The Paleta Chronicles
When the first paleta business opened in Little Village, it was as if the first Mexican astronaut had landed on the moon. There was exuberant joy among all the residents who somehow felt they had recovered something they had given up for lost many years before.
The paletería was the idea of a barber named Alex Perdomo and his wonderful wife Hilaria Mireles. For some time, they had been making paletas at home as a hobby. It was a skill they had brought with them from México. Then they started selling them to the customers at the small family barbershop they ran.
With time, as the word got around, the customers were coming to buy the paletas, not to get haircuts. Throwing caution to the wind, the couple decided to open Las Delicias del Verano, a Mexican paleteria. It was the first time in memory anyone had made paletas Mexican-style in the city.
La Gaceta de La Villita, a local weekly, ran a story in Spanish whose headline read, “Miracle in Little Village, the paletas have arrived”. The news story gave many details about how Alejandro and Hilaria had the know-how and vision to open up the first ever paletería.
After struggling for many years, said the story, this Mexican family was able to get a bank loan in order to open their own business.
“It’s a small business miracle,” the story went on to say in an edition that quickly sold out. “Now it really seems that we are in our own rancho in México.”
The word about the new business venture that sold paletas Mexican-style spread like a prairie fire all throughout the neighborhood and beyond.
The following Sunday a Catholic priest was offering mass in Spanish in the area’s largest church and after he was done with the sermon and the mass, he said, “You all know that we now have paletas in the barrio, right? Well, let us all go in peace and enjoy the paletas with the permission of our Lord.”
In another part of the neighborhood, a small child was crying in his house due to the intense summer heat. It was at this moment that his mother told him about a treat that the child didn’t even know existed.
“Calm down. Pedrito, I’m going to take you to buy a paleta so you know what they are,” said his mother, Lucy Carbajal. “You lucky, muchacho, you have a heritage that is as sweet as it is good.”
With that the mother took the child by the hand and walked to 26th Street and Central Park Avenue where the Delicias del Verano had just opened its doors a few days back.
Once there the mother bought Pedrito a sweet lemon-flavored paleta which the child thoroughly enjoyed.
“Mommy it’s so good,” said Pedrito.
“I know, Pedrito,” said the mother, “If you are a good boy, I’m going to bring you here every Sunday because someday you are going to grow up to be president.”
“Of Mexico, Mommy?” asked the child.
“No,” answered Mrs. Carbajal, “Of the United States of America.”
The city’s only Spanish-language television station WLUCHA-TV Channel 52 began to transmit live one afternoon from in front of Paletería Las Delicias del Verano, a business that had awaken all the repressed nostalgia in the residents of Little Village. It seemed everyone there had some memory of growing up and buying paletas back in Mexico when they were just little children.
“We are here transmitting live from La Villita in front of the city’s first ever paletería which has just opened its doors recently,” said Nancy Redondo, the TV reporter who was speaking in Spanish.
Needless to say, the news broadcast went all over the barrios of the city where all the Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban residents lived.
In another part of Little Village, Mayra Villa and Alán López had done what they had been unable to do since they had left México ten years ago. They went with a small portable freezer down to Las Delicias del Verano and bought a dozen paletas of various flavors.
Now they were back in their apartment and Alán, in a bout of passion, grabbed a mango paleta, his favorite flavor, and rubbed it all along Mayra’s beautiful body. Then Alan began to taste and lick the paleta’s flavor off of Mayra.
“Oh, oh, oh,” Mayra moaned just as Alan travelled the curves of her body saying to her “Oh Mayra I love you so, I really do!”
Of course, this was done in private, otherwise Alejandro, the owner of the new paleta business, would have thought twice about making a product so sinfully delicious as a mango paleta.
After making love, Alán and Mayra sat by their large living room window watching as the sun began to set outside.
“I wonder who invented paletas?” Said Mayra, “It’s such an ingenious idea”.
“It was an eleven-year-old kid,” said Alán, “I looked it up at the local library once. His name was Frank Epperson and it took place back in 1905 in good old San Francisco, out in California.”
“Oh,” said Mayra, “And did he go around in a small cart selling paletas like they do in México lindo y querido?”
“I don’t know about that but he wanted something sweet during winter and by accident, I believe, he left a cup with water and powdered soda outside his porch,” said Alan, “Next morning he found it all frozen and with the stirring stick stuck inside.”
“And what did he name it?” Asked Mayra.
“He wanted to call it an Epsicle but the name of this new treat was later changed to popsicle,” said Alan as he reached into the small freezer and picked a coconut and blueberry cream paleta.
“He sure was a smart kid,” quipped Mayra.
“A genius, I would say,” said Alan.
Out on the northern edge of Little Village a group of nuns was holding its daily prayer service and the heat was causing them great discomfort what with their long habits and all. Sister Natasha, the mother superior, suggested they take a break and ride on their bicycles and go buy some Mexican paletas since they had gotten the word that such a new business had just opened in Little Village.
“Sisters,” said Natasha, “Let us pause in our praises of the Lord and let us go buy a paleta and discover what they taste like.”
