The minute she set foot back on Mexican soil all the negative energy that had built up inside her withered away. She’d been away too long...far too long. The border town of Sangradura was not the Mexico of her youth but all around her were the universal markers of a country she remembered and adored but still managed to resent for its contradictions. It was after the ordeal with John at Sangradura that she decided that the sour palette she’d acquired over the years needed to cleansed—starting with the beginning.
“Nacida y criada” she’d told a man a few days ago. That stretched the truth just a tad but it may as well have been true. Mexico was always home. It called to her. She’d once tried to establish a connection with the city of her birth and possibly of her birth parents, but for all its laidback and eclectic ambiance she never felt in sync with Austin. It wasn’t home, just a city name scribbled onto her birth certificate.
Stepping out into the hustle and bustle of Mexico City electrified her—the rat race of people coming and going, the street vendors and their fragrant tortas and aguas frescas, and the omnipresent layer of smog that insulated the city like a warm blanket. This was home.
Her parents were away in Morelia so there would be no one to greet her at their place. She missed them but if she couldn’t handle being miles away from them in the first place she never would have left. She was their rebel child. An unwanted child they spirited away from a county of privilege to a country filled with the unwanted and into a world of Mexican upper middle class semi-privilege. The same child who eventually returned to study, work, and live in a country that was at best peripheral her life whole life here. They never resented her for it. Others did.
From the street level the house appears like a guarded cocoon. Inside it’s a treasure trove of artistic expression. The tap, tap, tap of her heels on the saltillo floor, the cool airy rooms, and the all encompassing greenery that surrounds the home gives it a mystical jungle atmosphere. She’ll be back later. This is just a pit stop.
The street names are an exercise in enunciation. Exotic, indigenous names that always rolled off her tongue so effortlessly but kept even the most linguistically adept people tongue tied. The streets themselves in this colonia are narrow, harking back to a time when European influence mattered more than population density.
She forgoes the front door. No one ever uses it and ambles in from around back. A high-spirited clarinet prattles on in the upper register to the accompaniment of an equally lively tuba. The music weaves in from around the corner and then down the street as its source disappears into the distance. Inside there’s a different sound. A small television inside the screened veranda shows a children’s variety game show. Garish pink and yellow jumpsuits jump out at her from the screen as the contestants try to outdo each other.
Distracted, she becomes the surprised rather than the surpriser.
“Mira nomás. ¡Cañales!” exclaims the balding man from his position at a nearby doorway. ("Look who's here!")
“Tío,” she manages to respond once her heart rate settles. Ok so he’s not really her uncle but it’s what she’s always called him.
The older man’s embrace is full of affection and she’s grateful to have a familiar face welcome her. So much for her bravado about not needing any welcome home pleasantries.
“¿Y qué dice mi prietita linda?” ("What does my little dark one have to say?")
“Oh!” she smiles warmly at the old pet name. “Not so much now, no.” Her skin is no longer the burnished copper of her childhood, acquired from hours spent playing in the sun.
Her uncle’s smile, while still a smile, lessens noticeably.
“Come sit with me. It’s almost time for my novela.”
“Your English is better,” she notes as they both sit in the painted wrought iron chairs.
“Your Spanish is worse,” he responds matter-of-factly and an awkward silence erupts between them. This is what she had expected. The jovial clarinet and tuba from earlier rounds the corner once more and for a moment it competes with the opening strains of the novela’s theme song.
“Inglés sin Barreras,” he quietly supplies after a while and it earns him a surprised look. After all the grief he gave her about going to the states he’s the last person she’d expect to use the popular English education tapes.
“El trabajo. We have to learn English for work,” he adds sheepishly.
She nods her head in understanding. So it wasn’t really a choice but a work mandated order.
“Felicidades en el día de su santo tío,” She says after studying him for a while. That was another reason for making this trip, especially on this day. ("Congratulations on your saint's day.")
There’s still a bit of awkwardness between them but demonstrating to him that she hasn’t forgotten her Mexican heritage diffuses it significantly.
With her uncle enthralled by his soap opera she lets her eyes wander her surroundings, noting the subtle changes and the things that remained the same. The memory of exuberant birthday parties in the back and of observing from dusty, dark corners the wrinkled faces that lived and died by their folk medicine comes pleasantly back. This is home, beautiful and heartbreaking.
“¿Hás visto esta novela?” ("Have you seen this novela?")
“Todavía no. No tengo mucho tiempo.” ("Not yet. I don't have much time.")
“Its good pero don’t start. You’ll get trapped.”
She chuckles softly at the advice. “I’ll remember that tío….so are we going to talk?”
“Alratito,” he responds without tearing his gaze from the television set.
“Si Dios quiere,” she adds good-naturedly.
The smile he gives her then makes the entire trip worth it.
nacida y criada: born and raised
tortas: a Mexican sandwitch
aguas frescas: a sugared, cold drink made out of juice and/or rice
Morelia: the capital of the neighboring state of Michoacan
saltillo:clay floor tile
clarinet & tuba music: Banda music, a popular genre of music in Mexico with German polka influences
Mira nomás. ¡Cañales: Look who's here.
¿Y qué dice mi prietita linda?: What does my little dark one have to say?
novela.: soap opera
Inglés sin Barreras: a popular video program used to learn English
El trabajo: work
Felicidades en el día de su santo tío: Congratulations on your saint's day.
Gracias, prietita: Thank you my little dark one
¿Hás visto esta novela?: Have you seen this novela?
Todavía no. No tengo mucho tiempo: Not yet. I don't have much time.
Alratito: In a while.
Si Dios quiere: God willing