I have a beautiful image in my mind, a warm recollection of one my fondest Christmas memories from Mexico. In 1998, I went back to visit my relatives in San Luis Potosi, where I am originally from. This would be the only Christmas I got to spend in Mexico in the twenty-five years since my family and I moved to the U.S.
At that time, not much had changed in the four years since I had left Mexico. Sure, my cousins and relatives had grown a bit older, but in most regards, they were still the same. The neighborhood where I grew up was the same as well. My old neighbors were also still there. However, and most importantly, my grandmother was still in good health. I was happy during this Christmas; I saw everyone and took a picture with all the people I wanted to see.
I spent that Christmas Eve with my relatives from Mexico. However, the next day, I made a long journey, accompanied by one of my cousins, to visit one of our aunts, who lived near the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi. She was my favorite aunt. Sadly, she has passed away since. I still remember this nice stroll, walking around with one of my favorite cousins from my childhood. We visited churches, historic monuments, landmarks. We wandered the same old streets that watched me grow in San Luis Potosi taking pictures of the area at night.
I am very fond of the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi, because it is the place where I grew up. It’s where I see myself as a little girl with many of my relatives, including my Mom, in our family pictures. This is why I find myself coming back here every time I visit Mexico.
The pictures shown here are from that Christmas evening, when my cousin and I strolled around Historic Downtown after visiting our aunt. We must’ve talked a lot during those hours because the journey was long.
Looking back at the pictures from that evening, it is interesting to see what I thought was picture perfect: I took pictures of the churches, cathedrals, historic monuments, landmarks and of course, a picture of my cousin and I at Calzada de Guadalupe; one of the most famous and oldest streets in San Luis Potosi.
As we neared the end of our journey, heading back to our grandmother’s house, something caught our eye and we stopped. It was a beautiful, gigantic Nativity scene in the middle of Plaza Fundadores in Historic Downtown. The city of SLP had decorated all the streets in preparation for Christmas season. And a Nativity scene was a view I dared not miss as part of my Christmas visit to SLP
Now, after 25 years, I am getting ready to once again visit my relatives and celebrate the Christmas season in Mexico. As I close bags and ready my passport, I pondered on all the great changes in the lives of my relatives from then to now. I reflect how my city has grown and changed a lot. Above all, I brace myself for the space left by those important members of my family who won’t be there waiting for me this time around: my dear grandmother and favorite aunt.
Deep down, and though I treasure all those memories of the Christmas past, I know that this is a time to create new memories, reconcile with the things that I cannot change, and make peace with my past.
Today is a very special day in Mexico. The whole country dresses in vivid colors of red, blue, yellow, pink, green, even black and white. The smell of copal is everywhere in the mercado —the open-air markets found in many cities throughout Mexico—along with the sweet smell of candied camote and calabaza or crystalized sweet potato with pumpkin. The fragrant smell of the flor de cempasúchil and flor de terciopelo, combined with the sweet smell of the food coming from street vendors, is just one of a kind.
This time of the year, I miss Mexico the most. Although I enjoy the changing of seasons in the East Coast and Midwest, and the festivities that come with it, spending Día de los Muertos in Mexico is a very special and unforgettable experience.
In Mexico, Día de los Muertos is a special six-day festivity where families set up special altars in honor of their family members who have passed away. In each house, ofrendas are placed on altars intended to welcome them back amongst the living. The ofrendas are collections of objects that held some type of significance to the dearly departed while they were still alive.
El Día de los Muertos is a very misunderstood cultural tradition from Mexico, Central, and South America. Its roots originate amongst the many native tribes that lived in the continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Even the Spanish priests who came to America during the Conquista did not fully understand this concept of honoring dead relatives.
There are tons of articles and books written about this stigmatized and misunderstood holiday, but the more we read them the more confused the person trying to learn about can become. I believe this is because it is hard to be able to explain spirituality within Native American cultures to someone in the outside who did not grow up in it. As a result, people judge both the culture and the people who practice such traditions.
Although pre-Hispanic practices of Día de los Muertos have changed greatly throughout the ages, the essence of this special holiday has not changed; taking time to remember the relatives who are no longer on this earth.
