Van Dulce

It might sound stereotypical, but Mexicans love their Chevys. Not Chevrolet. Just Chevy. Even the carmaker knows how much the shortened brand name is loved south of the border. For the past few years, GM has been selling a car and a small pickup in Mexico under the "Chevy" logo.

My father drove a Chevy van from which he used to sell his fresh Mexican bread in migrant camps and rural California towns in the 1960s. I loved going with him on these bread routes; he would let me honk the horn to alert awaiting customers that we had arrived with freshly baked Pan Mexicano. "Hola, Doña Jesucita. ¿Como esta?" he would greet the elderly lady wearing a tattered apron with a pocket full of change and dollar bills for purchasing bread.

My father, Agustin, would park his bright orange Chevy van, then open the back doors where he would pull out long drawers from the custom cabinet he had made, all filled with an array of colorful and delicious bread. A bakery on wheels. "Ha," I would think, "we are more popular than the ice cream man."



At some camps the lines would form while my father slowly and methodically counted each piece of bread, making sure to throw in a little extra here and there. I watched as women brought out bags filled with peaches from the orchards next to the camp in order to exchange them for bread. Customers would barter with peaches, chickens, pecans, tomatoes and queso fresco -- farmer's cheese. My father was generous in these transactions, and he was loved by many.

On the way home we would almost always stop at Señor Antonio's house, where I would climb on top of the parked van and pick the sticky and purple figs, one by one handing them to my Papi.

In my mind's eye I see a landscape of every green hue, interrupted by a little bright orange van traveling at a snail's pace from house to farm to camp, a little curly-headed girl sitting on her father's lap frantically honking the horn.

When my father retired, he built a house by the coast in Playas de Rosarito in Baja. He spent his days building his dream home one brick at a time. I would visit him and spend time helping with the construction, only to be constantly interrupted by visiting neighbors bringing bags of bread, peaches and homemade cheese. Some things never changed.

My father passed away last July, just one week after I opened the little cafe of my dreams. I had only wanted to be like my old man, to own a small business and make people happy.

A week later I bought my own Chevy van. Man, do I love my Chevy.

Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.


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