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The Mexican town where they wear Bulls gear and name stores for Chicago

Delfino Mora's hearse passes supermarket called 'Chicago' as it makes its way his funeral mass Ciudad Hidalgo Michoacán Mexico Friday.

Delfino Mora's hearse passes a supermarket called "Chicago" as it makes its way to his funeral mass in Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacán, Mexico on Friday. | Photo by Kim Janssen~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 24, 2012 6:10AM

MICHOACAN, Mexico — The residents of this town wear Bulls, Bears, Cubs and White Sox ball caps and jerseys, and they shop in a liquor store called “Chicago.”

But you don’t have to look far to see this isn’t the Second City.

If the sheep walking the bumpy streets and the stray dogs looking down at you from the flat rooftops didn’t give away the fact that you’re in Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacán, the green mountains visible from almost every street corner would.

It’s like a bizarro version of Chicago’s Little Village or Pilsen, where immigrant businessmen name their Chicago stores after their Mexican hometowns and residents wear the colors of soccer teams like Chivas or Cruz Azul.

Immigrants have been traveling between Michoacán and Illinois for decades. Though net immigration between Mexico and the U.S. fell to zero this year, thanks to stricter border controls and the weak U.S. economy, plenty in Hidalgo still harbor dreams of a life in Chicago.

“It’s beautiful here, I love my country but Chicago is good for money,” said Serafin Espinoza, a Hidalgo furniture maker who has previously worked illegally as a laborer in California and Illinois.

“I want to go back to Chicago sometime,” he said. “Pulaski and Lawrence!”

The phenomenon comes down to simple economics, according to Jose Marco Mora, a 24-year-old food server who traveled back to Hidalgo to bury his father last week.

“If you look at the prices for food in the stores, they’re almost the same as in Chicago,” he said.

“But if you work full time here, you probably only make $200 a week — it’s very difficult.”

Like Mora’s father, Delfino Mora, many older immigrants who came to Chicago from Hidalgo planned to return. They come back with American trucks and build the homes their parents couldn’t.

Younger immigrants enjoy a trip home to a town where they can take a carefree ride around in the bed of a pick-up truck with their pals, or drink on the streets without being hassled by police, or simply breathe fresh country air and eat the freshest meat and produce.

“The food here is the best,” said Delfino Mora’s grandson Leo Plata, 17. Plata was born in the U.S. but grew up speaking Spanish at home and feels at ease in Michoacán.

Still, when he walks around town, the eyes of all the locals are on him, especially the girls. “They can tell we’re from Chicago, because the material our clothes is made from is a little better — they know we’ve got money,” he said.

Plata loves Michoacán, but like many children of immigrants, he can’t see himself living there.

He’s signed up to become a Marine when he graduates high school. “It’s always been my dream,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of his cousins in Hidalgo who was caught crossing the border illegally last year, plans to take a second run at Chicago. “I’ve always wanted to see it,” the cousin said. “All my family is there,” the cousin said.

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