As much I would like to be able to travel to Mexico during this special day, to be able to eat, smell, see, touch, and hear the festivities that take place during Día de los Muertos, I currently can’t. So instead, I do what I can to educate my family about this part of my culture, sharing with them all the things they are missing by growing up elsewhere.
I prepare special sweets, desserts, and drinks that resemble the smells of the mercados in Mexico during this time of the year. I take out pictures of my family members from Mexico who are no longer with us. I share anecdotes about them and explain to my daughters how much they meant to me.
I light up a candle and say a prayer for them.
I don’t want to ever forget them and it is my duty that my children learn who those special people in my life were.
This year, my cousin from Mexico sent me pictures of the colorful altars set up by the local government in the city of San Luis Potosi, where I am originally from. Many cities in Mexico set up similar altars in their respective Historic centers. The altars set up in Mexico City, Oaxaca and Michoacán are the most famous. San Luis Potosi sets up altars throughout the Historic Downtown of the city. They are very striking and interesting to see.
Other places to visit during Día de los Muertos are the cemeteries, which are full of life during this time of the year. Cemeteries are usually depicted as creepy, dark and gloomy in Hollywood movies, but in Mexico this is the opposite during Día de los Muertos. The whole cemetery comes alive during November 1 and 2, the official days of Día de los Muertos.
Entire families go to the cemetery and spend the whole night or nights at the grave of their dead relatives. They light up candles, take beautiful flower ornaments, and take food to eat with their families while they stay up all night praying and thinking of their long-gone relatives.
It is beautiful to experience this.
This year I will be making a special place today to remember my stepdad who passed away this year on April. It was his wish before he passed away to be able to go back to Mexico to spend time with his relatives.
Feliz Día de los Muertos to those who celebrate this holiday!
Of all the people who were the hardest to break away from, not counting my grandmother, were my friends. I always hoped one day I would go back to Mexico and reunite with them or at least see them again.
In Mexico, Secundaria is the equivalent of junior high in the U.S. Students spend three years in Secundaria before they move on to Preparatoria or high school. Students in Mexico spend three years in Junior High and three years in high school for a total of six years.
This is a very important time in the life of any young person, where they go through tremendous growth emotionally, mentally and physically. For me, this was also the time when one of the biggest changes in my life took place; moving to another country.
After graduating from my neighborhood’s well-known private catholic school, my Mom chose a public junior high school for me because it was near my grandmother’s house. It was also within walking distance for me, so I’m sure that weighed in on my Mom’s decision as well. Other kids ended up going to other private junior high schools further away from the neighborhood.
I knew that attending this particular public school would mean I would not see my elementary school friends again, but I was okay with that. I would just make new friends at the new school. And that’s how I came to spend my first year of junior high at Escuela Secundaria General Dionisio Zavala Almendarez, a public junior high school near my grandmother’s house.
Things there were going great for me. I made friends very easily and soon I became one of the most popular kids in my classroom. This was way different from my previous private catholic school. Changing from a private catholic school to a secular public school was such a contrast. There, I met girls who were more down-to-earth; they didn’t care so much about appearances. Of course, there were some mean girls who thought they were better than everyone else; you will always find those types everywhere. But with so many students in my new school, keeping away from such girls was fairly easy.
I had a particular group of girl friends who made me laugh and who I made them laugh in turn. We all went through difficulties together, such as the time when we had to sing in public in front of our music teacher in order to pass our class. We all went together to the tardeadas, teenage parties organized by the school to raise funds. We listened to music together and talked about who we liked and didn’t like in school. The end of that first year was coming in fast and by then we looked forward to our next year together and to the new adventures it would bring.
As that first year of junior high came to a close, a time I still treasured as one of my happiest school moments, my mom announced that we were moving to another country. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t for sure that we were coming back to Mexico. As the words came out of my mom’s lips, I felt my world came crumbling down. I immediately felt the sadness take hold of my heart. I had just turned thirteen years old, an age already full of changes and inconveniences, and now this.
