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Read 'The Chalupa Rules'

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"The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia" is the new book by Mario Bosquez, the morning news anchor at WCBS-TV in New York. For background on the author,click here.

Here is an excerpt:

The Birth of the Chalupa Rules

There isn't much color in some parts of South Texas, where I was born. There's the dust; khaki-colored and stinging when wind storms whip it up. There are also the pale green, razor-thin leaves of the mesquite trees. They produce anemic-yellow bean pods that, in the summer, bake into hollow, brown rattles; nature's maracas when the South Texas wind rakes through the branches. You have the scratch the surface to find the true colors of the Texas where I grew up.

Slice open a ripe, extravagantly fat watermelon and you're rewarded by a deep, sweet red that dares you to look away from its ruby brilliance. Wait until Easter Sunday and all the modest, wood-frame homes hatch little niñas wearing their holiday best. They are excited, dancing rainbows of colors that push the envelope of what's usually considered "pastel". Their frilly, fussy dresses blush with the innocence of canary-yellow, mint green and robin's egg blue.

The colors of my South Texas also lay dormant in a simple, cardboard box that is usually shoved under a bed or parked on a dark, musty closet shelf next to strings of sleeping Christmas lights and fiesta decorations that wait patiently for their turn to once again illuminate, amuse and delight. Pick up the box and shake it. You'll hear a hundred or more little tapping sounds as the contents wake up at the prospect of a rousing game of Mexican bingo. The chubby pinto beans dance around the inside of the box; anxious to act out their role as markers in the game.
Shake the box again and you will hear the deck of cards as they slide around; hitting the sides of the container. They rap and knock impatiently; trying to coax you in letting them come out to play. The entire cast of characters is already in full, Mexican costume; ready to appear on the stage of this raucous game of chance.

Lift the lid and meet them.

There's El Catrin. The starchy, over-dressed dandy poses delicately in his impeccable white tie and tails. Here's La Sirena; the most innocently voluptuous mermaid you will ever meet. Her shiny, raven hair makes not even the slightest attempt to cover the perfect, bare breasts she offers to the world. La Sirena seems to be enjoying the frothy, pale blue bubble bath of water that her glossy tail has whipped up around her.

There's El Valiente; the brave one. This overtly macho man seems to have paused in the middle of a bar fight to glare at you while you play the game. His eyes promise a fight to the finish. His muscular chest seems to heave from the exertion of being so valiente. The deck of playing cards also includes La Chalupa herself. She is resplendent in her traditional Mexican dress; her colorful, off-the-shoulder peasant Aztec blouse frames a beautiful face. She rows a small boat, her chalupa as it is called in Spanish, with a look of pride on her face. Aboard the boat are lush fruits and flowers that are the ripe bounty of a successful harvest.

These characters from the Mexican world of imagery are joined by many others. Some are simple and some are audacious. They all demand your undivided attention.

You will meet the big, fat Rana/the Frog; the prim, svelte Dama/the Lady; and the empty, haunting eye sockets and forbidding countenance of La Muerte/Death.

The cast of players in Mexican bingo make the U.S. version of the game seem, by comparison, suffocating and boring. How can flat, black-and-white letters and numbers ever compete with the Mexican playing cards that shout and sing of everything from a bright, red devil to a proud rooster crowing his handsomeness to the world?

It was this potent game of chance, full of proverbs and promise that we played as children. All we knew at the time was that someone had to be the "caller"; in charge of shuffling the deck of cards and then calling them out, one-by-one.

¡El arbol!" ¡La Estrella!" ¡El Mundo! We listened with the undiluted, concentrated power of fervent believers as we waited, a pinto bean marker poised in our sweaty little hands. We waited to see if the card being called out was a match for a space on our playing card. When someone eventually filled in their entire card with pinto beans (or pennies if there was extra money in the family to throw around), they would greedily shout, "Chalupa!" and claim the coveted prize of a pile of pinto beans or stack of pennies; whichever served as the treasure for the night.

It went something like this:

It's a hot summer night in South Texas. Alice, Texas to be exact. A gaggle of young cousins has convened in front of the small, wood house that's bursting at the seams with Mexicans. The "primos" range in age from five-to-fifteen and we all have the thirsty look of rabid Chalupa players in our eyes. We all carefully squat or sit on the red concrete porch that, even at night, is still baking from a day's worth of summer sun but it's better than sitting on the grass. Even though the blades are cool to the touch and provide a soft, springy cushion for our bony bottoms, there are also chinches, tiny mites that bite and burrow into our skin and threaten an entire night of itchy discomfort. So instead, we sacrifice our young skins to the heat of the concrete porch.

