Our First Halloween in the U.S.

I remember very vividly the first year after I moved to the U.S.; both the changing foliage of the autumn season and the concept of Halloween were foreign to me.

Beautiful tree changing foliage in the fall.

My family and I moved to U.S. in the 90’s as I began my teenage years. We moved to a small, rural Midwest town in Illinois. Every autumn, shortly after the start of a new school year, the leaves would change various shades of yellow, orange, red, purple, and brown. The humid summer air would start turning cool and crisp, announcing the transition to autumn.

Autumn also reminded me of coming home from school and looking forward to watching the Simpsons. After The Simpsons there was Roseanne, and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in that order. My Mom would have dinner ready right after The Simpsons. Watching The Simpsons always reminded me of Mexico as this was my favorite show before we moved to the states. Of course, back in Mexico I used to watch it in Spanish.

The first new friends we made there were another Mexican family who, like us, migrated to the U.S. from Mexico. This family had three sons and had lived here in the states for a while. We spent our first Halloween in the U.S. with them. One of their sons spoke to me in English, but because I barely knew the language, I only answered in short sentences.

I remember they wore spooky masks and carried pillow cases to collect candy that night. My sisters and I didn’t go trick-or-treating with them because we didn’t quite understand what it was. It seemed fun: seeing all the kids knocking on doors, asking for candy, as they yelled, “Trick or treat!”

Kids knocking on doors, asking for candy, as they yelled, “Trick or treat!”
Kids knocking on doors, asking for candy, as they yelled, “Trick or treat!”

We didn’t give away any candy that first year either, because, as I mentioned, we were not ready for or really understood what Halloween was all about. I felt very intrigued by the whole thing, especially after seeing how much fun our new friends had trick-or-treating.

After that unforgettable, first Halloween, my sisters and I started participating on the Halloween festivities. Most of my fondest memories growing up in the U.S. take place in the fall; with many of them revolving around Halloween. Every fall became a memorable moment in my mind, as I navigated through the difficult experiences of moving to another country and learning a new language, a new culture, and a new place to call home.

Now that I am older and a Mom, fall has become one of my favorite seasons of the year. It wasn’t until this year that I began wondering why this season was one of my favorites. Perhaps because it reminds me of those first years in the U.S. Those memories became so impressed and vivid in my mind partly because of the newness of it all, but also, I believe, because back then I felt anxious every time I started a new school year. Beginning a new school year in a foreign country while learning a new language will make most kids feel that way. Perhaps the new weather, which was so different from my native Mexico, was something I became fond of. And perhaps autumn reminds me of the good times I had with my family when we first moved to the U.S.

Changing tree leaves turn into red hues.
Changing tree leaves turn into red hues.

Living in the East Coast now as an adult and a parent, I now look forward to seeing the humid, stuffy summer heat turn into a nice, cool and crisp air, as the changing tree leaves turn into red, gold, and brown hues. I love going to pumpkin patches, buying everything that’s made with pumpkin, and going to see the changing foliage around the landscapes.

Fall will always remind me of my first years in the U.S., cool and crisp evenings while walking home from school, Halloween nights watching funny horror shows, and fond memories of my family together in our new home.

The pictures here are a collection from one of our first Halloween nights in the U.S. and the other ones from a previous visit to a Pumpkin Patch.

Bright orange pumpkins at a pumpkin patch.
Bright orange pumpkins at a pumpkin patch.
A Witch and her Cauldron display at a Pumpkin Patch.
A Witch and her Cauldron display at a Pumpkin Patch.
Pumpkins Patches are part of Halloween festivals in the U.S.
Pumpkins Patches are part of Halloween festivals in the U.S.
Halloween brings fond memories of my sisters and I growing up in the U.S.
Halloween brings fond memories of my sisters and I growing up in the U.S.
Different types of pumpkin varieties at a Pumpkin Patch.
Different types of pumpkin varieties at a Pumpkin Patch.
A Halloween display at a Pumpkin Patch in the U.S.
A Halloween display at a Pumpkin Patch in the U.S.
Corn Stalks and Pumpkins what Halloween is all about.
Corn Stalks and Pumpkins what Halloween is all about.