I believe that I became a little depressed, but at that time, I couldn’t name it as such. After letting my friends know that I was moving to another country, they hosted a few dinners for me as a way to say good-bye. But once the school year came to an end, I refused to go out at all. Going out reminded me of all the things, people and places I would soon leave behind, and I hated that. As a result, I secluded myself from my friends and became withdrawn.
I understood my Mom was doing the best for her daughters. She wanted us to have better opportunities growing-up. And as a single mother living in Mexico, she didn’t have much support from anyone.
Children and teenagers understand more than parents give them credit for. They understand when a parent has to make difficult choices such as moving to another country and that this does not mean the parents loves them any less. However, these choices still hurt and parents should be mindful of their children’s feelings and allow them to grieve properly.
It is now that I am older, a mother, a wife and with the Wisdom that God gave me, that I understand that this type of experience in once’s life requires proper grieving. A child needs to grieve about leaving their comfort zone behind, their country, their friends, their extended family, in the same way a person grieves the loss of a loved one or the pain that follows a breakup.
Even though it’s been twenty-five years since I left Mexico, that sunny, sad afternoon still makes me cry. It makes me cry because it was Mom’s decision to move us to another country and I had no choice in the matter. Because I could not change things, because I had to say good-bye to my grandmother, my awesome friends, my neighborhood, my country, everything about my life in Mexico and exchange it all for some distant, unknown land up north.
I did go back a few times to Mexico after being settled in the U.S., but it wasn’t the same. I was unable to locate my friends; some of them moved away, stopped writing to me and just lost touch with one another.
It was heartbreaking as a new teenager to understand how distance and time can wither a relationship, similar to a plant when you don’t take care of it.
I have a few pictures of my junior high friends taken during a regular school day. Just four pictures of them. It is all I was able to take with me when we moved.
As an adult, I thought I had moved on from that period of my life after I moved away from my country; however, these repressed memories lingered in the back of my mind, never truly disappearing with time. Whenever I looked at the pictures of my friends or my life in Mexico, my memories were tinged with sadness.
I now hope to return to that place where I left a piece of my heart behind. I no longer hope things were different. I am thankful for my friends at that time in my life. Those moments, as fleeting as they might’ve been, will forever be treasured in my heart.
God has been instrumental in my healing process, God showed me that this period of my life is too important to ignore. As a young preteen I was forced to put this part of my life in the “backburner,” not knowing how to properly handle it and by being forced to put aside my feelings for the sake of what was best for my family. Most of all, I am thankful to God for giving me the courage to go back to that period in my life and heal properly from that heartache.
This summer, my family and I made the ritual visit to one of my favorite places in the East Coast: Annapolis, Maryland. We have been visiting Historic Annapolis and the Naval Academy for the last ten years. My husband graduated the Naval Academy in 2001 and he loves serving as tour guide and sharing with us all about the history of the academy.
We drove to Annapolis on an overcast day with chance of rain later in the afternoon, but we thought the rain would only last a little while. Fifteen minutes after we arrived, the rain began pouring. We rushed towards the Rotunda and spent our time in there walking around Memorial Hall, an area dedicating to honoring the lives of naval war heroes. Once the rain stopped, we took a chance to stroll around the academy grounds. A couple, who had just gotten married, were having their pictures taken in the beautiful gazebo immediately across the Naval Academy Chapel. As we walked by and admired the bride and the groom rain began to pour again. This time we decided to take shelter in the nearest building open to the public, which happened to be the Naval Academy Chapel.
This is our sixth time visiting Historic Annapolis together and up to now, I’ve never had the opportunity to go inside this chapel. What a perfect time to discover what’s inside!
As we entered the church, we were welcomed by the relaxing music coming from a young man playing his guitar while singing old country Christian songs; songs I had never heard before yet made me feel right at home.
By now, it was pouring outside. Once I realized we were going to be there for a while I made myself comfortable and tried to make the best of the situation. I stood there listening to the singer who seemed to be practicing for Sunday worship. All of the sudden, I looked to my left and noticed a tall window adorned with the striking image of an angel.
