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San Pab Diaries: Tienda Mexicana Blues

on March 6, 2009

(WARNING: spontaneous use of unitalicized spanglish. Read con precaución.)

OK. I’m an East Coast Mexican transplant tryin to make my way en la Bahía.  So my first weekend in Berkeley back in August involved the necessary search for my local tienda mexicana. My mexican store. No way I was gonna live off those hippy wheatgrass tortillas they got at Whole-Trader-Bowl. I need me some maíz, foo.  I knew there was paisas in Fruitvale, so I drove aimlessly into Oakland, mapless and only knowing that if the hills were to my left I was driving south, and to my right, north- hoping to run into the mythical barrio, to no avail. Turns out I was driving in West Oakland, the place to go for some yummyass soul food but not my gansitos, nopales and, of course, tortillas. All I found was one lonely taco stand somewhere in the 50s, but it was closed. No paisas in sight.

After what felt like hours I gave up and drove back up–hills to my right–figuring I was spending more on gas than I would on a little ball of queso oaxaqueño. Rollin back into Berks, I decided to give it one last try and drive up a little more on San Pab towards University. I  mean come on– San Pablo?! And isn’t this California? Isn’t it supposed to be infested with our folks? A sudden dread came over me: Was I trapped, for the next two years of my life, in a city sin tienda mexicana?

And then, almost like the virgencita air freshener hangin on my rearview mirror heard my laments, I saw the Western Union sign. Screeeeeeeech. Violent u-turn. Six blocks from my house! Sigh of relief. A gracias to the virgencita. And she loves me cause it wasn’t just one tienda Mexicana, but two: Mi Ranchito y Mi Tierra, right next door to each other, on the same block as the Indian grocery store and the sari boutiques, a block over from the two Halaal groceries next to each other. Yo, they might squeeze us into the edges of cities, but us brown folks know how to do homeland–times two. I floated blissfully through those aisles and got everything I needed to make a good, unhealthy unorganic meal of quesadillas con rajas y chorizo and a pan Bimbo for desert. Acompañado con Jumex sabor gayaba. At the register I asked for a calling card to call my abuelita with.

“Which one’s good for Veracruz?” I always ask them the same question. She pulled one out with a drawing of a chihuahua wearing a sombrero. “This one’s popular.” They always give the same answer.  And I love them for it.


  1. Tracey Taylor on March 6, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Montana: I love this. Great writing, wonderfully evocative and really interesting. Look forward to more.

  2. Tracey Taylor on March 6, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Sorry, Montano, not Montana.

  3. vero on March 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    nice job.

    nothing like the real flavors of home!

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