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©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

"FIESTA DEL SOL"

Raoul Gonzales thinks it started as a crazy rumor. Others are certain it was the natural consequence of  the yuppie invasion of an ethnic community. But all agree  that while change is usually inevitable, it's supposed to make some kind of sense, even in Pilsen.
Historically a blue-collar neighborhood on the near South side, Chicago's Pilsen community began as an offshoot of the German breweries built there after World War I. Tiny brick bungalows were constructed  to house the German immigrant employees who formed a tidy enclave often called "Little Deutschland."   When the demographics shifted in the early '60's, Pilsen became a community of Mexican-Americans. The old breweries closed, Viennese pastry shops gave way to  Mexican panederias, and instead of Oktoberfest, Pilsen's street festivals celebrated Cinco de Mayo and Fiesta Del Sol.
Scheduled each July for a week-long  fair along Blue Island Avenue, Fiesta del Sol is the biggest event of the year. Chicagoans and tourists alike pack the streets to feast, sing, and dance to mariachi bands. This is the place to bring an appetite. Revelers eat their way through a half mile of Mexican cuisine, haggle with local artisans who ply their wares and enjoy a South -of- the- Border experience that doesn't require a passport. Even the local gangs take a day off from 'banging to enjoy the spirit of Fiesta.  It's an event that celebrates the joyous melding of culture, cuisine and brotherhood. Which may have been why the bikinis confused Raoul Gonzales.
Not that he had anything against swimsuits. In fact, he'd never seen any this dazzling, so skimpy he'd seen eye patches and adhesive bandages that covered more - something any man could appreciate. It was just very unusual to see a parade of them - scanty bikinis with young women barely stuffed inside, all armed with towels, sun tan oil,
and boom boxes blasting music so loud it gave him arrhythmias. Dios, this was Fiesta, not the beach!  Didn't these yuppettes know the lake was three miles to the east? Like sleek white eels, they slithered  through the crowds, past the barbecue grills, the straw hat concession, the strolling nun who rolled her eyes and crossed herself when she saw them.
As point babe in the lead bikini, Amber  turned to her companions.
"What's up with the costumes?" she asked. "I thought these people came here to catch some rays. Everyone else is so overdressed!"  Her lips settled into a glossily sunscreened pout.
"Maybe we're too early." Bambi in the silver thong shrugged. A dim recollection of high school Spanish told her Fiesta del Sol had something to do with the sun.  The newspapers had billed this as a cultural event, so why not soak up some sun along with the culture? She was certainly cultured.  Wasn't that why she'd moved to Pilsen?
The other girls nodded.  Tiffany in the lime spandex didn't  care  that people were gawking at her. After shelling out all that money for the boob job, hair streaks and herbal wrap, they'd better be checking her out!  Since most of the local women seemed to have starter mustaches or a unibrow, she was surely the hottest babe there.   
Noelle in the tangerine string bikini was more demure. She didn't want to offend anyone, least of all her new neighbors. She'd moved to Pilsen because it was a newly hip area where rents were still cheap  enough to open her own business. And while it hadn't quite caught on with the locals yet, her combo oxygen bar and meditation deli was bound to be successful. All it took was a savvy business sense and a willingness to respect the traditions of her neighbors.
The man behind the burrito grill seemed fixated on her tattoo. The pentagram over her right ovary probably reminded him of the Aztec calendar, she guessed - a convenient way to bridge the cultural gap. She offered him her best international smile to ask for directions.
"Hola Estados Unidos?" she inquired.  "Soy bean tu castle?"   Perhaps there was a designated tanning section, somewhere between the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the churros vendor who sold pastries that resembled rainbow phalluses.     "Don diego con carne?"
The burrito  man said nothing. This gringa babe had nice hooters, but she'd obviously just escaped from the puzzle palace. Or maybe her head had been used as a pinata once too often. Why else was she babbling about United States soy beans and Zorro?  In lieu of a reply, he simply pointed in the direction of 19th Street. When they were this loco, it was best to get them moving in the opposite direction.
Raoul Gonzales watched the girls slink off.  That made seven so far today. Was it a trend, or just more misguided yuppie culture groupies? And if they were so intent on absorbing culture, why hadn't they bothered to find out that Fiesta Del Sol had nothing to do with beach parties or tanning beds? Before he could decide, the crowds parted for   the sign-waving picket line which marched down the street chanting about whale saving, global warming and ozone holes. Clad in earth shoes and organic cotton, they held their  signs high and their fists higher, confusing the crowd. They couldn't be a rival gang, since no self-respecting banger wore such frumpy clothes. But why were they making such a fuss?  Didn't they know the only bad thing about Fiesta was supposed to be the heartburn and the hangovers?
"Down with El Nino!" one of them shouted. A local gang member lolling on the corner stiffened immediately. If anyone was going to start trouble, it was supposed to be his gang that did it, not some pathetic moth eaten band of yuppie weirdos. And now  they had the nerve to scream about El Nino? Political manifestos were one thing, but when they starting dissing kids, it was time to kick ass.
"Your MAMA!" he shouted, lobbing a strawberry snow cone in the demonstrator's face.. "Talk about your own damn family!"
"You said it, homes!"  Jaime the taco vendor let fly. He wasn't exactly sure what kind of gang called themselves environmentalists, but when the Fiesta hit the fan, he was ready to rumble. Shredded chicken, lettuce and tomato chunks went airborne, splatting against the bearded guy in the Greenpeace Tshirt who ducked behind the mariachi band. When the second barrage slammed against the trumpet player's velvet suit, things got ugly.
Marcos Escalante paid fifty bucks for his suit rental, and now they'd charge him extra for dry cleaning. Thanks to these damn outside agitators, his embroidered jacket was covered in chicken grease. Even though he had nothing personal against whales, it was now a matter of respect.  Diving behind a nearby fruit stand, he started lobbing mangos with a vengeance.
At first the crowds were appreciative. They figured this impromptu food fight was just another form of staged street theater for their entertainment.. But when beer bottles replaced mangos and blood mixed with the strawberry ice, it was time to take cover. By now most of the vendors had joined in, pelting the picket line with whatever they could grab.
Under siege, the whale lovers and green peaceniks stampeded off with the others, down the street, around the food tables, over the bodies of less nimble revelers.
 Only the sirens shrieking toward them managed to clear  a path through  the messy battlefield.  Dressed in full riot gear, the first cops on the scene simply waited in their car. Since most of the crowd had already dispersed, there wasn't that much to do. Maybe practice a few catch phrases for the media news people  who'd investigate, and then report 'a vicious gang-related incident' at Fiesta on the evening news.
Only Raoul Gonzales the ice cream vendor lingered at the scene, enjoying what remained of the Festival sites on 19th Street.. In the true spirit of Fiesta brotherhood, he passed dreamsicles to the cops who joined him. Slurping companionably, the men  focused on the line of bikinied bodies sunbathing atop some parked low riders.  Oblivious to the recent fracas, Amber, Tiffany and friends lay inert  like gilded bon-bons, sucking up those festival rays. Occasionally one would ease down a skimpy strap just enough to gauge their tan lines.   The cops noted that they were young and gorgeous with not a single  starter mustache or a unibrow among them. A definite sign that Fiesta was changing....and that sometimes, change can be a good thing.

Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo

Visit Gina's website at www.gallostories.com
Gina's new book, ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO COP
(Forge Books) has just been released.Copyright © 2001 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com

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