I felt an immense sense of relief because for a second there I thought he would pound the laughter out of me.

We shared the same set of bunk beds, so that made us partners for many of our boot camp activities. Actually, he picked me for his bunk partner, although I’m not sure why. He said that I had to sleep on the top bunk, and the way he said it, I knew I didn’t have any other option.

I never really learned too much about his personal life, but occasionally he would say something that revealed his past. I was a regular Marine and he was a reservist who would return to his reservation after boot camp. Sometimes he would reminisce about his life on the reservation, how he could hunt whenever he wanted. But other than that, he remained a mystery to me.

He had a sense of humor that today would be considered politically incorrect, but he always made laugh. There were moments when I thought he was the funniest man in the world. Unfortunately, laughing was not allowed in boot camp. So he tried to make me laugh at the most inappropriate moments. In the morning, we had to make our bunks and stand at attention. The goal was not to be the last one done, or you and your partner would be ordered to do pushups or another callisthenic exercise. The first day we were bunkmates, I thought I was making my bunk at breakneck speed. By the time I had finished tucking the hospital folds of the bottom flat sheet, Leslie began helping me with the top sheet. When I looked at his bunk, I was amazed that he had already made it. It was so perfectly made, too, that it passed the quarter-bouncing test when the drill instructor bounced a quarter on the bed to see if the sheets are tucked in tightly enough. “Where did you learn to make a bed like that,” I asked. With a wink of an eye, he said, “It’s an old Injun trick!” Then, he got serious and said that he had grown up in an orphanage.

When we were in infantry training, we shared a tent that we put up faster than any other team in the platoon. I realized that I had only assisted him while he did most of the work. We stood at attention for what seemed an eternity waiting the next team to finish setting up their tent. While we were standing there, I asked, “How did you put up the tent so fast?” He looked at me with a straight face and said, “Injun-uity!” I had to contain my laughter so as not to be punished for not being at attention. The incident I remember most? I was looking at picture from my last trip to México immediately before entering boot camp. I had a picture of my grandmother with her long black hair with traces of gray in the traditional Mexican braids and her dark brown skin and broad cheeks. I saw Leslie looking at the picture, so I told him she was my grandmother. He solemnly said, “So you’re one of us.”

Toward the end of our boot camp training, we were informed that we had both been meritoriously promoted to Private First Class (PFC). He began calling me PFC Rodriguez, and I called him PFC Cloud. Those titles sounded so prestigious in boot camp when most recruits were only privates. However, during the promotion ceremony, I was promoted but not Leslie. He showed no outward indication of disappointment. I never found out why Leslie didn’t get promoted. When we said our good-byes after boot camp, I asked him for his address so we could stay in touch. He said no because he wouldn’t write to me anyway. And that was the last I ever heard of him.

Mexicanas


Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, México

Mexicanas are very unique women in this world. However, I don’t want to lump them all into one group as there are different kinds of Mexicanas. Sure they all have the common denominator of Mexico somewhere in their background and that’s enough to differentiate them from women of other ethnicities. So in an effort to educate you, gentle reader, I will over-analyze Mexicanas for you. Yes, there are different kinds of Mexicanas that I like to divide into three groups: 1. Mexicanas, 2. Mexicanas, and 3. Mexicanas. As you can see, UIC didn’t give me my Ph.D. for nuthin’! I learned to categorize just about everything while studying for my graduate degrees. Anyway, if you examine my groups of Mexicanas, you will clearly see that there are three different kinds of Mexicanas: 1, 2, and 3. Is that clear?

First of all, there are Mexicanas like my abuelita, born and raised in Mexico, destined never to live anywhere else. And they don’t want to leave Mexico either. Their names are usually María or Guadalupe. Or, even Guadalupe María or María Guadalupe. No exceptions. My abuelita María Guadalupe Valdivía came to Chicago only because my mother insisted. Abuelita didn’t like Chicago at all because it wasn’t Mexico. She hated the winters here and she hated the fact that she would have to learn English. She stayed just long enough to have her eye surgery and then she returned to Mexico. And she never came back. And she never missed Chicago at all. My mother would visit abuelita at least once a year in Mexico. And even though she was blind, abuelita lived by herself in Mexico. She was a very strong Mexicana.

Second, there are Mexicanas like my strong-willed mother who were also born and raised in Mexico, but not firmly rooted there. They come to America for a while, then go back to Mexico. But return to America even though they always complained about America in Mexico. They just keep going back and forth never entirely happy in either place. In general, nothing seems to please them. My mother always complained about everything, to everyone in America and Mexico. When her Mexicana friends would visit, they would all sit around complaining about America. And then, to change the subject just a little, they would complain about Mexico. Nothing ever seemed to please these Mexicanas as they sat around complaining and breast-feeding their babies.

