Top

The Neighborhood Ice Cream Man – A Refreshing Point of View

by Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman

Julio Bonilla, a 36-year-old migrant worker from Mexico City, spends his days from sun-up to sun-down riding a bike through our neighborhood. No, he’s not a professional racer, an athlete in training, or a deranged bicyclist. He’s the ice cream man! He rides a bicycle cart filled with delicious flavors reminiscent of faraway lands and exotic spices. So, he peddles the ordinary strawberry, watermelon, chocolate, vanilla, and bubble gum alongside the more unusual flavors of coconut, pineapple, pina colada, guava, mamey, cookies, mango, nuts, rice, tamarind, cantaloupe, and hot pepper ice cream. On these journeys over the last three years, he has come to know the neighborhood, its people and their ways, and he has come to enjoy the perspective he has gained from these summers spent in the company of our neighbors and friends. Julio BonillaHe remembers the time when he first came to the neighborhood and found a vibrant Latino population. “Unfortunately, there are fewer Hispanics now and the neighborhood has changed a lot. There isn’t as much crime now. Now I feel much safer as I ride throughout the neighborhood. I’m no longer afraid,” he said. This change for the better is what has kept him coming back these three years. He comes from Mexico every year in an effort to earn a living wage. Thus, he toils on the bicycle for twelve hours every day of the week to support his family and provide his three children with schooling. He earns 37.5 cents per ice cream bar he sells, so he must work as long as he is able each day during the six months that he spends in the U.S. From February through the middle of April, he peddles his frozen delights in Texas, and in mid-April he begins his work with our neighborhood. He finally goes home to his wife and kids in mid-September. During the other six months of the year, he works in a textile factory in Mexico City, where he earns less than minimum wage as an unskilled laborer. His family is unhappy about his yearly pilgrimage to the land of opportunity, but they know that if they are to survive the rampant poverty around them, they must endure the sacrifice. So it is that he comes to be a colorful character in our neighborhood. The reason this paletero, ice cream man in Spanish, is so special is that despite the fact that he never finished his secondary schooling and never took part in multicultural workshops or diversity training, his understanding of a multicultural community is exemplary. As he pulled up in front of my house for our scheduled interview, several children ran behind him to ask for strawberry and bubble gum treats. He gave them a smile along with their ice cream, and they returned the favor with a delighted grin and three quarters. He said goodbye to them in broken English and turned his attention to the conversation with me. As I asked him about the multicultural richness in our neighborhood just represented in his young customers, he smiled warmly. He told me that he loves children and that while he’s away from his own, he is especially grateful for the opportunity to make them happy. Furthermore, he added, “This is the life of a paletero. There are black children and there are blond children. I do not distinguish amongst them because of color or race. There is no reason not to love children. They are children, and that is that.” The perfect philosophy for our neighborhood and our world, I told him, and he smiled. He then told me that he wished others would feel the same way, because he is often treated as if he is a “bad man or a dangerous man,” despite the fact that all he does is work hard every day for the welfare of his family. While he did not have the technical terminology to discuss stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, he gave me vivid examples of what he faces from many Americans who assume many unfavorable things about him just because he’s Mexican. All the same, this unique ice cream man follows the philosophy of the traditional Mexican character depicted on his cart next to the “La Michoacana” sign. Mario Moreno, also known as Cantinflas in the comedy circles, advocated the idea of looking on the bright side of life. Thus, this paletero will ride every day in an effort to create a better future for his family, and every summer, he will continue to make our lives in the neighborhood a little better with the distinctiveness of his hand-rung bell, his bright smile, and his tasty frozen treats. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 8 – September 2002
by Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman