Mexican sense of humor

Exhibit A: Mexican sense of humor

Mexicans have the best sense of humor in the world. No one laughs more than a Mexican. They’re always joking around, and they are always laughing. Just watch them and see. Many people often ask me why I’m always laughing. I never actually have an answer because I don’t know why I’m always laughing. Sometimes, I laugh for no apparent reason, which makes it easy for me to find a seat on the train.

When I was in México, I noticed my cousin David Rodríguez laughed just as much as me and just as loud. My sons always complain that I laugh louder than everyone else in the theater whenever we see a movie. I can’t help it. My mother and I always told jokes and we weren’t afraid to laugh. My abuelita was also quite funny. Our whole family is always laughing. If you ever go to a Mexican party, you will hear continuous laughter. It’s just our nature. We lead simple uncomplicated lives and enjoy every moment of life. If we have a place to live, food to eat, and drink to drink, we’re happy as a tamal in a corn husk. And no matter what tragedy occurs in our lives, we’ll just laugh it off.

I’ve heard Mexicans tell how they lost their job, their house, their car, etc., and make everyone listening laugh while they told their sad tale. I admit it. I’ve laughed, too. My friend José was a carpenter who had once cut off his index finger with an electric saw. One day, I saw he had two fingers bandaged and I asked him what had happened. He told me how he was cutting wood with an electric band saw and his mind drifted a little. Right from the beginning he slipped into the typical Mexican joke-telling mode. “Remember how I told you how I cut off my index finger the last time,” José said, and I remembered how he had made me laugh then. “Well, this time, I cut off my index finger AND my middle finger!” He started laughing with his contagious laughter, and I couldn’t help but laugh, too. “¡Chingado! I did it again!” he said to me. “Then I couldn’t find my fingers right away because they went flying across the room!” I regret to say that we both laughed hysterically during his recounting of this catastrophe. Of course, he never did finish telling me the story because he was laughing too hard. But even in a crisis, a Mexican will find humor.

Maxwell Street

I'll have the Polish sausage with mustard, onions, and extra cholesterol!

Last night, I watched The Blues Brothers movie again, mainly to show my sons a classic movie about Chicago. I first saw it 1980 when I was in the Marines. I saw the 25th anniversary edition DVD at my local library and I borrowed it since I always talk about classic movies with my sons. This is an age of reproductions and sometimes my sons will quote something from a song, a TV show, or a movie they have seen without knowing the source of the imitation, parody, or spoof. So whenever possible, I try to educate my sons by pointing out the original source. Perhaps the most famous scene from The Blues Brothers movie is the one that I’ve seen in many contexts and that is the scene where Jake and Elwood Blues go to the Triple Rock Baptist Church and find God. You know the scene where Jake back flips up and down the aisle. I once saw this scene with my sons at a movie theater during the previews. My sons had seen the scene before, too, but they had never seen the whole movie.

I liked the scene at Maxwell Street because I still remember going to Maxwell Street as a boy with my father and uncles when we lived in Pilsen. When we went to St. Francis of Assisi Church on Roosevelt and Halsted, we were right around the corner from Maxwell Street. Sometimes we went to Maxwell Street after mass. My father always went to Preskill’s hardware store where my father could look at tools for hours. I always remember the little shacks that were built in the middle of the street to sell food such as red hots (hot dogs), Polish sausages, and other appetizing greasy foods, but we never ate there.

When I was old enough to drive, I often returned to Maxwell Street, against my mother’s wishes. This was a great place to buy nice clothing cheap. And tailors would alter it for a perfect fit. It was then that I was finally attracted to fine cuisine that Maxwell Street had to offer. Yes, I’m talking about those Polish sausages and pork chop sandwiches, way before they started serving them with French fries. Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage was right on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. That was my favorite eating establishment. Sometimes I would stop there on the way home from the comedy clubs because they never closed. I mean never! Not even Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Where else could I buy a Polish sausage and pork chop sandwich at any hour of the day, any day of the year? Sometimes I would drive by just to smell the all the Polish sausages, pork chops, and onions piled high on the ever-grilling grill that was the equivalent of Maxwell Street’s eternal flame. I would always meet interesting people there, too. I once saw a limo pull up and the passenger got out to buy a Polish sausage and then got back into the backseat of the limo and then it drove off. I’ve often wondered about the true story of that purchase. How cool would it be to go to Maxwell Street in limo?

When I became a Chicago police officer, if I drove past Maxwell Street, I just had to stop for a Polish sausage and a pork chop sandwich. No matter what district I worked, I somehow found myself going by Maxwell Street on the way back from the Cook County Jail, the Cook County Hospital, or the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Of course, I would stop at Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and partake of their fine cuisine.

Follow your nose to Jim's Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage!


Dr. D. on the road in Mexico.

Have you seen the new movie Bandidas? Have you even heard of the movie Bandidas? You haven’t? But it premiered in France on January 18, 2006, and in Spain on August 4, 2006. This movie stars Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz! What do you mean you haven’t heard of Bandidas?

