I should learn Spanish.

Last week I moved to Little Mexico. Or so it seems. I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Walking down the street with Kirk a few afternoons ago, we passed another 20-something guy wearing a U of I t-shirt.

I gaped. “Look, it’s a white guy.”

Kirk laughed. I giggled. It was odd seeing another white person. Other than the briefcase-clutching 9-5ers who appear in droves near the Metra train station for their weekday commute, our new neighborhood, Rogers Park, is very much Latino.

With the last name Schroeder, and a mother who spoke only German through her toddler years, I decided to study German in high school. I don’t know a lick of Spanish, besides the numbers 1 – 10. At the restaurant where work, most of the kitchen employees speak Spanish. When I arrive for my shift I’m greeted with “¿Cómo estás?” or “¿Cómo te llamas??” and forgetting which is which, I usually reply, “Lauren good!”

Last night I walked to the corner food store, La Frescasita. On the prowl for taco dip ingredients, the destination was exceptionally appropriate. I needed refried beans. The entire left side of aisle 3 was a tin curtain of canned beans. I’d never seen so many beans in my life. Black beans, brown beans, green beens, beans with jalapenos, beans with chipotle, beans with green chiles, fat free beans, authentic beans, garbonzo beans, beans, beans, BEANS.

I stood in aisle 3 for so long that the word “bean” started to look ridiculous.

At 9 pm, it was dark. As I left the store, I heard cheers and shouts on the busy street corner of Clark (the main drag) and Lunt (my street). Clusters of people waved Mexican flags and cars passing through the intersection honked their horns. A local shopkeeper stood in the doorway of his store watching the commotion.

I smiled. There was something to shout about. A Mexican holiday? I wondered. At home, I googled September 16th. Sure enough. “El Grito,” Mexican Independence Day.

Seeing waving flags, so clearly not spangled with red, white and blue, I thought might only increase my stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling. On the contrary, I felt enlivened. Life and excitement were flowing from that street corner. I wanted to go grab a flag and start yelling, too.

I like Rodgers Park. I don’t think it will long before it feels like home.