Third, there are Mexicanas like my sister or ex-wives, born in America, but unmistakably Mexicana by their accent. I once had a Mexicana girlfriend who had the Mexicana accent, but couldn’t speak a word of Spanish! She used to get so mad when people automatically spoke Spanish to her and she would have to admit that she only knew English, albeit the Mexicana kind of English. These Mexicanas love everything about Mexico, the music, the food, the culture, but they wouldn’t want to live there. It’s okay to visit once in while to catch up with family events, but that’s about it. America is their home, even if they are Mexicanas, and they never hesitate to let the gringos know it.

I’ve known Mexicanas all my life, beginning with my mother, then my abuelita, and finally, my significant others. The more I get to know them, the less I seem to understand them. I do know they are sexual beings from observing them and from my very own personal hands-on experience. I don’t know much about my abuelita’s sex life, but let me say this. She never married my abuelito and they rarely lived together. Yet they managed to have six children together. My parents were always fighting and I never ever heard them having a normal, civilized conversation. My father was always affectionate with my mother, but she would repel all his amorous overtures, at least that I could see. Occasionally, when my father didn’t work the midnight shift, I could hear him trying to seduce my mother in their bedroom, right next to mine. My father always saying something affectionate and my mother always telling him to leave her alone. Apparently he didn’t give up and she didn’t resist enough because they had six children together. My youngest brother was born soon after my parents separated.

The Mexicanas that came into my life were certainly very affectionate, if you know what I mean. That’s the thing about Mexicanas: They immediately know if they like you or not, if they will love you or not. I met my first wife Linda when my friend invited me to go with him to a wedding in Merrill, Michigan. We barely spoke and I didn’t see her again for another month–and we spoke even less then. Next thing I knew she moved to Chicago just to be with me–not that I minded, of course.

My second wife Anna chased after me, too. She kept hinting for me to ask her out. I really wasn’t interested in her, but she was persistent. She gave me her phone number and I threw it away. Her friend gave me Anna’s phone number and I threw it away again. She was so persistent that I finally gave in. If a Mexicana is that interested in me, I know we will be happy together. If Mexicanas don’t love you, or at least like you, you better back off because you don’t have a chance and you’re just wasting your time.

From what I’ve seen, the odds are against you if you think you can win a Mexicana over. However, once she yours, you better show her that you need her and she’ll be yours for as long as she wants you. But that may or may not be till death do you part. One of the fringe benefits of having a Mexicana is having an active sex life. I mean there’s no begging at all. In fact, I was dragged into the bedroom many times, although I must admit that I didn’t put up much of a fight. And the fun doesn’t stop just because it’s that time of month, either. In fact, a Mexicana wants you even more right then. This happened to me many times. And just because you have all these heated arguments during the day, doesn’t mean that you’ll be ignored at night. In fact, that’s usually some of the best lovemaking. And the next morning? She continues being mad at you from the day before. That is, until night falls again.

Well, that’s about all I’m willing to say for my over-analysis of Mexicanas for now. But someday, I’ll truly delve into Mexicanas to try to understand them! Maybe, I’ll discover that there are many more than just three groups of Mexicanas.

Matilde y el martillo


Mi tío Samuel y mi tía Matilde

My tía Matilde was quite a character. Once when we were visiting in México, we stayed with my abuelita who was blind. All our relatives would always visit abuelita, especially when we came from Chicago. Matilde was still single at the time, so she lived with my abuelita.

While we were there, my mother decided to fix up my abuelita’s place a little. That meant everyone there had to work, vacation or not! We cleaned and painted, and when my mother saw the freshly painted walls she decided to hang up some family pictures. Only one problem. My abuelita didn’t have a hammer. So, my mother sent tía Matilde to get a hammer from a friend’s house.

That sounds easy enough, no? Well, not to a Mexicana. Somehow the simplest errands become complicated quests. Tía Matilde sets of on the simple errand of bringing back a hammer so my mother could hang up some pictures. My aunt should have returned in ten to fifteen minutes tops. Well, a half hour went by and tía Matilde didn’t return.

My mother looked down the street and saw no sign of her sister. An hour passed, then another, and still no sign of tía Matilde. My mother sent me to the friend’s house to see if Matilde ever went there. No, they hadn’t seen her all day. No one really worried about her because in México sometimes people get distracted and forget their original mission, in this case, the quest for the hammer.

Tía Matilde finally returned about three hours later! My abuelita and my mother started interrogating her. “Where did you go? What took you so long?”