Actually, I’d be surprised if you had heard of Bandidas. I almost didn’t hear of it myself. In the direct to DVD phenomenon of movie magic for profit, I read about the Bandidas DVD release couple of months back in Hoy, the Spanish newspaper I get delivered to my house for free. I looked to buy the movie at the usual places where I buy DVDs, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. And I also thought it would be in Spanish because I read about the movie in Spanish in a Spanish newspaper, but not in any of the newspapers printed in English! Well, I couldn’t find the movie in theaters or at the store, and once I did find it, I was disappointed because it was English! I found the movie when I bought hard drive for my home network that was bundled with three free movies that I could download as part of a trial service for home movies. One of the free movies that I downloaded was Bandidas, since I wanted to see it after reading about it. I hate to say this, but I am sure glad I didn’t pay for it.

Hayek and Cruz are great actresses who wanted to make a movie together for the longest time, hence Bandidas. However, this certainly was not one of their best acting performances. Hayek was much better as Frida Kahlo. And Cruz, well, I will never forget her incredible performance as a pregnant nun with AIDS!

Anyway, the movie is set in Mexico in the 1880s or thereabouts. Hayek plays Sara Sandoval, a spoiled, European-educated Mexican woman, and Cruz plays María Álvarez, a poor Mexican peasant. I was disappointed that the movie was in English, but relieved that Cruz spoke English with a Mexican accent, rather than her usual English with a Spanish accent that sounds as if she’s from Spain, which she is, by the way. An evil American railroad magnate decides to buy the land in the path of their new railroad line by whatever means possible, including killing landowners who refuse to sell. The attempted murder of Álvarez’s father and the the murder of Sandoval’s father sets the contrived plot in motion, which reminded me of those made-for-TV movies from the 1970s. So Álvarez and Sandoval learn to rob banks and save the day by stopping the evil American. Where you expecting a better ending? Actually, so was I.

I loved the panoramic Mexican scenery as Sandoval and Álvarez traveled across Mexico. Those Mexican mountains are quite beautiful! However, they were no match for the mountainous cleavage of Hayek and Cruz. What mountain climber could resist scaling those peaks? Talk about gratuitous cleavage scenes! Of course, it’s a well-known fact that the quality of a movie is directly proportional to the amount of cleavage shown. But deep down inside, I know that their cleavage was necessary for plot development. Otherwise, they would have never gotten the help they needed by enticing their male partner Quentin Cooke to join their bank-robbing spree.

The movie does portray Mexicans in a realistic light, including the social and class distinctions. There are good politicians who care for the general welfare of their people and bad politicians who are greedy and assist the evil American railroad magnate. But as far as Mexican realism, I preferred Nacho Libre because it pulled no punches describing Mexican poverty. I’m not sure I can recommend Bandidas. If you happen to run across it–but don’t go out of your way to find it–go ahead and watch it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Real Women Have Curves

My Spanish students love this movie!

I really loved the movie Real Women Have Curves (2005, Directed by Patricia Cardoso) even though I’m not a woman and I’m not from Los Angeles. I laughed throughout the movie because I could identify with the Mexicans who were portrayed accurately in the movie. We could see the importance of family unity and how going to college could be perceived as threat to this unity. Education is not viewed as positve goal in a Mexican family that has relied on manual labor to survive. Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) wants her daughter Ana (America Fererra, as of late as Ugly Betty on TV) to work in her sister Estela’s dress shop instead of going away to college. Ana finally gives in to her mother’s wishes, but you can see that Ana is not only unhappy there, but she really does not belong there because has so much more potential than that of a laborer. But, that’s how Mexicans think sometimes. Even though Carmen complains about how hard she has worked as seamstress throughout her life, she is willing to subject her daughter to the same punishment of manual labor.

Carmen also criticizes her daughter about her excessive weight, even though Carmen herself is overweight. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and Ana is beautiful in her own way. Her boyfriend Jimmy tells her that she’s beautiful and he seems genuinely sincere when he compliments Ana. If she were in Mexico, many men would consider her beautiful simply because she has a nice smile, a nice personality, and is pleasingly plump. Once when I was in Mexico, my cousin saw a pleasingly plump woman and he flirted with her by saying, “Oye, esa gordita viene con atole?” Well, if you don’t know Spanish, I better explain that in this context gordita means both pleasingly plump with positive connotations and also refers to a food that is made of corn flour stuffed with chicken or beef; atole is a tasty, hot drink made from corn. I guess this sentence doesn’t translate well, so I’ll give you a similar example in English. Suppose an attractive woman, say dressed seductively in a short skirt, struts her stuff past you, jiggling all her assets, my cousin could say something like, “Does that shake come with fries?”