As I looked around the chapel, I noticed the entire building was decorated with stained-glass windows depicting images of well-known stories from the Bible. The two images that caught my attention were those of Archangel Gabriel, on the left side of the nave, and Archangel Michael, to the right. At the far end of the chapel, behind the altar, was an image of Jesus Christ also made out of stained-glass.
As I walked around the chapel, another window caught my attention. It read, “Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of Men” (Saint Mark 1:17). I could not stop looking at the image depicted above this inscription; of Jesus standing in a teaching position, speaking to His disciples while their nets were full of freshly-caught fish. I was moved by this image because it reminded me of a promise God gave me.
I took many pictures as I walked around, admiring these pieces of art while reflecting on the importance of each and every one of the stories they represented. I love reading these stories in the Bible and imagining what the people in the stories actually looked like. Normally, I seldom watch movies about the Bible or look at illustrated Bible stories. I feel such interpretations change the perception of the viewer, skewing the way a person thinks about each Biblical story to match the views of the painter or the director. However, I was able to appreciate these scriptures and images as they related to the line of work of the life of a sailor.
As a former sailor myself, working out at sea and understanding concepts related to the Navy, I was mesmerized with how particularly the scriptures on these windows were chosen as they clearly drew connections with the Bible and the sea as well as to man’s relationship with God.
“What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him” (Saint Matthew 8:27) was another inscription and image that caught my attention. The story of Jesus Calms the Storm reminded me of the rain that was pouring outside at that moment. It also brought to mind how many times I encountered storms while being out to sea while stationed onboard a ship. I imagined how it must’ve been to be in the presence of Jesus while He calmed the storm in front of His disciples.
“They that go down to the sea in ships these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep” (Psalm 107:23-24). Another Scripture that spoke to me.
It was fascinating to see how all of these stories on the windows related to the sea and man, fighting storms, the elements of nature, how many of the stories of the Bible have to do with the sea and water…God continues to amaze me! How much more I have yet to learn from God!
Even though the rain was an unexpected part of our family trip to Annapolis, God had other plans for us. The rain caused us to stop in an unexpected place where I was reminded of and taught new things about the wonders of God. It is always in the least expected places where you’ll find God revealing Himself and His wonders.
I went back to San Luis Potosí in 2014 to visit family and do a little bit of touring and sight-seeing. I hadn’t been back to my native country since 2002. Since I left Mexico, I’ve only went back to visit my relatives and my country four times; that’s four times in twenty years. To some people it may not seem like a lot, but to others it may seem like enough.
For me, visiting my country four times in twenty years was enough, until my grandmother passed away. When I sat down and thought about those four times, I went back to visit her, I now feel it wasn’t enough. When I found out my grandmother passed away, I felt guilty. I wished I had gone to see her more often. I wished I still had the opportunity to go and stay at her house and spend time with her. I wished I would’ve video-taped her or recorded her voice so that I would remember her and not forget her. I wished…
I now understand that I was hurting and in my hurt I wasn’t able to see the facts and realities of the situation.
The reality was that my extended family didn’t have a good relationship with my mother and sisters. My grandmother didn’t have a good relationship with my Mom and therefore it affected our grandmother-granddaughter relationship. The day we left Mexico, my Mom and grandmother didn’t speak or say good-bye to each other. I did say good-bye to my grandmother and it pained me so much because, even as a child, I knew then that when we saw each other again it wouldn’t be the same; things would change.
When I saw my grandmother again, twelve years later, I barely recognized her. Time and aging completely changed her demeanor, her appearance, her heart. She was so fragile that when I hugged her, I thought she was going to crumble. I wanted to hug her so hard but was afraid I’d break her bones. Her eyes were now gray in color, as if they had been covered by a layer of clouds that hid the beautiful honey-gold color of her eyes I remembered. The beautiful golden curls and thick hair from my memories was replaced by a thin and silver collection of wispy hair.
I remember her standing in the foyer of her house one Sunday afternoon, after I arrived in Mexico. She looked at me as if trying to remember who I was. Time and age had changed our bodies so that we couldn’t recognize each other at first. Twelve years might not seem like a lot, but for us, it was like 120 years had passed by.
