Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, México

Please remember that the singular “vacation” in English always becomes the plural “las vacaciones” in Spanish.

  • Fuimos de vacaciones a Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
  • Este semestre tenemos vacaciones de primavera.
  • De niño me encantaban las vacaciones de verano.

Some vocabulary words just take some getting used to.

Estados Unidos Mexicanos

My Mexican Passport

In Spanish, the official name of Mexico is los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. The Mexican coat of arms consists of an eagle holding a snake in its talon and eating it on a cactus growing out of a rock that is in the middle of a lake. Huitzilopochti, the Aztec god of war, told the Aztecs to build a new city where they found a snake eating a snake on cactus. Unfortunately, when they saw the eagle eating the snake on a cactus, the eagle was in the middle of a lake. But the Aztecs obeyed the order to the letter and built Tenochtitlan in the middle of the lake. To this day, Mexicans still manage to live in the most difficult of places. And cactus is a common Mexican food. I have yet to eat snake.

El Zócalo, México D.F.

The Mexican coat of arms is in the white stripe of the flag. The green stripe respresents Hope, the white stripe Union, and the red stripe the Blood of Heroes. In México, I saw the Mexican flag flying over many government buildings and on the uniforms of government officials. Other than for official government uses, the Mexican flag cannot be displayed without a special government permit. I remember there was some controversy a couple of years ago when Paulina Rubio posed nude wearing nothing but the Mexican flag. She was fined because she didn’t have a permit!

In the U.S.A., I see the Mexican flag everywhere! People fly it on their homes. I see it on t-shirts everywhere. People fly it on their cars. Of course, these flags are not in México or someone would be in really big trouble. But Mexicans are very proud of their flag. Most Mexicans have a Mexican flag somewhere in their home.

Garbage or junk?

My own private blogosphere.

Junk is something you wish you had soon after you throw it away. Garbage deserves to be thrown away.

In Chicago, people put their garbage out to be taken away. Sometimes, they put out old furniture to save parking spaces. Sometimes people have things they no long want in their house because this junk is just taking up space. They want t get rid of it, but it’s good junk. However, they lack the desire or time to give to a charitable organization or sell it on the Internet. So, an alternate solution is putting things out with the garbage in a highly visible place. This way, passersby will see it and salvage it. They’ll bring it into their own home for an undetermined period of time–usually until it becomes their junk, which in turn they must also be put out with their garbage. This is one of the many ways that Chicago recycles. It’s the Chicago Way!

In the past, I have put out old furniture with my garbage because I was tired of it and so I bought new furniture. Once you decide you need new furniture, the old furniture becomes junk. However, there are many other people who would love to have your junk because for them it would be a step up and will be insulted if you call their new living room furniture junk. Nothing is more difficult than restraining yourself from calling someone’s furniture junk. Especially if you’re visiting a neighbor who offers you a seat on your old sofa. How can you say something nice about something you threw away?

Junk Bought, Antiques Sold

Of course, I have also been the beneficiary of Chicago recycling. It’s takes a little bit of luck and timing to profit from something that I refuse to call garbage picking. This reminds me of a sign Mark Twain once saw at a store: Junk bought, antiques sold. So these found objects are either junk or treasures, depending on your perspective. Well, I have found some treasures that I can’t imagine why they were thrown away. Granted, they were exposed for all garbage pickers to see. And see them, I did! Once, I found some treasures of my own. I wasn’t really looking for them, but I couldn’t miss them either. In Beverly, we have to put out our garbage cans out in front of our house once a week for garbage pickup. This is my first Chicago home that requires me to put my garbage cans. At all the other homes where I have lived, our garbage cans stayed in the alley where all garbage cans belong. I still haven’t gotten used to putting my garbage out in front!

Anyway, one night I’m driving home from work. I see everyone’s garbage cans out in front and I realize that I had forgotten to put my garbage cans out. At times like these, I realize that it’s good to keep up with the Joneses. So while I’m making a mental note to myself, I see a garbage can that is oddly shaped. Or so it seems. Then, I notice that there is something leaning against a garbage can. I slow down and I realize that they are oil paintings. But it is dark, so I’m not really sure if I believe my eyes. I stop and inspect them more closely. They are, in fact, oil paintings! I found three oil paintings of flowers. Nothing valuable like a Picasso or a finger painting by one of my sons, but they are still very good paintings. I’ve always thought about buying paintings to decorate my house and suddenly I have some. For free! The wooden frames were made in México.