The other nuns, sisters Valeria, Dasha, Olga and Marina, were not about to say no to such a refreshing idea, so they left their prayer books stacked neatly by a picture of an Eastern European saint and got on their bikes and went pedaling through the barrio in search of some relief from the intense heat.
They rode west from Cermak and Sacramento to Kedzie Avenue, then turned south on Kedzie until they came to 26th Street. From there they headed west with the thermometer reaching 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
Onlookers on 26th Street were much surprised to see five nuns in a row riding their bicycles with their black habits and white hats rippling and waving in the wind.
“Must be a mission they are on,” said an onlooker who thought they were on their way to visit some house-bound elderly person who was ill.
“Oh, such devotion,” said another onlooker.
The nuns finally reached Central Park Avenue and came upon Las Delicias del Verano whose sales and marketing motto, made up by the Mexican couple, was The Place Where Your Taste Buds Reach Heaven.
“That was a fun ride,” said a smug sister Natasha, “Now let us order a paleta and find out what all the fuss and joy is about in this lovely Mexican community.”
After locking their bicycles outside, they entered the small store that was sending good vibes throughout the large Mexican neighborhood.
Once inside, the nuns soon found out that paletas come in two types: de agua y de leche. That is, some are made with water and some are made with dairy milk.
Each nun then ordered the paleta that each of them thought would make the heat abate a little and make their lives more comfortable. To tell the truth, all the paletas looked good to them since they had never seen Mexican paletas before. The nuns, by the way, also found out that Mexican paletas are made with all kinds of fruit, cereals, seeds and a wide range of ingredients such as vegetables, spices and even coffee or even tequila.
Looking up at the menu on the wall, each nun let their spirit decide for them.
“I’ll take a Jamaica or hibiscus water paleta,” said nun Marina.
“I’ll take a blackberry cheesecake cream paleta,” said sister Dasha.
“I’ll take a guava or guayaba water paleta, please,” said sister Valeria.
“Por favor,” said sister Olga, who knew a bit of Spanish, “I’ll take a mamey cream paleta.”
“And I’ll take a strawberry and cheesecake paleta,” said Mother Superior Natasha, who picked up the tab. The five nuns then sat outside around an outdoor table for half an hour in order to enjoy their newly discovered treat before they had to ride back to their quiet convent to pray.
Down in the city’s South Side the word had spread too that Mexican paletas had finally arrived.
At Hurley Elementary, a fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Villalobos was bombarded with questions about what paletas were. The teacher did the best he could.
“When did Mexicans begin making paletas, Mr. Villalobos?” A student named Daniel wanted to know.
“People began making paletas in Mexico around 1940,” said the teacher, “People in states like Michoacán and other places began this practice. Not being satisfied with the common flavors used in El Norte, they began to create paletas with natural fruits and other spices. They improvised.”
“Hooray!” Yelled some of the students.
“Later the vendors travelled to Mexico City where paletas became a popular treat. Now paletas are sold throughout Mexico and have crossed the border into the United States where they are now called fruit bars by some, but they are still paletas to us,” said Mr. Villalobos.
Again, the kids yelled “Hooray! Tenemos cultura, we have culture!”
Not too far from the paletería, three first-generation Mexican youths were studying traditional Mexican music at La Villita Music School. They, too, had heard of the new paletería and wanted to sample them. But at the same time, they needed to practice because they had been hired for their first gig and were going to get paid $200 bucks for a half-hour set during a quinceañera party next week. The group’s profesional name was Los Escuincles de la Sierra.
The musicians were Jonathan Sánchez, 19; Brian Numeran, 18; and Lucas Romero, 16. Jonathan played the requinto, Brian played the tuba and Lucas played the guitar and was also the group’s vocalist.
Since they wanted to practice and buy a paleta at the same time, they decided to practice a corrido as they walked the four long blocks along 26th Street to Las Delicias del Verano.
“Ah-one, ah-two and ah-three,” said Jonathan and the three of them began playing “Heraclio Bernal,” a popular Mexican corrido from the 1880s when dictator Porfirio Díaz and his Rurales, or his mounted police, practiced a scorched-earth policy of killing and silencing anyone who dared to stand up to the dictator.
The three young musicians headed east on the sidewalk as they played while Lucas sang the classic corrido, a free verse song, of a Sinaloa man who had no fear of Díaz or his Rurales. As soon as Lucas began to sing, a large crowd began to follow them.
By the time they got to Las Delicias del Verano, there were about fifty persons listening to them.
Once inside the store Lucas asked for a mango with chile cream paleta, Brian for a sapote water paleta; and Jonathan for a rum and raisins cream paleta.
As the three-youth put their instruments down on a chair, in order to savor their icy treats, a cheer went from the crowd who yelled “Vivan los músicos y vivan las paletas, long live the musicians and long live the paletas!”
Hilaria and Alejandro, the happy couple, could not help but be amazed at the community’s response to their new business.
“Cariño,” said Hilaria to her husband, “I believe our business is going to thrive.”
Alejandro reacted by giving his wife a big hug and a kiss and, after seeing all the happy faces outside, said matter of factly, “You know, corazón, I think we’ve just opened the gates to paradise.”