Mangonadas at the Market

I know, in the back of my mind, that we stand out.

It’s not really new to me, I suppose.

First a young girl roaming the streets of Paris with mother and brother, then the only pale one in a sea of dark Mexican faces, then part of a family comprised of two different ethnicities.

I might not always notice it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with standing out.

So we push through the foggy glass door, step inside the warm building, and I know we stand out.

The sign outside, huge letters floating above the chaotic parking lot, read Mall. But inside, these stalls and their wares, their vendors and customers are familiar to me, and I know what this is: it’s a market.

We’re six total. Three girls, three guys. We came with more, we were 22 strong on the El ride here, but 22 makes more noise, causes more scene than six, and we’ve split now.

Someone, one of the girls, holds a list. Seven items, typed in curling cursive font, suggestions for things to look for, ideas to try, items of interest to pay attention to.

The list is more guidelines than goals, but it’s warm, busy, loud, in this market, and we’ve been given money to buy treats, if we want.

We move along the aisles, weaving between stalls of bouncing, frilly Quinceañera dresses, and shelves lined with authentic cowboy boots.

I feel glances as we make our way slowly down the aisles of stalls. Under the high warehouse ceiling, the stalls are separated by metal racks, dresses, clothes, shoes, treats, and toys hung from the cold concrete floor to the ceiling.

We pass families, little boys slipping between the stalls, wandering restlessly while their mothers compare gold earrings at a long counter of gold jewelry. In a shoe stall, a woman and her daughter sit on green plastic stools, waiting for their shoes. A little girl, her black hair pulled back into short, curly braids, stands resolutely next to the older woman, and I catch her solemn gaze as we pass.

Around the corner, up an aisle, a small stall sells food. We’re looking for the bathroom, and I’m the leader of the group, I’ll ask, of course, but you cannot simply walk up and demand a baño.

And besides, we’re hungry.

We buy two tamarindo candies, a bottle of water, and a tub of Pond’s lotion. And I’m pocketing change, receipt, when I ask for the bathroom. She gives directions, we thank, and wander again.

I’m becoming comfortable in this place, this Mexican Chicago market. We find the bathrooms, and along with them, a stand selling mangonadas. We leave that stand sucking chamoy and chile off of heavy mango popsicles, and I’ve forgotten that we might not fit in here.

Or maybe it never mattered in the first place.

Later, texts from the mother come through in silver bubbles on my phone and we’re swapping Saturday stories. Did you use your mother tongue? She asks, when she hears about market and mango and all those familiar Latin scents taking me right back to downtown markets in the Mexican city we called home.

I like hearing it called the mother tongue, even thought it’s often a struggle to find time, places, people for speaking Spanish. But I smile, text her back. Yes, yes I did.

And she’s right, too. Because there will always be something about Spanish speaking, vendors in the market, dark little ones running between stalls as their parents shop, bargain, purchase, that reminds me of a place very important, a culture very close to my heart.

~Natalia

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