I was so overwhelmed with joy and sadness when I hugged her that words refused to come out of my mouth. A knot in my throat prevented me from speaking. I wanted to cry and jump out of joy at the same time. I was overjoyed to see her once again because she meant a lot to me. I loved her so much and came all this way to see her, but at the same time, I was sad that she didn’t look the same way as when I first left her. Her body wasn’t the same and I knew it was a matter of time before she passed away.
Where did all this time go? Is there a button that we can press that can stop time?
That Sunday afternoon my family and I had a pleasant family reunion. There was no confrontation, no feuds, no explanations, just seeing each other again and a lot of questions without answers. All I know is that this was one of my biggest dreams come true; to see my grandmother once more and enjoy a meal with her. To be able to hug her and tell her I loved her. To be able to sit next to those family members who we didn’t meet eye to eye, who said hurtful things, who gave us grief in the past, now all that doesn’t matter anymore.
We ate, we shared anecdotes, we took pictures, I gave grace before the meal while seating on my late grandfather’s chair, where he always sat to eat his meals… I was in a complete bliss!
This would be the last supper my grandmother and I enjoyed together. Ten months later, the Lord called her home.
I was so surprised by her passing away so soon. I couldn’t believe it at first, I was sad, I was angry and overcome with all those feelings that follow the loss of someone we love. But after a while, God gave me healing and perspective.
Before I left my grandmother –another Sunday afternoon before leaving Mexico– I made it a goal to go up to her and give her a big hug. When I hugged her, I was taken back to the time when as a child I left her house to move to the U.S. and wondered if I was going to be able to hug her again or if this would be the last hug. I said good-bye and walked away, and I was about to walk out of her house when all of the sudden, I felt that one hug wasn’t enough. If I could I would’ve given her a thousand more, but I turned around and saw her standing by the door of her foyer surrounded by other great grandchildren and my cousin, and I went rushing back to her and gave her a second hug.
Those of us who leave our country behind don’t really know if we will be able to see our far-away loved ones once more.
Perhaps that second hug was our actual good-bye on this earth, the hug where we said to each other: “This is for your departure grandma’ because I will not be here to give you one last hug before you leave.”
Those who lose a loved one know that feeling, of wanting to go back in time and give more hugs, more time, more I love you’s. I went through this myself. But whenever I find myself feeling this way, I am reminded of this truth: God is good for He granted me what I asked Him for; to see my grandmother one last time before she left his earth. He gave me an opportunity to see my grandmother one last time, hug her and tell her how much I loved her. And this is not a final good-bye. Even though I can’t see my grandmother physically on this earth anymore, I see her in my dreams, I feel her close to me when I am cooking or gardening, the things that she enjoyed the most. She is still with me. We will see and hug each other again, just like we did during that unforgettable family reunion in 2014.
Do you have a special place where your mind brings feelings of nostalgia and yearning about what once was? That one place where you find yourself returning to often in your dreams? It might be the place where you grew up, a certain neighborhood or a house. For me, this place is a little corner short distance from my grandmother’s house.
Everyone calls that place La Plazita or the little town square. This place is not just a little park; it is actually connected to a very long road that everyone in the neighborhood calls el Andador or the walking strip.
Many years ago, when the city of San Luis Potosí was founded in Mexico, the main mode of transportation was the railroad. The railroad put the city of San Luis Potosí on the map. The railroad also helped this city thrive. From 1910-1950, San Luis Potosí became an industrial city.
The railroad built in San Luis Potosí was long and interconnected with many main roads. My grandmother’s house was located along one of those main roads. The railroad tracks ran parallel to my grandmother’s house. The tracks were so long in my time living there, I never saw where they ended. This railroad is not as important as it once was and as result it is no longer in use. In order to put this once-thriving, unused railroad to good use, people from the city created an open market known as el mercado along its former route. The open market sets up every Sunday and sometimes on Saturdays. This open market is as long as the railroad. People who want to sell their products just come and set up their tents and tables and start selling.
The railroad is also the path I followed to go to middle school. It connects to the street that takes you to the middle school I attended. Right on that street there is a particular small park or resting area where people gather for different reasons. Some people wait there for public transportation and young kids go there to play. It also serves as a meeting place for middle school students.