 

 

 

 

A Very Special Christmas in San Luis Potosí

This last Christmas I went to Mexico to spend the holidays with distant relatives.  Last time I saw my relatives was five years ago, and the last time I spent a Christmas in Mexico was twenty-one years ago.  I am originally from San Luis Potosi, a city located in central Mexico, where I spend this last Christmas.  I wanted my family to experience Christmas in Mexico for the first time.

Christmas in Mexico is very different than in the United States.  In Mexico, las Posadas is an integral part of the Christmas celebrations.  The tradition of Las Posadas comes from Spain and it was brought to Mexico and other Latin American countries by the Catholic Church.  For 400 years, starting in 1586, Mexicans have celebrated las Posadas in December.  Other countries in Latin America and in the U.S., in communities where Spanish cultural influence remains strong, las Posadas is also part of their cultural Christmas tradition.  Most of these celebrations take place in the Southwest; in states like New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California.

Las Posadas celebrations in Mexico vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and city to city.  Cities, which tend to be more populated and where people are more influenced by American culture, tend to have their own variations of las Posadas.  Their celebrations may include prayers and a piñata, followed by dinner.  The Mexican state of San Luis Potosi is divided into Municipios or municipalities.  Some of the municipios, specifically those located in more rural areas, celebrate las Posadas in a more traditional way.  Their prayers are longer and more involved.  A traditional Posada includes a reenactment of the Nativity story, followed by a dinner, and breaking a piñata.

During our visit this year, my relatives and I organized a simple celebration for the children on Christmas Day.  The day before Christmas, my aunt and I went to Mercado República, a very famous food market close to the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosi, to buy food and other things for the celebration.  Most people go there to purchase food and gifts for las Posadas, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Mercado República is a famous food market in San Luis Potosi.

It was really nice to be back to this market as it reminded me of my childhood days, back when I lived in Mexico.  I took my daughter with me and we walked around the many long isles of decorative, festive piñatas, hand-made art crafts, fresh fruit and vegetables, food stands selling freshly made tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, pozole, menudo, and other popular Mexican dishes.

This food market is so big that it would take a whole day to see every isle.  It is usually visited with friends or family members who plan to go shopping and eat at the food stands available there.  The food is delicious and there are usually more than two food stands selling the same dish, but each with their own flavor twist.

This mercado or food market has been around for decades.  Despite the fast growth of commercial businesses opening in this city, including many American franchises such as Walmart, Mercado República continues being part of San Luis Potosi’s cultural tradition.  Although the majority of people who visit and shop at Mercado República are working class, many people from different social status come here to purchase the items such as hand-made art crafts and hard to find ingredients that cannot be found anywhere else such as certain spices or fresh herbs needed for some Mexican dishes.

Tejocote is one of the many ingredients found at Mercado República

We walked around the mercado and I spotted a ceiling full of colorful piñatas –some with five, seven and even nine points.  I chose a seven-pointed star piñata for our night’s festivities.  My aunt tries to find pinguica or pointleaf manzanita, a type of shrub needed for her nacimiento or nativity scene.  Many households set up nativity scenes on Christmas in addition to the popular Christmas tree.  Homes decorate their nativity scene in different ways; some like to set up a small nativity scene right next to their Christmas tree, while others like to set up a large one in their living room or a part of the house where it can be seen.

a ceiling full of colorful piñatas
Breaking a seven-pointed star piñata at las Posadas is a cultural tradition in Mexico.
A Christmas tree decorated with colorful piñatas at Plaza de Armas in San Luis Potosi.
Nativity scenes are set up during Christmas season in Mexico

We also bought velitas or small candles for the children as part of las Posada celebrations.  The candles are used to pray during the novenas, a series of prayers and songs performed at las Posadas.

After praying the novenas and singing villancicos or traditional Christmas songs we were ready to break the piñata.  According to Catholic tradition, the seven-pointed star represents the seven capital sins in Catholic religion while the nine-pointed star piñata represents the nine months the Virgin Mary was pregnant.  Spanish priests used the breaking of the piñata as a method to teach indigenous people in Mexico biblical concepts, such as the seven deadly sins during their evangelization.

Children take turns hitting the piñata at the end of a traditional song, which includes this lyrics, “dale, dale, dale no pierdas el tino porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino” – “go, go, go don’t lose sight of it, if you do you will lose the path!”