Well, she met this certain Samuel. He was standing on the corner playing the guitar and he started serenading her. They went for a walk and before she knew it, three hours had passed. Then, she remembered about the hammer! She returned, finally, but without the hammer!

My abuelita and mother were mad at tía Matilde, but they also couldn’t help laughing at the whole situation. By the way, Matilde and Samuel eventually married and had six children.

Why study Spanish?


I’ve been teaching college Spanish for twelve years now every student has his or her own reason for studying Spanish.  Most college students take Spanish because of the foreign language requirement. I remember one of these students who barely passed the course. When I returned her first exam, I felt bad for her because she only earned a D. When she saw her exam grade, she shouted, “Yes!” I was worried that perhaps I had given her the wrong grade. The entire class turned to look at her. She then shouted, “Yes, I got a D!” She was so proud of herself. She went through this ritual after every exam. I gave her a final grade of D for the course. The next semester, I saw her in the hallway and I was hoping she wouldn’t see me because I thought she was unhappy about her grade. But alas, she saw me and approached. Suddenly, she smiled and said, “Thanks for the grade you gave me!” And she was genuinely happy about it. Then, she added, “I had a lot of fun in your class.” I was shocked by all this, but I must admit that it was all very rewarding.

So I was thinking of other reasons that my students took Spanish. Here are some:

  1. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish.
  2. My wife speaks Spanish.
  3. My husband speaks Spanish.
  4. It’s a beautiful language.
  5. I want to go to Mexico on vacation.
  6. Most of my customers speak Spanish.
  7. My parishioners speak Spanish.
  8. I want to move to Mexico.
  9. I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and order food in Spanish.
  10. I want to see Penelope Cruz movies in Spanish.
  11. There are so many Mexicans here, we’re all going to have to learn Spanish anyway.
  12. I want a sexy Mexican girlfriend.
  13. I’m Mexican and I can’t speak Spanish.
  14. I think the cooks in the kitchen are talking about me.

Are you sure you're not talking about me?

Matilde


Mi abuelita y tía Matilde

My tía Matilde came to Chicago as part of the package deal when my abuelita came for eye surgery. Tía Matilde also needed surgery, so she came from México to have surgery on her ears. I’m not sure what exactly was wrong with her ears, but she was otherwise healthy.

My aunt was very young when she came and she liked living in Chicago. She loved listening to pop music on the radio and she bought all the records by her favorite singer, Rick Nelson. She went wild when listening to his music.

What I remember most about my tía Matilde was how she did laundry. We, my parents, my three brothers, my abuelita, my tía Matilde, and me, all lived in a small four-room apartment. We had a washer and dryer in the kitchen next to the sink. When my parents were at work, tía Matilde would do all the laundry in the house, every last handkerchief and sock. She would search everywhere in the apartment for dirty clothes. She found dirty clothes where I would never even think of looking. She just had to make sure that every last item of dirty clothing was clean when she was done doing the laundry. And so, when all the dirty clothes were in the washer, and there was a little room in the tub for more clothes, she would start taking off her clothes right at the washer and start putting them in the washer. She would be standing in the kitchen wearing nothing but her bra and panties, proud of the fact that all the dirty clothes in the house were now washed, obviously oblivious to my presence.

Back then, we always seemed to be either at home or at Cook County Hospital taking either my abuelita or tía Matilde to the doctors there. Anyway, my tía Matilde, who would undress at the washer, was very shy with the doctors when they asked her to disrobe. The day of her surgery, she refused to undress and refused to put on the hospital gown because it had no back to it. I still remember her telling this story when she returned from her surgery. She absolutely refused to undress for the nurses and doctors. She thought she had won her battle, but after the surgery, she woke up in her hospital bed and immediately realized that she was completely naked! Whenever she told this story, she always sounded so shocked that this could have happened to her despite her precautions. She didn’t even remember when or why she lost consciousness. She always wondered who managed to see her naked. She would blush everytime she told the story.  She was truly traumatized by this experience!

She eventually went back to México with my abuelita.

Olivia Maciel


Sombra en plata por Olivia Maciel

Olivia Maciel is a poet who was born in Mexico City, but has lived in Chicago a long time. She has written several collections of poetry over the years. She writes poetry in Spanish, but her books include an English translation on the facing page. I recently read two of her collections: Sombra en plata [Shadow in Silver], Chicago, Swan Isle Press, 2005, and  Luna de cal [Limestone Moon], Chicago, Black Swan Press, 2000. All her books are available for purchase on Amazon.com.

