A Siberian Husky, Santa Claus & The Piggly WigglyThursday, December 21, 2006
At age 64 I find it very hard to identify myself as a Canadian, a Mexican or an Argentine. I become that more confused at Christmas time. The fact is that I have now lived more in Canada than in Mexico or Argentina. I lived in Austin, Texas for five years. Might I be an early product of globalization as I feel very American? It may have had to do with our decidedly American Christmases.
While in Buenos Aires my family celebrated Christmas when most of Buenos Aires' kids (then) put out their shoes on the eve of the Epiphany (January 6). We called it Los Tres Reyes. None of my friends understood who "my" Santa Claus was. I could not (then) have explained that Santa came to my house via Manila. My mother had been born there and the Philippines, as an American protectorate, celebrated a snowy Christmas in the tropics. It was equally startling to see our Christmas tree in our BA house. It was usually 38 degrees celsius outside.
My first Mexico City Christmas in 1953 was equally strange. My grandmother was a diplomat who worked at the Philippine Embassy. She told us that as a diplomat she had to live in a nice home. So she, my mother and I lived (with Rusty, Siberian Husky) in a grand old house on Sierra Madre Street in the very fashionable Las Lomas de Chapultepec district (colonia). That Christmas my grandmother had given me a brand new Raleigh bicycle so my guess is that the Santa Claus in this picture taken very near my house on Explanada Boulevard happened sometime before the new year.
My Aunt Dolly (my mother's younger sister) lived in Mexico City. Her husband, Bill Humphrey was an American geologist who drove a candy red Buick Century. That car and our Siberian Husky were one of a kind in Mexico City. An outgoing American geologist has given us his dog. Rusty had the habit of escaping and going after other dogs, cats, chickens that he could find in the neighbourhood. My mother, often had to pay for dead chickens that were shown as evidence that Rusty had gone on a prowl. Our Mexican neighbours feared Rusty as he never barked but would howl on full moons or to greet us when we came home.
In school I was laughed at because of my Argentine Spanish so I quickly learned to speak like a Mexican. By then the memory of that illustration in the Argentine Billiken (a children's magazine) that showed the Bishop St Nicolas of Bari as being the real Santa Claus was no longer my proof for his existence.
I grew up (or so I thought) by the end of that year. I would cycle to the nearby American shopping district where at a bookstore I discovered Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and the Hardy Boys . There was also a Piggly Wiggly store that catered to the Americans of Las Lomas. That's were I found my first box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. I must have become an American then.
It was also about then that my grandmother thought I was old enough to hear her story. She told me how she had left Manila in 1920, a penniless widow, with her three children, to live in the Bronx. She told me they had disembarked from a Japanese ship in a magical place that had enormous conifers, that was called Vancouver. She told me they had walked into a cavernous train station (the CP Station at the foot of Seymour Street) to take a train that took them to New York City.
I did not know then that someday I was going to share with a Canadian wife a fondness for Kellogg's Honey Crunch Corn Flakes.