To begin my third day of work, I was instructed to meet one of my coworkers at 8:30 by the tamale cart in between Our Lady of Tepeyac Church and our office, which used to be the parish convent. When I told my roommates about this plan, they said “That is so Little Village!” and it was true. Every evening as we gather in our house, we can hear the carts – paleta (popsicle) carts, tamale carts, sno-cone carts. More ubiquitous than the carts, however, are the ice cream trucks. I think when my Amate year is over, I will have lost the ability to fall asleep without listening to “The Entertainer” converted into jingle form. After four weeks of living in Little Village (Lil Vil as some of my roommates like to call it) I have grown to like the carts and trucks. For one thing, cute children tend to gather around them. But more than that, families gather around them. Little Village, for all of its faults, is a family centered neighborhood.
Another place where family-centeredness is very evident is Douglas Park. While this park is technically across the border in North Lawndale, residents of Little Village tend to take over the southern part, the side closer to our house. While most of my time there is spent during my morning runs before work, my favorite time to go there is on the weekends. It is a completely different park on Saturday and Sunday afternoons because families take it over and have picnics or watch local soccer/football/softball/rugby league games on one of the many playing fields. Perhaps it is the typical Midwestern attitude of spending every possible moment outside while it is still warm enough to do so, but these families are always together. In fact, our neighbors throw block parties every other week, barricading the streets from traffic so their kids can ride their bikes anywhere they want and the mariachi bands can take over the street. Not many of my friends can say they have been serenaded by a mariachi band right outside their bedroom window.
While there are many things to love about living in Little Village (can we say $1 tamales at 87¢ pastries?) I think my favorite part is the palpable sense of community. It is so much easier to build up a sense of community in our house when we can see from our dining room the family-run taco stand across the street and the families that barricade streets twice a month so they can have mariachi bands come to their block parties. All our house community has to do is reflect the community we see right outside our house every day. And, we are growing to see ourselves in our neighbors. Last Monday, I had to take a few posters back to work which somehow made my two-block commute seem much longer. But then, I was met by a small school boy who was also carrying poster boards, but they looked bigger than him. We smiled at each other, eying up each other’s posters, and then the walk to work/school was suddenly much shorter because we had seen in each other a kindred spirit.