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Every weekday morning, between 7 and 8 o'clock, Chase Street and Noble Avenue in North Hills, California are filled with children and their parents heading to Noble Avenue Elementary School. Some children are brought to school walking, with their mothers pushing a stroller carrying a younger sibling. Others are brought in cars, ranging from beat-up Oldsmobiles from the 1980s to this year's version of the Ford Expedition. Then there are also those children who are brought to school riding the horizontal bar of a bicycle, sitting between the handlebar and the rider's seat. At the entrance gate, the mothers with the strollers, the parents with the Expedition, and the fathers riding the bike come together to wish their children a good day.
Some parents refuse to let their children begin the school day without first receiving the parents' blessing. Those parents stand in front of their children, bending their knees slightly, as they shape their hands into a cross (thumb perpendicular to the index finger), and they pass the hand over the children's forehead in a motion that creates a path in the shape of a cross. Some parents continue the ritual with a kiss, others skip to the end and say "Que Dios te bendiga. Portate bien." ("May God bless you. Behave.") All to familiar a sight, for the people in my hometown in Mexico used to engage in similar acts.
During recess time, some children of immigrants like to spend their break doing what their parents did in their days: playing soccer. As they head to the playing area, the one holding the ball announces "Yo soy el portero!" -- "I'm the goalkeeper!" For the duration of their recess, children are heard screaming "golazo!" when the ball goes in, and "poste!" when it hits a goalpost or the crossbar. And just as they see it on televised soccer matches from Mexico, when a child gets hit by another, he drops on the ground and holds the part of his body that received the blow, regardless of how little the pain may be. Then, if he's able to convince the playleader that he needs to be compensated for the blow, he's granted a penalty-kick. As he gets in position to execute it, he can't help but smile; he feels pride in having fooled the judge.
Soccer, of course, has also invaded the local parks. During spring and summer, not a day goes by without a soccer ball coming into contact with the grass at North Hollywood Park. Soccer being the main sport in most Latin American countries, where Mexicans, Central Americans, and South Americans go, a soccer ball will follow. Truth be told, most parks were not intended to be used as soccer fields. More importantly, its use as such is not only discouraged, but prohibited. However, that does not stop the soccer-loving Hispanic from picking up a trash can, carrying it on his back to place it next to another, about five feet apart, to serve the function of "porteria" or "marco"; known in English as the goal. Although soccer divides multitudes at least once every four years, when the soccer World Cup takes place, it also brings together people of different ethnic backgrounds. That becomes evident when, not knowing his name, fellow soccer players may refer to the same lite-skinned individual as "guero", "chele", or "gringo", depending on whether they are Mexicans, Central Americans, or South Americans, respectively.
After a soccer match, nothing is more appropriate than spending time with the family. During weekends, the family after-game-get-together can take place in the park itself, if the sun is still willing to provide the light. Father, brother, and son join the rest of the family for much needed "tacos de carne asada" and some drinks, preferably Coronas, although alcoholic beverages are a no-no at the park. As they indulge in feast, those involved talk about everyday life and also about mutual relatives and friends abroad. If during the course of the get-together at the park they run out of food or drinks, nobody panics, someone is sent to the store to get more.
In some instances, one may only need to walk a couple of blocks to reach the nearest carniceria, or meat-market. The many Carniceria Vallarta, specifically, provide an atmosphere that differs to that offered by Ralph's and other mainstream stores. Upon stepping into the carniceria, the scentless air of the outside is replaced by the appetizing odor of chicharrones in the making. Guided by the scent, one arrives to the meat department, where carniceros may be listening to La Nueva 101.9 as their hands manage pound after pound of meat.
However, man needs more than bread to live. As a form of entertainment, more than one of need, Hispanic families, in general, enjoy frequenting swapmeets and going to yardsales on the weekend. At swapmeets, Hispanics are given a taste of what the mercados are like in their old country. Walking through the many aisles of a swapmeet they encounter music, garment, food, and furniture stands. True, most won't buy much, churros at most, but they leave the swapmeet some of the boredom they brought with them when they entered it.
As a child who had just immigrated to America, I recall that one of the first English phrases my mother taught me was (sic) "h'much is this?" Now, at 23, I try to avoid going to work on Saturdays so that I can drive my mother around town, looking for yardsales. Just as it the case with going to the swapmeet, she doesn't do it to acquire furniture or clothing for herself. Instead, she does it to browse through people's stuff, hoping to find a rare item that she wouldn't find at local stores and maybe some items that she can send to our relatives in Mexico. Whichever is the motive, after yardsales, she can't wait to get home and unload the stuff she has bought.
The two forms of entertainment above are not for hardcore party people, of course. For them there are the various celebrations: weddings, quinceañeras and bautismos. Although a party-hosting family may not be financially secure, they are able to provide a party that can cost them thousands of dollars thanks to the support of padrinos, or godparents. The number of padrinos needed depends on how big a party it's to be. What doesn't vary much is the amount of money that they're to offer as gift: exorbitant, considering that many of them barely make more than minimum wage.
Thanks to the padrinos' financial support, a party would take place at a dancing hall with a mariachi, and/or a norteño music band, and a discjockey. In addition to that, there has got to be the typical birria and the ever-present Coronas, but Budweisers are known to do the trick as well. When the party is to remain at low cost, the hosting family simply fixes up the good ole' home, decorating it with balloons and the such, and cook up a storm of food. Even at house parties, the discjockey is a standard, but when one can't be provided the hosts simply pull out their boombox and the dancing begins.
The morning after a party, it's a good idea to absolve oneself from acts of impurity that may have occurred the night before. At that time, whole families may head on to their local parish where they may see neighbors, coworkers, and schoolmates. However, for those who can't make it to mass on Sunday morning, God's servants come to them. On weekday mornings, at busstops along Van Nuys Boulevard, men in suits and women in dresses, holding a bible and some pamphlets, keep the busriders some company, informing them on how to achieve salvation.
But Hispanics, as is natural, are not concerned with their next life, as much as they are concerned with preserving their current one. Ice-cream, corn, oranges, and flower vendors roam the streets of the San Fernando Valley trying to earn their buck. According to a report done by KWHY, channel 22 (Southern California), after having spent more than 12 hours trying to sell oranges, an undercover reporter managed to sell only 29 dollars worth of oranges, from which he still had to subtract the money he had invested. Even though little money is made from it, no one is to stop them from performing their humble jobs.
A blue, three-bedroom house in Reseda, California served as my first home in America. My experience living there was somewhat what I had expected: my only potential friend was a Salvadorian kid living around the block, for nobody else in my neighborhood spoke Spanish. Thirteen years have passed since then, and I still live in a neighborhood inhabited mostly by non-Hispanics. However, I have not lost the Mexicanismo in me. With approximately 3 million fellow Mexicans living in the Los Angeles County, accounting for 71% of the total Hispanic population, it would be the unjustifiable thing to do.