Each child has a turn until someone breaks the piñata and all the candy and fruit falls to the ground!  Many years ago, piñatas were made of decorated clay jars.  Today, they have evolved: the inside or the main body of the piñata is made of cardboard and newspaper.  I do miss the old piñatas made of clay jars because they were harder to break and allowed more people to take a turn.  However, the new ones are lighter and therefore less likely to hurt the children when the pieces fall to the ground.

After breaking the piñata, a delicious dinner follows with tamales, ponche, atole, and other favorite Christmas dishes.

All the children present enjoyed la Posada, and I enjoyed it along with them.  It reminded me of las Posadas from my childhood.  It’s been twenty-one years since I spent a Christmas in Mexico.  I had forgotten what it was like to look forward to Christmas as little kids do.  I feel grateful to be able to relieve this part of my childhood with my own children.  This Christmas was very special and I will treasure it for years to come.

A Very Special Christmas in San Luis Potosí.

A Stroll on Calzada de Guadalupe on Christmas Day

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.

Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Luis Potosi.
Santuario Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe 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.

Taking a stroll at Calzada de Guadalupe in in San Luis Potosi.
Caja de Agua at night
Reloj Monumental at Jardín Colón

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.

Nativity Scene at Plaza de los Fundadores in Historic Downtown.

Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí

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.

special altars are set up in honor of family members who have passed away.
altar of Dia de los Muertos at the Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosí

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.

Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí
Día de los Muertos altar in San Luis Potosí
Día de los Muertos is a very special day in Mexico.

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!

Two Places Dear to my Heart – la Plazita and el Andador

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.

Present day La Plazita or the little town square in San Luis Potosí in 2019

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.

La Plazita the last place I remember when we left our hometown. Photo taken in 2014

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.

el Andador or the walking strip is where my grandmother used to take walks

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.

la Plazita and el Andador in San Luis Potosí in 2014

 

 

 

The Point of Convergence

As the cab drove away from my grandmother’s house I wondered if I would ever see my grandmother again.  I thought about all the things I wasn’t able to fit inside my luggage: the streets that watched me walk every morning at eight o’clock as I made my way to the secundaria or middle school; the cool, misty smell of the eucalyptus tree leaves covered in morning dew that I enjoyed smelling during my daily commutes to school; the nice little-trimmed gardens shaped in geometric forms, protected with wire to discourage teenagers and others from vandalizing them; my new group of friends, whom I felt very proud of being a part of; my cousins, my dear childhood companions.  As I left all of these parts of my life behind, I felt something ripping apart inside my heart.

The knot inside my throat kept getting bigger the further the cab drove away.  I was committed to not cry.  I previously told myself that on this grand day no crying would be allowed.

What I didn’t know then, was that by actually holding back and swallowing my tears I was making the process of leaving my home even more hurtful.

There was no assurance of ever coming back to my hometown of San Luis Potosí.  Of ever coming back to see my grandmother and my extended family, of ever seeing my new group of friends again.  My Mom was determined to take us far away to a better place to begin a new life.  Her lack of emotion, so well-hidden throughout this whole process, actually helped me in my weakness.  I copied her stoicism and reacted to this big moment in my life the same way she did.

The cab driver had been driving for about five minutes when we passed a particular point in my neighborhood.  We were going by the intersection between a convenience store on my left and the park where my friends and I used to hang out every day after school on my right.  I was at the intersection between my grandmother’s house behind me and in front of me the possibility of a better home.  And just like that, that moment passed and we left the intersection behind.  Before I knew it, I realized that the cab had just crossed las vías or the crossroads, where trains passed every day.  I took a good look at my surroundings as if I didn’t want to ever forget that moment.  I wanted to take this place away with me by keeping it in my memory forever just in case I didn’t come back.

This place, las vías, became dear to my heart.  I didn’t realize how important it was until I began writing and recollecting my memories about this important event in my life.  I began to remember how it felt when I left my hometown.  I remembered sitting there, with my sisters and Mom next to me, yet feeling alone with my thoughts as the cab drove on.  At the same time, I remember making an effort to take a detailed look of my surroundings so that I could create a beautiful memory of what I once loved so that my mind had something to remember.  As I was doing this writing exercise and while thinking of my surroundings that afternoon, I realized that the point where I looked around to make this mental picture of my neighborhood, was the point where the cab had just crossed the crossroads, the point that divided the convenience store, my school and friends, my grandmother’s house from the place we were going to.