This is the place I refer to in my post The Point of Convergence where I often visit in my dreams. La Plazita is very dear to me because it is the last place I remember as we left my hometown, riding away in a cab.
I have never asked my sisters or my Mom what they remember from their experience of leaving Mexico behind. For me, it is La Plazita. It is the place where I was once happy as a preteen. The place where my best friends from middle school and I would meet and spend time together. It is where we watched other kids get into fights, where we watched people wait for their public bus or take a cab. Where many young teenage couples broke up or made up. Also, the last place I looked as we were leaving San Luis Potosí and watched with a longing and sad feeling wondering if I would ever come back to this place and see it again.
It is not a fancy place or touristy attraction. And although its aesthetics might not even be pleasing to the critical eye, for me, it is special and has a lot of spiritual and emotional meaning.
El Andador is also important to me as it is symbolic of my time living there in this neighborhood. El Andador is where my grandmother used to take walks with her dog to distress herself. When my grandfather was alive, I watched him cross these railroads every sunset always going somewhere alone. I often wondered where he went. Perhaps he was taking a walk, just like my grandmother, as an outlet from all of his problems.
One day, God allowing, I will go back to these places. Although I know I cannot go back in time and change the past, I can create new memories with my daughters in those places where I was once happy growing up.
As I was writing the next entry for my blog, I received a phone call from my sister in Illinois. She was calling to let me know that my stepdad was in the hospital in Chicago and he was in need of a lung transplant.
Just when I had my eyes set on what I thought God wanted me to be paying attention to, He drops something else on my lap, saying, “I want you to pay attention to this first.”
At that moment, we didn’t know if my stepdad would receive a transplant right away, so I began making preparations to travel to Illinois.
I was very upset at the news. Why now? When I was just beginning to write about my grandmother, who passed away almost four years ago. When I was just beginning to write about the time when I lived in Mexico looking for that closure I didn’t have when I left there.
We didn’t know if my stepdad would be able to receive a transplant fairly quickly or if he had to wait a bit longer. He called me to wish me “Happy Birthday” at the beginning of April, and every single day after that his health fluctuated between better and worse.
I had hopes that he would get better and that even if he needed special care after the surgery, we would have him alive and home.
The first week of April he seemed to be getting better and the doctors even said that he could come home. He was released from the hospital on April 9th everything seemed to be going fine for a bit. Then, on Friday of that week his health took a turn and had to be rushed to the hospital.
In the meantime, I wanted to wait for my entire family to be out of school and pack their things so we could drive to Illinois. As a parent, packing and getting ready for a family emergency is so different than when one is single. When we finally hopped in the car to drive seventeen or eighteen hours ahead of us, I was hopeful that we would make it on time enough to hug my stepdad at the hospital. Unfortunately, my stepdad passed away that same Saturday night while we were still driving towards Illinois.
It’s been two weeks since his passing. The hardest thing for me was having to go back to my hometown in Illinois to mourn for him. I went to the stores there and everything reminded me of him: the local hardware stores where he liked to hang out, Walmart, McDonalds for his morning coffee, and going to work out at the YMCA.
Throughout all this, I remember most fondly that me and him shared a special interest, running. He loved to run at the park and there was one particular park where we loved to go together to run. After I left the military, I went back to my hometown in Illinois and continued my running routine. One day, my stepdad suggested we should go for a run at this park called Hennepin Canal Feeder Bike Trail, which has one of the longest walking and running trails in Illinois. I took him up on his suggestion and soon we began to go there almost every Saturday to run.
One of the first things I wanted to do after his funeral and service was to go to this park. It has so many memories. I went there the day before I left Illinois, and I saw people riding their bikes and running and I began to picture in my mind me and my stepdad running together out in the horizon as we used to do.
I still don’t understand why things had to happen this way, but from my experience in walking with God for more than ten years, I do believe that it will be ok. That I don’t need to know and understand everything right now, but when I am ready, He will reveal things to me.
I am grateful to God for this man. He was a strong, God-fearing, gentle soul, with a huge heart and a great listener. I will miss him greatly.