I first met Olivia in one of my graduate classes at UIC. We took several classes together while earning our masters degrees. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. When Octavio Paz died, she wrote an article about her reactions to his death that appeared in the Chicago Tribune. We occasionally bump into each other at UIC because we are both Spanish lecturers there. I really enjoy talking to her because she’s so creative. Sometimes, she begins writing poems as we speak. She says that I inspire her when we talk. I asked her if she would hire me as her muse.

Viene vestida de viento y perlas.

New Year’s Eve


Making tamales with TLC

I have many fond memories of New Year’s Eve beginning in my childhood when our entire family would go to my Uncle Simon’s and Aunt Mari’s house. The party always involved eating a lot of  Mexican food and real hard play among cousins. At midnight, everyone, I mean children, too, toasted with a glass of champagne. That was the only time of the year I drank alcohol–until I became an altar boy and my friend once talked me into taking a sip of altar wine before mass.  But I only indulged that once because I felt so guilty and sinful afterwards.

Once, we were in Mexico for New Year’s Eve and we celebrated by making tamales and eating them. In Chicago, my mother made the masa during the day and then made buñuelos at midnight as a way of ringing in the new year. I think that New Year’s Eve wasn’t as exciting once we stopped going to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I don’t really remember too many of those later celebrations now. When I was married, I was content to stay home with my wife and son and watch the festivities in Chicago on TV. When I lived in Bridgeport, I used to take my oldest son to the attic window at midnight where we could see the fireworks downtown. When the twins were born, we moved farther away from downtown, so we could no longer see the fireworks from the window. But we watched them on TV, although not quite as dramatic.

Later, after my divorce, my Mexicana girlfriend decided that we would make tamales for New Year’s Eve. She bought a giant pot for the tamales and lots and lots of masa. We would make tamales together, just the two of us. Actually, I enjoyed making the tamales. In Mexico, I only got to watch the women of the family make the tamales; males weren’t allowed to touch the masa. My girlfriend showed me how to mix the meat into the masa and stuff the masa into the corn husk. She had made tamales a few times and actually knew what she was doing. We even made some sweet tamales with raisins. We had about six different kinds of tamales. We literally did this for at least two hours and the giant pot was still only half-full. However, she insisted that we fill the pot all the way to the top. We filled the pot at about 3:00 a.m. And I was exhausted! But wait! She put a penny at the bottom of the pot where there was boiling water to steam the tamales. The flame underneath had to be at just the right temperature and you could tell if the temperature was just right because the penny would keep making noise as the boiling water moved it. The only time I really saw tamales made was in Mexico as a boy, but my mother and aunts cooked the tamales over a bonfire. Well, I went to bed about 6:00 a.m. because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. She stayed up to keep adding water and ensuring that the tamales cooked properly. I didn’t realize they would involve so much work. She woke me up a few hours later when they were done. She had stayed up the whole time! We then ate the tamales and they were so delicious! We ate them later that day. And the next day, too. There were so many tamales that she put some in her fridge and froze the some in her freezer. And there were still some tamales leftover! So I took some home and put them in my freezer. We ate tamales until the Fourth of July! And we never got tired of them. We loved them!

¡Happy New Year! ¡Próspero Año Nuevo!

Please! No more tamales!

My Mexican relatives


María del Carmen Martínez Valdivia

Well, I sure learned a lot about my family on this trip to México. For one, most of the stories that my mother told me about her family weren’t true! While talking to my cousin, I realized that none of the facts matched most of the stories my mother told me when I was a boy. For example, my mother would often tell me how when she was a girl, she wanted a life-like doll for her birthday. One that cried like a real baby, drank a bottle, and wet her diapers, etc. And on my mother’s birthday, my tía Jovita was born. That was the birthday present my mother really wanted! Well, I told my cousin this story and she said that tía Jovita’s birthday is on December 24. So this doesn’t match up to my mother’s birthday on April 27!

Also, everyone in México always knew my mother as Helen. When I was little that’s what my father called her. I always knew her as Helen, too, until she became a U.S. citizen and she changed her legal name to Carmen M. Rodríguez. When my mother died, I was surprised to discover that her real name, based on her birth certificate was María del Carmen Martínez Valdivia. When I was little, my mother always told me how she and her sisters didn’t like their given names, so they changed them to something that they really liked. Mariana Anita became Esthela, María del Carmen became Helen, María became Marusa, Jovita became Rebeca. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her sister’s Laura’s original name. Their brother Alfredo always remained Alfredo. Go figure!

My cousin also told me that her mother told her how my mother used to dress in boy’s clothes and insisted on being called Alejandro. Of course, I’m not sure how true this story is because it turns out my tía also liked to embellish her stories. But if it is true, what a coincidence that I also liked the name so much that I named one of my sons Alejandro!