This crossroads was an important revelation for me in my writing process.  This is how the name of my blog was born, as I found myself retelling this story to my husband, he mentioned this crossroads was the Point of Convergence.  I said, what do you mean by that? He said, it is the place where you had to make an important decision in your life, the meeting place right at the crossroads of leaving your old life and meeting your new life.  That place at the crossroads became the point of convergence.  The point where all the things that were important to me where right at four converging points, my school, friends, my neighborhood, my grandmother, and now the new life I was about to begin in a new country of which I knew very little about.

When I think of this important event in my life, now twenty-five years later, this is what I remember from that event: saying good-bye to my grandmother, the cab driving away from her house and my strong feelings.  This is the place where I often come back in my dreams and where God showed me what this place meant for me.  It is the place where I left a piece of my heart because I didn’t know if I would ever come back or see it again.  It was the line where I had to become someone else and leave the life I was comfortable with behind.

As an older child just barely a teenager, I kept asking myself if I would ever come back to see my neighborhood and my grandmother.  To keep myself from getting disappointed by false expectations, I told myself that, since my Mom was in charge and she was honest with me about not knowing if we would ever come back, the answer was “no.”  Little did I know that one day I would let God give me the courage to uncover this yearning desire that I had suppressed for years and allow myself to come back to this exact place to pick up the piece of my heart that was left there.

I am grateful to God for helping me confront this area of my life, praise and honor to Him in Jesus’ name.

La Placita – the park where my friends and I used to hang out every day after school

My Grandmother’s Tamales

My grandmother’s tamales were the best! I know this might sound biased because she’s my grandmother, but since I left her house as a preteen, and had the privilege to taste tamales in different places since then, I have to say that hers are some of the best.

Since my family and I moved to the United States, we’ve become nostalgic of my grandmother’s tamales, which she would prepare right before Christmas Eve.  With every passing year since we left Mexico that nostalgia became stronger.  There is no doubt that food became the vehicle by which we connected with the memories of the Mexico we left behind.  Every Christmas we remembered that my grandmother used to make preparations for the tamales.  She would also make Mexican ponche (Mexican fruit punch).  Back in the day, those two items were the highlight of our Christmas in Mexico.

Tamales and ponche are two popular dishes prepared during Christmas in Mexico because of its practicality.  Despite being labor-intensive, these dishes can feed many people, especially large families.  Tamales and ponche are also prepared for Las Posadas and to offer to friends and family members who come to visit during Christmas time.

My Mom began to test her culinary skills the first year we moved to the United States.  I believe it was her way of coping with the homesickness and nostalgia of being away from Mexico.  She made tamales for the first time in her life, the second year we were settled in the U.S.  She was very pleased with how they turned out –and so was I– and continued making them from then on, every Christmas time.  I liked the way my Mom’s first tamales turned out, but the next ones were even better.  From then on, I saw how her skills for cooking Mexican food grew year after year.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” and for my Mom cooking became a necessity.  At first, it was a way to cope with her feelings of longing for Mexico.  Eventually, that necessity turned into one of her best talents.

My Mom wasn’t the best cook when we lived in Mexico.  As a single Mom of two daughters, she prepared basic dishes and sometimes she would even buy prepared food from the cocinas económicas, a place ran by women cooks who made a living by preparing wholesome meals for  working moms.  The food from cocinas económicas was really good.  These women really knew how to cook and were now using their skills to provide for their families by running these kinds of establishments.

It was not until we moved to the U.S. that my mother began testing her culinary skills.  It was here in the U.S. that she began to make more labor-intensive dishes such tamales, mole, home-made tortillas, and asado de bodas.  Those are some of the most difficult Mexican dishes to prepare because of the extensive list of ingredients and the time required to prep each dish.

I also think that my Mom cooked some of my grandmother’s favorite dishes to help us cope with the change that moving to another country brought.  She didn’t express verbally how she felt about moving away from everything she once knew, but I could sense that through her cooking she expressed to us how much she cared about our feelings.