I keep one by my computer to inspire me whenever I write. Doesn’t that painting look beautiful? I’m thankful to whomever threw those paintings away because they were tired of them. Let’s see how long they remain my treasures!

¡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.

Tortillas in space


Tortillas de Chicago

Well, I was watching the ABC World News the other night when the announcer told me not to go away because the next segment would feature the latest space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble space telescope. Of course, I continued watching because I have always been fascinated by space stories and not because I was merely obeying the announcer’s order to stay tuned. So they talked about how the astronauts trained for the mission and how they picked different foods over the course of a year. The astronauts got to choose foods they liked, but the foods had to be practical. I was extremely surprised that one food to make the trip to outer space was the tortilla, which the astronauts really liked. And it was practical because it didn’t leave many crumbs and they take up less space than bread. I really didn’t think the NASA would be all that concerned about space since they can fit the Hubble space telescope, the size of a school bus, in the cargo bay. Bread wouldn’t take up that much space. Besides, they were going to outer space that extends to infinity. Or even further. But tortillas beat out the bread anyway. Knowing the average intelligence of the average American, I would be surprised if any Americans even know that tortillas are the staple food of México.

There's no such thing as a stale tortilla.

Health Club

I exercised in Spanish!

When I was in Mexico, my cousin Mara invited me to go with her to her health club. I really didn’t expect to go to Mexico to workout, so I didn’t have any workout clothes with me. Mara said that I could just wear some casual clothes. So off we went to the health club. Well, I didn’t expect them to let me right in, but I didn’t expect them to ask me a bunch of personal questions regarding my health. I had to jump through some bureaucratic hoops. I had to answer questions to a woman who entered all my answers into a computer. Amazingly, the process only took a few minutes. Just when I thought she was done and I would enter the health club with Mara, the woman told me I would have to take a physical. And they just happened to have a physician in the building. Well, the doctor himself took my vital signs. I was surprised he didn’t have a nurse in the office the way they have in Chicago. He spoke Spanish with a foreign accent, so Mara asked him where he was from and he said Haiti. When he examined me, he told me that I should lose some weight, despite the fact that he had a similar build as mine. And he told me to eat healthier, but he said he said I was healthy enough to work out. I worked out, wondering the whole time if I was actually healthy enough to work out. Of course, I was curious because I had not seen a doctor in the last ten years. But of course I was healthy enough not to keel over or the doctor wouldn’t have let me in the health club. The doctor was there to prevent civil lawsuits. So I pushed myself as hard as possible at the health club. And, as you can see, I lived to tell the tale.

I thought working out was supposed to make you feel better.

¡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!

Aztec cleansing

El Zócalo, Ciudad México

If you go to el Zócalo in Mexico City, you may see all kinds of Mexicans. You really can’t say you’ve been to Mexico City unless you’ve visited el Zócalo In Mexico City. So every time I go to Mexico City, I end up in the Zocalo at least once.

I really love this public square because many Mexicans feel compelled to visit it. El Zócalo is the center of Mexican life. You’ll also see many foreign tourists. Cathedrals, the presidential palace, and colonial buildings surrounding the Zocalo. If you look down in front of the cathedrals, you will see some glass inlaid into the sidewalk revealing the remains of Aztec pyramids below, which the Spaniards razed to construct the cathedral under orders of Hernán Cortés. As a reminder of Mexico’s past, Aztec dancers are ever present near el Zócalo dancing for the public. They will also perform a spiritual cleansing for you. They will cleanse you of any bad spirits that are hindering your happiness and wellbeing. Whenever you see the Aztec dancers, they are always cleansing someone with at least several others waiting in line for their turn.

