The first place I ever lived in Chicago was Pilsen. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a native Chicagoan. I have always regretted not being born in Chicago because I love Chicago so much. Yes, I’m not happy to admit that I’m a foreigner. I was born in Perth Amboy New Jersey. We moved to Chicago when I was about one and a half. We moved into my grandparents’ house at 977 W. 19th Street. We lived in the second floor rear apartment that didn’t have its own bathroom. There was no back door either. There were wooden stairs leading downstairs to the backyard from our rear window. I’m sure this didn’t meet the Chicago building codes, but it was very practical. My brother Danny and I always went down the back stairs to play in the yard. We lived there until we moved to Back of the Yards shortly before I started the kindergarten at Holy Cross.
I still drive through Pilsen when I go to UIC because it’s an interesting neighborhood. I’ve been taking pictures of the neighborhood for years now. Every time I take a different route I find something I have never seen before, like the mural in the picture above. I’ve driven on 16th many times, but I only recently noticed this mural of the Aztec calendar. I know this mural has been there for at least twenty years. Parts of it are slowly fading away into obscurity. I plan on walking through Pilsen and taking more pictures.
In the late 1950s, my parents and I lived in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where I was born. My mother told my father that she would only marry him and come to America if she could visit her family in Mexico every year. My father agreed even though he would never return to Mexico for another fifty years.
About 1957, my mother learned that her father was dying in Mexico. She bought plane tickets to go visit her father on his deathbed. My mother took me with her even though I was still a baby. My father drove us to the airport. He always had trouble driving anywhere without getting lost. When he asked for directions, he would only confuse himself even more. Well, my mother and I were supposed to fly to Mexico from Newark. My mother told me this story several times. However, I remember the story become more exciting and compelling everytime she told it.
Well, my father asked for directions to the airport in Newark. At that time, neither my father or mother understood English very well and they spoke English even more poorly. So when my father asked for directions to the airport in Newark, the man misunderstood my father and gave directions to the airport in New York, . Well, my parents and I ended up going to the wrong airport. By the time we arrived at the right airport, they told my mother that our plane had already departed. She began crying because she would not be able to see her father before he died. Someone with a private plane heard her crying and when she told them why, he arranged for us to fly on a charter flight to Texas. From there, we flew to Mexico.
When we arrived at her father’s house in Mexico, my mother saw vigil candles lighted all over the house. When her family answered the door, they started crying even more when they saw us. My mother started crying thinking that she had arrived too late to talk to her father. “Did he die already,” my mother asked. “No,” my aunt answered. “He’s still alive?” my mother asked. “Yes,” my aunt said. “Then why is everyone crying?” my mother asked. “We thought you were dead. Your plane crashed!”
Chicago is the greatest city on earth! It’s a microcosm of the world. Many of world’s languages are spoken in Chicago. My greatest regret in life is that I wasn’t born in Chicago. Unfortunately, I was born in a place far, far away, called Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Where my parents led, I followed. To be honest, I wasn’t in on the pre-natal decision-making process. I was conceived in Mexico, but I was born in the U.S.
I have lived in several neighborhoods in Chicago. My grandparents came to Chicago in the 1950s and lived in Pilsen. So, naturally, when my parents moved to Pilsen, so did I. We also lived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. When my parents divorced, my mother, my brothers, my sister, and I moved to the Marquette Park area. My father moved back to his father’s house in Pilsen. I bought my first house in Bridgeport and lived there until I started my own family and moved to Ashburn on the southwest side. When I divorced, I bought my present house in Beverly. Some people have told me that I live in a black neighborhood, but that’s not true at all. This is one of the few Chicago neighborhoods that is truly integrated! This is the best neighborhood in which I have ever lived.