Our cousin Cecilia is the designated "caller" for our game of Chalupa. Her voice gets lost in the raspy mating calls of the thousands of "chicharras"/cicadas that hide in the darkness of the South Texas night and provide a noisy cheering section as our game rages on. She pulls a card from the deck and calls out its identity. "La Sirena!" she shouts as we hoot and laugh at the outrageous nudity Cecilia holds up before us. Our assortment of blue, green, hazel and brown eyes train themselves at the ripe, raucous colors that make up the mermaid's extravagant display of lush black hair and ripe, red fish tail that slaps at the green water that surrounds her. We marvel at how she is a creature of two elements; air and water. Perhaps we react to this card in such a strong manner because we too are creatures of two worlds; Mexico and the United States.

We all search for La Sirena on our playing cards.

Perhaps the mermaid would lead our way to victory. You would think we are playing for the crown jewels of England. There is a mound of freckled pinto beans at dead center of the game. That's the treasure we are lusting after; the frijoles that are the Holy Grail of our noisy, often contentious game of chance. That is how we played Chalupa, the visual foundation for my rules of life.

I grew up poor; surrounded by domestic violence and alcoholism. I was the kid everyone felt sorry for; the one who mowed lawns and cleaned rich people's houses to support his family. I've spent a lifetime wearing hand-me-downs too big or too small for me, but the only clothes I had. I spent years pretending I wasn't hungry so that my family could eat.

Success is not always measured by headline grabbing achievement or box-office receipts. Success, in our family, was surviving another day without getting kicked out of our house or yet another day without watching one of us getting kicked around.

There is no neat, crisp line of division between my turbulent, formative years and my work as a broadcast journalist. There is no well-defined "border" that I had to cross from struggling financially and recovering from childhood trauma into my present job as a New York City television anchor. I struggle to survive, to this very day.

Census Bureau numbers in the year 2000 reported over thirty-five million Latinos in the U.S. In that number are countless dreams, aspirations and hopes for the future. We look to others for inspiration and sometimes we read about a person's life experiences and they seem glossy yet attainable. But the waters are rarely smooth and friendly. Oftentimes we encounter storms at sea and whirlpools of procrastination, temptation and weakness that threaten to sink our dreams.

In the Chalupa Rules that follow, I take clues from my own culture and upbringing to cope with life in the United States. I put all my "cards" on the table; open for inspection so that you can learn from my experience.

I look at the "Lady of the Chalupa", the beautiful woman rowing the small boat that gives her name to this Mexican game of chance, and I see someone who is rowing her way through life with all the riches of the Mexican harvest aboard. Like her, I load up my own rowboat with a valuable bounty. Like I've described for you, the harvest that I share with you comes from the back of Chalupa playing cards, old Mexican proverbs and my own rules-of-life. They are the "The Chalupa Rules". Through them, you will get insight as to how a Mexican kid from the barrio ended up as a communicator in the number one television market in the world.

Am I bragging a little? You better believe it. To find out why, read the first chapter, El Gallo/The Rooster and learn how, as Latinos, we need to crow more about our achievements.
Even as I write this, my New York City apartment is drenched in oranges and yellows, Mexican artwork and Native American masks. I even joke about how it looks like a mariachi "threw up in it". I drape myself in my culture and proclaim it to the world. But, I was not always that way. The Chalupa Rules helped me embrace my own culture, while at the same time making it through what could be called Gringolandia. Find out how La Sirena, the Mermaid, can help you swim in your own cultural waters.

Be prepared for the bright, shocking colors of Mexican imagery and candid details from my life of struggle. The colors of my South Texas include the rainbow of reds, blues and greens of Mexican Bingo. I couldn't have survived without El Sol, La Luna and El Valiente and the rewarding "dichos"/sayings that they inspired me to unite them all under the banner of the "Chalupa Rules".

One of the rules instructs: Deten La Bandera/Hold on to your flag. Through storms, through abuse, through struggle hold on to your own banner that represents your most precious goals and dreams. Never let it drop. It may get dark sometimes. Clouds may dim your view of the goals that you have set. But if you read the following pages, the Sun and the Moon of the Chalupa will light your way.

Reprinted by arrangement with Plume Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from THE CHALUPA RULES by MARIO BOSQUEZ