Christmas in the United States became a little more pleasant and bearable for us as we had my Mom who would prepare for us my grandmother’s favorite dishes like tamales and ponche, some of her own favorites such as mole and trusco, as well as new favorites that she discovered in the process of learning how to cook authentic Mexican food.

Now that I have a family of my own, I like to prepare my own tamales and ponche during the Christmas season.  It has become a ritual for me.  As I prepare the masa for the tamales I remember my grandmother standing behind the table of her kitchen, kneading the dough with her arms and hands.  I also remember helping my Mom make tamales for the first time in the United States, about twenty years ago.  It was just me and her talking about our memories from Mexico while we wrapped the tamales together.

Out of that same longing that I continue to have of the Christmases of long ago in Mexico and the Christmases I spent with my family after we moved away from Mexico, I began my own tradition with my own family.  Now it is me who is standing behind the table kneading masa while I share with my daughter how I learned to make tamales.

Sharing with my daughter how I learned to make tamales.

A Summer Afternoon in Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí

In 2000, I went back to the place I used to call my hometown, San Luis Potosí.

I went back to visit friends and family although when you are young and lacking wisdom all you care about is having fun, laughing, and living in the moment.  At that time, I didn’t have the desire to spend time with my grandmother who still had good health.  I also didn’t care much about spending time with family members.

I did however, manage to spend a nice afternoon with my older cousin, the one who grew up with me from my earliest days, all the way until my family and I left the country.  I asked my cousin if she would go with me sightseeing through Historic Downtown of San Luis Potosí and she agreed.  I was always interested in history, folk stories, legends and the stories my grandmother used to tell us, she was a great storyteller.

It was a nice summer afternoon, as shown in the pictures.  Summer in this part of Mexico is dry and desert-like, similar to the pleasant weather in California here in the U.S.  The weather is so pleasant that most people choose to walk rather than use public transportation.

I wanted to take pictures of places that were important to me such as various churches, the main cathedral, the oldest university in the city, museums, theaters, and city hall.  I wanted to photograph anything that would remind me of the places I used to stroll around with my Mom and sister in those long-ago afternoons from when Mexico was still our home.  I wanted to one day look at those pictures and reminisce about the beautiful time we spent in San Luis Potosí.

I did reminisce about these particular places from time to time, whenever I leafed through my photo album.  After a while though, it remained closed for a long time.

Now when I look at these pictures, almost twenty years after I took them, I no longer look at them the same way I did before.  Now, I think more about that afternoon with my cousin and about the sort of conversations we were having, what did we talk about as we strolled around the city taking pictures? Did we get a chance to catch-up on the time that passed during those last six years apart? Did we laugh together? What stories of ourselves did we share?

Capilla de Loreto at Plaza de los Fundadores
Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in the summer of 2000

The wisdom that I have now is not mine, it comes from God, I can’t take the credit.  And what I learned from Him is that although traveling and seeking to be a cultured and well learned individual is important to some, it is more valuable to spend time with people.  People you care about, people you love, people you grew up with and are part of your most treasured memories.  This is more important to me now.

I still feel nostalgic sometimes, and reminisce about a nice afternoon strolling around Historic Downtown eating a yogurt ice cream while window shopping in the streets of San Luis Potosí.

I will go back one day and walk around the same streets and the same historic landmarks I walked that summer afternoon long ago.  This time I will appreciate the times spent with friends and family more than the buildings around me.

Templo de San Agustín in San Luis Potosí
Inside Templo de San Agustín
Templo de San Francisco – Temple of San Francisco in San Luis Potosi
Inside Templo de San Francisco

A Fond Childhood Memory of Día de los Muertos

altar for Día de los Muertos in Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí

When I lived in Mexico one of my favorite holidays, along with Christmas, was Día de los Muertos. 

The first Día de los Muertos memory that comes to mind, is getting off the public bus with my Mom at el centro or downtown square.  People go to el centro to buy specialty items such as arts and crafts, fruit and vegetables, as well as other items needed for the altar de los muertos. 

