When we'd return from our visits to Mexico, I'd cry the whole trip back to the United States. I'd start missing my Abuelitos from the very first hug and kiss goodbye. There were several hugs and kisses before we finally boarded the train or started the drive to the next city or to the airport. The scents, the sounds, the language, all the things I'd see and experience during my weeks there were profoundly different from life in small town Texas.
I knew then, as a child, that it was all special because it was not what I saw day to day at home. I am still feeling the impact of these early trips. I pine for a beautiful walled garden that had tropical fruit trees and a dirt path that would wind around it. It seemed enormous to me at the time. It was so beautiful to me and I still remember it as a very magical place.
From the moment I'd wake up, the walk to the kitchen would fill my senses. The windows opened to the scent of burned sugar from the sugar cane factory, the high pitched buzzing of mopeds outside, the donkeys pulling carts of fruit and the man calling out. Then there was the smell of coffee, vanilla, papaya and limes in the kitchen giving mornings there a very distinct olfactory memory. The milk and eggs tasted so different from what I was use to. It took time to understand the reasons why things tasted the way they did. Eventually I happily accepted the strong, rich flavors of the foods. Everything was strong and rich. The first few days were overwhelming for me, as a child, but I also felt that I belonged, not only among my family, but to all of Mexico.
Outside, through the back door I'd go exploring, passing the concrete sink where my Abuelita would wash clothes. When it was wet it smelled like clay. Over the years I had seen large lizards and huge, fleshy spiders, burrow owls and colorful insects. I'd climb the tree with the oranges that tasted like lemons and sit on a branch where I could see over the wall in all directions. I'd sometimes watch the family next door. They lived in a humble home made out of wood, not many Mexican houses were built that way. The littlest children were often bathed in the concrete sinks outside in the morning. From their house came the smokey and delicious, greasy aromas of tortillas and chorizo. I soon made friends with the girl who lived there. She then took me on adventurous walks far from my Abuelito's house.
As the years went by things changed. More of my country came into Mexico. I started hearing more American music as I passed stores while accompanying my Abuelita on mandados. Television shows and movies weren't dubbed in Spanish but played in English...cable eventually brought my living room to my Abuelito's house. The garden became a workspace for my uncle's ironworks business, and my Abuelita didn't need to walk into town anymore, there was a car parked under what I thought was a large covered porch for parties but had always been a carport.
So much of Mexico changed through the 18 summers that I had. I didn't return once I left home for college and my last visit was in 2007. But when I don't feel I quite understand "The American Way" of doing things or when American culture feels so forced and I grow weary of not knowing what to do in certain social situations, I do feel it's because since I was a child I never felt I fully belonged in the United States. We'd return home from Mexico, to quiet streets, neatness, order, bland fruits, people you had to try to read because you couldn't feel them. I'd cry on and off for weeks finding comfort at my Granmo's house. It was a tiny world where I felt I belonged, with the smell of tortillas, squash growing in the backyard, tall trees and roosters crowing.