This difference in beauty standards reminds me of a story that Rosie O’Donnell once told on a talk show–I believe it was Johnny Carson’s–before she was really famous. She talked about how she went to Mexico with a thin, beautiful Hollywood actress, which at the time I wondered why she would go to Mexico with an actress. Well, now that she’s famous and I know a little more about her personal life, I know why she went to Mexico with a thin, beautiful Hollywood actress. Anyway, Rosie and her thin “friend” were at a bar where all the men were hovering around Rosie instead of her friend. Finally, Rosie asked one of the Mexican men why they found Rosie more attractive than the beautiful actress. One of the men said, and you have to imagine Rosie saying this with a Mexican accent, “The bones are for the dogs. The meat is for the men!”

Well, this movie really got me to thinking about my mother again, whose name also happens to be Carmen. My mother never valued education and there was absolutely no possibility of college in my future. She always told me that I would work in a factory when I was old enough to work. But she would always complain about how factory work was wearing her down. She always came home sore and tired from working. One day, she showed me her swollen hands and said, “Someday you’ll see what it’s like to work hard. One of these days you’ll be working in factory just like me.” I didn’t plan to ever work in a factory, so I told her, “That’s why I’m going to college!” She said, “Why are you going to college if you’re only going to work in a factory?” She couldn’t imagine any other occupation for me. She eventually found me a factory job–a job that would have been ideal for my mother, but not for me because I had such higher aspirations. However, since I lived under her roof, I had to live by her rules, so I began working the midnight shift in a peanut butter factory two days before my eighteenth birthday, while I was still a high school junior. I really hated this job! When I got out of work at 7:00 a.m., I immediately had to get ready to go to school even though I was ready to go to bed. I was always tired in school and often fell asleep during my afternoon classes. I told my mother that I couldn’t work full-time and go to school full-time. She told me that if I didn’t work, I couldn’t live with her; I would have to move in with my father, which she had always described as being my worst possible destiny. So I continued working at the factory, but when I couldn’t take the stress of working and going to school anymore, I dropped out of high school. My mother didn’t complain because I was still working and I was contributing to the family financially.

In the movie, Ana gets accepted to Columbia University with a scholarship, but her parents are against Ana leaving the family in order to study in New York City. Her father finally gives his blessing to Ana, but Carmen doesn’t even say good bye to Ana when she leaves for school. Carmen merely watches from her bedroom window. But you can see that not all Mexicans value education as much as most Americans who know the importance of going to college in order to get ahead in life. When you consider this anti-education attitude of Mexicans in general, you can see why they have a high school drop-out rate of about 50%. At least the movie ends on a positive note with Ana going off to Columbia University and we get to see her walking the streets of NYC near Times Square.

Does red make me look fat?

Nacho Libre

CTA bus in Chicago, Illinois.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Nacho Libre with my sons. This movie was filmed entirely in Mexico with all-Mexican cast, with exception of Jack Black. Perhaps I should translate his name to Juanito Moreno.

The movie is set in Mexico, but all the characters speak English with a Mexican accent. I guess that was the director’s way of letting the audience know that the movie was set in Mexico. The accents weren’t very convincing, particularly because the scenery was actually Mexican.

Did this movie offend you? Some characters speak Spanish and there are no English subtitles! Whatever happened to English only? Where is the public outcry? Well, there was none. I wasn’t the least bit offended. In fact, I was happy that Mexico could be represented in American cinema without any controversy.

This was such a fun movie to watch. I laughed so hard at some scenes and then wondered why I wasn’t offended. I noticed that the other people in the theater who were laughing were also of Mexican descent. The movie brought back some memories of Mexico. The movie accurately portrays Mexico as I remember it when I visited my family there as a boy. The movie represents Mexico in its stark reality without any social critique, as does Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi.

My father and I

David Diego and José Diego Rodríguez

One day, I realized that I had become my father and had married my mother. Not literally, of course. Once, when I was at the show with my sons, I fell asleep during the movie. My oldest son woke me up, but I told him that I wasn’t sleeping. So he asked, “Then what was the movie about?” And I didn’t know. So he updated me on the movie.

But I had to ask myself, “What was this movie REALLY about?” Well, the truth is that I realized that I had become my father, who used to take us to the show and then fall asleep. The poor man worked the night shift, slept a few hours, and then would take us out to the movies on Saturdays without our mother. I have now become my father when I take my sons to the show, and fall asleep at the show. But we all enjoy going to the show together! I was happy to go the show with my father even if he did fall asleep. Otherwise, I would have missed a lot of good movies. My sons are happy going to the show, too, and they never complain if I fall asleep.

As a child, my father always took us to the circus every year. When I had children, I began taking my sons to the circus. The last few years, I have been going to the circus with my sons and my father, who is now 81 years old. On the last trip to the circus with my father, I told my sons, “See how I take my father to the circus? When I get that old, I want you to take me to the circus with your children!”

Well, it turns out that I did, indeed, become my father and marry my mother. But then I divorced her, just as my father did. Like father, like son. The candy doesn’t fall far from the piñata!

Have I really become my father? ¡No me digas!