I told my cousin that I probably needed a good cleansing, and she said I should get one. She confessed that she was once cleansed when life wasn’t treating her well and it improved her life for the better. She insisted that I should be cleansed. I would become a much better person. Well, I didn’t really believe a cleansing would really help me, so I passed. But now I wonder.

The streets of Mexico City

My passport to México DF.

Driving on the streets of México City requires excellent driving skills, a good memory to remember all the major street names, great intestinal fortitude, and at least a couple of loose screws in the brain housing group. Because, who, in their right mind, would want to drive someplace where the drivers view the rules of the road as mere suggestions to be ignored whenever possible? I mean, besides me. Red lights mean stop if you think you’ll get into accident. Otherwise, don’t stop too long or the drivers behind you will start beeping at you to make you drive through the red light. Amazingly, you don’t see very many traffic accidents in Mexico City considering the congestion.

I felt embarrassed that I needed a map to get around México City. Until I found out that anyone who drives all over the city also has a map, like the one above by Roji. It’s a geographically large city, so there are way too many streets to memorize all their names. In fact, many Mexicans know the routes to various places such as their workplace and the homes of family members. But ask them to give you directions to a place they travel to daily, and they’ll be hard pressed to be able to give you accurate directions. Mainly because the don’t know the street names of all the streets on which they drive. My cousin drove me from her house to our aunt’s house. As we were driving, I took out my little notebook with everyone’s address. I asked my cousin the name of the street on which she was driving. She didn’t know its name. Or the names of half the streets we took.

When I drove to the house of another cousin, I followed the directions I was given. They were easy enough to follow. When I arrived at my cousin’s house, I got there way too early and I didn’t feel like waiting around for a few hours for her to get back. So I looked at my Roji and tried to drive to my aunt’s house following a new route that I plotted out, against the advice of my cousin. How hard could it be? Besides, I have been lost in Mexico City many times before. I started to miss driving on my own and getting lost on my own and then trying to find my to my destination. The other thing about driving in Mexico City is that the street signs are so small and so difficult to locate that sometimes they are not very helpful. And sometimes when you do find them, they’re covered with graffiti and are therefore unreadable.

Anyway, I’m driving to my aunt’s house, but the main street that I wanted to take is a one-way street in the opposite direction of my destination. So I figure I’ll take a parallel side street. However, the streets do not follow a regular grid system because Mexico is such an old city. So all side streets radiate out from the main strip of any given colonia, or neighborhood. Well, if I wanted to drive in a more or less parallel course to the main street, I had to zigzag my way from a couple of blocks away. It was easy to lose my sense of direction because very few streets ran in straight lines. Luckily, I thought to use the GPS feature of my iPhone and I could tell I was more or less on course.

Well, this was quite an adventure! And even though I swear I’ll never drive the streets of México City again (mainly when I’m completely lost while driving), I now miss that roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from fear to sheer terror while driving. I can’t wait to drive back to México City!


Celaya, Guanajuato, México

A long time ago, my cousin Gary from México came to visit me in Chicago with his friend Gustavo, also from México. It was a cold, snowy February day. Being the considerate host that I am (most of the time), I asked to take their coats. They said they wanted to keep them on. We talked for a while and finally they took off their coats because they got hot. I took their coats and hung them up in the closet. I asked them why they kept their coats on and they said that in México most houses didn’t have heating, so everyone keeps their coat on to stay warm. The weather is much more temperate in Mexico than in Chicago where we have extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer and so our homes have heating and air conditioning.

When I was in Mexico, not one home I visited had heating or air conditioning because they don’t really need it. In the winter, the temperatures drop, but everyone sleeps under blankets and when they are awake they wear coats or jackets in the house if they feel cold. Of course, everyone worries that I’m cold because I don’t wear a jacket along with everyone else. In fact, I wore short-sleeved shirts. People got cold watching me walk around sans jacket or sweater. When I look at some of the pictures I’ve taken, I see people wearing winter coats even though I recall the temperature hovering around sixty degrees. On the plus side, Mexicans have two less utility expenses since they don’t have or need heating nor air conditioning. I wish I could do without heating and air conditioning in Chicago!

¡Hace mucho frío!