6116 Southwest Fwy,
Houston, TX 77057
January 2004–In my home town, we call it Trader’s Village. In my parent’s home town it is called El Mercado. Here, in Houston, it is known as “La Pulga”. Not as the “Flea Market”, or “The Market”, but “The Flea”. Going to “La Pulga”, on a summer day in Houston does not sound appealing. After what seems like forever, we reach our exit. Nowhere from the highway can we make out what we are in for. All that we can see are fences and cars and people everywhere. To the left of all the activity there are some apartment complexes. They themselves, are rustling with normal weekend activity. People looking as if they are on their way to work, or to church, or on some kind of family outing. Groups of teenagers are hanging out, little kids playing soccer, moms yelling at their children to get away from the street.
We finally make it to the parking lot of la pulga and after another while, into the pulga itself. From the parking lot, all that we can see is a big gray building with what seems to be two big dumpsters on the side. There is a young boy with long hair escorting an older woman, probably his mother, towards the entrance, and away from all the chaos of the parking lot. The only way into the rest of the pulga is to go through the big ugly gray building first. For a typical hot humid day in Houston, and despite all the people, the inside of the building is fairly cool. A short chill passes over me as I begin to get the feeling of nostalgia, although I have no idea where it comes from because I have never been to a flea market, and especially no this one. Tons of booths line the floors.
Mana, a Mexican alternative band, is playing full blast. There are booths selling Selena, Mana, Shakira, Thalia, and all kinds of Latino music. Many people are standing around just listening to what will come on next, and there are those looking at the CDs of their favorite singers, knowing that now is not the time to buy them. There are ones selling jewelry of names written in gold, or big gold scorpions, and thick silver chains. The people standing around those booths look like if they add one more piece of jewelry to their body they will tip over. There is a line of children and adults alike waiting to buy Tamarindo, camote, and other traditional Mexican candy as well as M&M’s, and other types of American candy.
Then there are the clothes. One can buy “Tommy” shirts (which look as if one wash will completely destroy them) Nike, Adidas, Polo, and just about every other name brand out there. The sport booths are next, selling Toluca and Chivas jerseys, and the rest of the Mexican soccer league, and even some from the different national teams. Little boys stare longingly at the ones of their favorite teams. I spot the Brazil and Mexico soccer balls, and the Adidas shin guards. Patriotic flags of all countries are being sold at yet another booth. Little toy strollers, model cars, balloons, and plastic guns attract many children to the toy booths. “Guess”, “Gucci”, and many more imitation and authentic sunglasses are being sold. We approach what seemed to be the exit of the building, feeling a bit overwhelmed as we walk out. This would be a good time to rest, we figured.
On our way to the food court, there is another plaza where there is big empty space in the middle. All the tables are to the back and there is a stage in the front. There is a live local band performing well known songs, and everyone is singing along, even passerby. We reach the food court. They have it conveniently set up so that all the benches and chairs are located in a little plaza surrounded by tons of food booths. We have the choice to buy nachos, hot dogs, gorditas, tacos, tortas, corn on the cob, or in a cup, aguas frescas, or fruit drinks, and soft drinks. Finally after taking it all in, we sit down. In front of the benches there is a train going around in circles, and a long line of children waiting for their turn to ride. As we sit talking, and laughing, I realize something, where that feeling of nostalgia had come from. If I didn’t know where I was at, I would have thought (remembering the long ride) that we had somehow gone to Mexico. No one seems to be speaking English, even the many Asians running their booths. It reminds me of my childhood, and the many family vacations to Mexico to visit relatives. The people, the booths, the food, the music, the aura, it was all the same. I stop complaining about the heat. I begin to absorb the people around me. A little boy is being dragged of the train yelling and screaming by his angered mother.
“No me quiero ir!” he shouts.
“We have to leave already!” She responds aggressively.
A young couple holding hands and blinded to the surrounding activity sit a few benches away from us, and discuss what they want to eat.
“Unas enchiladas, no maybe some gorditas, or se me antojan los tacos.”
An elderly couple walk by holding on to about six bags each and on to each other otherwise one of them might tip over. The same boy with long curly hair that was helping his mom is now caring her newly bought treasures. A group of thirteen and fourteen year olds stroll by with their bandannas and baggy pants as well as their supply of candy. A few of them are holding hands and they are all talking loudly demanding each others attention. We feel that we have rested long enough and decide to continue looking at the booths. Not too far from where we are, there is a everything a dollar booth. They have so many things! Bathroom mats, plates, army knifes, cups, saucers, bathroom curtains, cutlery, and even children’s books. We walk by a guy selling shaped balloons, and balloons on wheels. Near here we pass a booth selling electronic. We see televisions that still have a knob, microwaves that look like they were the first ones invented, vacuums that look like they are gathering more dust on the outside then they ever could on the inside.
Finally we come to the end of it. Random booths are spread out here and there and we know it is time to go. As we make our way back to the car, we have to cross a small street. A man is on the curb, walking back and forth, talking into a megaphone. We can’t make out what he is. We hear a soft bell. It is the paletero, letting us know he is there to sell us his ice cream. We all look at each other and smile. Maybe we haven’t been back to Mexico in three years, but this sure was a pleasing reminder of those many good times that we had spent there. The feelings of home sickness that had already begin to built up, knowing that my mom was leaving the next day began to fade as we reached our van and drove back towards my new “home”.