There is an old saying in Mexico: “A quien madruga Dios lo ayuda.”  The English equivalent would be, “The early bird catches the worm.”  Many Mexican business owners and blue-collar workers live their lives by this mantra.  Many street vendors, whose livelihood depends on selling goods in these open markets, work hard to stay on top of the competition.  Getting to the market early in the morning, setting up their tents and displaying their wares before anyone else, sets them apart from the rest of the businesses.

That day, standing in el centro with my Mom, was a beautiful sunny, breezy, and chilly morning. I guess it could be no different than any autumn day here in the United States with one exception.  In Mexico, fall is a season of reflection and culturally it is celebrated in a very different way.  As I write this anecdote, right in the middle of October, I am looking out the window in my home.  It feels and looks like any autumn day in Mexico.  However, here in the States, the comings and goings of people start slowing down to a trickle; everywhere there is silence and calm.  People go to work and children go to school while daylight wastes away.  Then, when daylight disappears, people hurry inside, keenly aware that the cold and windy days are announcing that autumn is in the air and it’s almost time to hibernate for the season.

In Mexico, autumn is a time for reflection, but by no means it translates into sadness or boredom.

The following is one of my anecdotes of when I was a child living in San Luis Potosí, Mexico celebrating el Día de los Muertos;

“As I got off the public bus with my Mom, holding her hand the whole time.  All of the sudden, the air around me felt alive.  I felt the energy and commotion radiating from the street vendors gathered there.  I could feel their dedication and optimism as they busied themselves setting up their tables and tents.  They came to el centro to sell all kinds of goods for grown-ups and kids alike.

There were tons of colors everywhere, spilling from every nook and cranny in the market. It came from the papel picado decorating the streets everywhere with bold colors such as bright blue, red, orange, purple, and green.  The color also spilled forth, in red and yellow hues, from the different seasonal fruits on display; calabazas (pumpkins), squash, sweet potatoes.  And of course, the market was colored as well by the incomparable and unique flor de cempasúchil, the flower that represents Día de los Muertos.

I saw calaveritas de azucar (Mexican sugar skulls); one of my favorites.  You could buy calaveritas and have the seller write your name on them – there were chocolate ones, white ones, big ones and small ones, even cute, tiny ones.

The smell of copal and of freshly-made tortillas and roasted chile from the food vendors was a feast to all of my senses.  It made me hungry as I walked around with Mom looking at the merchandise from the street vendors.  The sun-tanned women with thick and brown skin, almost as tanned as mine, looked at me with a smile.  They asked if I wanted to buy a calaverita de azucar with my name on it.  I asked my Mom if I could have one and she agreed.”

Woman with Cempasúchil Flowers
Photo Credit: Jaime Cristóbal López

Walking around the streets of Historic Downtown San Luis Potosí, or any other city or town in Mexico, during Día de los Muertos is a jolt of stimuli.  All of the senses –touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste –were stimulated at once, creating powerful, fully-fleshed memories that are easy to recall.  That is how I am able to easily go to that memory whenever I want to.  I want to keep this memory forever.

So, whenever I see a gloomy, overcast autumn day here in the US, where I now live, I close my eyes and travel down memory lane back to that mercado.  I smell, see, feel, taste, and hear in my mind the joyful moments I spent as a child during Día de los Muertos in San Luis Potosí, and I sigh with satisfaction.

Poem to my Grandmother

On October 4th my grandmother would have turned 84 years old.  I wrote this poem for her.

My Grandmother in 2014

“Dear Grandmother,

Today you would have been 84 years old

I miss being able to call you anytime I want to

I miss when you used to call me and my mother on our birthday

I miss that afternoon when as a child, I had to say goodbye to you

I miss your Mexican cooking, your white pozole and your tamales were the best

I miss when you used to rise early, like the sun, to start your day off

I miss your scolding, even your unpleasant screaming around the house has become something to miss

I miss seeing you laugh and seeing you happy

I miss hearing you sing Lola Beltran’s ranchera songs as you washed your clothes by your garden

I miss being able to knock on your terracotta painted door

I miss your house, la Casa de mi Abuelita, always waiting for me whenever I visited Mexico

I miss that playground, los Juegos, around the corner of your house where many fond childhood memories are still kept

I choose to keep these loving memories of you forever in my heart

I love you and miss you, Abuelita!”

My grandmother’s white pozole
My grandmother’s tamales