My Halcyon Summer, My Three Weeks In MexicoTuesday, January 13, 2015
You think you know who are, but you don't know who you are. This might not make sense, but if you've read Oedipus Rex you'll know what I"m talking about. I thought I knew who I was my whole life, but I really had no idea.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post stating that this summer I wanted to go to Mexico to see where my family comes from and get a better sense of who I am. I'm very happy to say that I accomplished my goal. During the past months of August and September, I flew to Mexico and spent a total of three weeks there.
I'm not going to lie, I forgot how it felt to travel. Before my trip I kept telling friends, "Yea, I'm going to Mexico this summer." I was very nonchalant about it, until I actually had to go. The night before I left, I kept thinking to myself, "this is it, I'm actually going." Getting dropped off at the airport by my parents, being alone at the airport, with the adrenaline of going to a new place was a familiar feeling that I'd forgotten. I was scared and a little nervous. This wasn't like my study abroad trip where everything was planned. I was going somewhere new where I didn't know what would happen when I got off the plane. I wasn't going to a resort in Cancun or Cabo San Lucas like many Americans do. I was going to a part of Mexico that wasn't a tourist destination.
I didn't know what to expect when I landed. To be honest, I thought Mexico would be a lot like the U.S. I've only been in first world countries, so naturally I thought Mexico would be a lot like what I've seen. I was wrong. From the view of the plane, Mexico City seemed like Los Angeles. A city that went on for miles with huge skyscrapers in the middle, revealing a metropolitan scene I was all too familiar with. But as the plane slowly descended, I immediately saw the differences. Houses were right next to each other like you would see in San Francisco. With many cars on the road, houses stacked one on top of the other, and the area looking dirty, the city looked like nothing I was used to.
When I arrived to Mexico City, I was picked up by my two aunts, Laura and Luz. I had never spoken to them in my entire life. They were family, but at the same time they were strangers. We didn't explore anything in Mexico City, and straight from the airport we took a taxi to the bus station to catch a bus that was suppose to take us three hours south to where they lived. Mexico City and Mexico in general is a pretty dangerous place. My aunts didn't want people to know that I was from the U.S. because of the fear that they would try to rob us. They wanted me on the bus right away and didn't let me out of their sight. I've never been in an area where I didn't feel safe - I live in Irvine - until now.
I am the kind of person that goes with the flow. I never plan anything, especially when I go on trips. Even after being exposed to all these cultural changes, I wanted to do everything I possible could in Mexico. I knew I just had to keep an open mind.
The bus we got on was the equivalent to a Greyhound. This is the method many people in Mexico take to go long distances. Many people ended up falling asleep, as the trip was nothing new to them, but I wanted to see a new place that for a long part of my life I never wanted to see. What I saw was something that I would have never expected.
I saw hills that seemed to go on forever filled with trees, and so many plants that for a second I thought I was back in New Zealand, seeing the wild bush again. This might not seem like a big deal, but in my post I wrote that I thought Mexico was a desert filled with cactus. I was so wrong. I saw that it was greener than California. I've always been attracted to nature and trees. I find this more beautiful than a city with impressive architecture. For me to see this was important. I realized that Mexico had a lot to offer and is much more than the stereotype everyone associates it with.
After the bus ride, we arrived in Iguala De La Independencia in the state of Guerrero. To many people, this small city in Southern Mexico, where tourist don't travel too seems insignificant. For me, it isn't. This was the city that my mother grew up in. And if my life didn't turn out the way it did, it would have been where I grew up as well. Iguala is the third largest city in Guerrero and the birthplace of the first Mexican flag.
The first place I went to was my grandmothers house. This was the house my mother grew up in until she moved to California. I don't know why, but I was expecting it to look like any house in California. I was wrong. The houses over there aren't like the ones we're used to. Many people are poor and live off what they can. My family isn't poor, they're comfortable, but from our American perspective we'd see them as poor. The way my grandmothers house is there is a living room and the kitchen is outside in the open. There is only one room. In that room is where my mother, her two sisters, and her parents lived. The houses are small in comparison to ones in the states. There is no carpet, hardwood floors, or tile, there is only cement. There is no running water. When you shower you have to gather water in a bucket and pour it on your head. When you go toilet, you need to pour a bucket of water into the toilet to make it flush. In order to have water, they need to collect it in buckets from one faucet in the whole house or collect rain water. Small things like running water really shows how much we take luxuries for granted.
I'm not going to lie, when I saw my grandmother I got emotional. The last time I saw her I was four years old. We occasionally talked a little on the phone, but we never said much. I hadn't seen her in years, and she was basically a stranger. Yet I felt this deep fond connection to her. When I got there she was very sick. She had cancer and had spent a month before in the hospital having surgery. I've never taken the time to come see her, and when I finally did she was so ill. She said she wanted to get better because I was coming to see her. In that moment, I was extremely glad I went.
Although I spent my first night there at my grandmothers house, I actually lived at my aunt Laura's house. Her house was the most modern out of the places I could have stayed. She had running water and tiled floor. She also had three dogs, one of them is named Candy and I love her she's my favorite.
During my three weeks, I ended up traveling all over the state to some really beautiful areas.
Taxco is a 30 minute drive from Iguala, Guerrero. It is heavily associated with silver, where residents not only mine it but craft it into jewelry. When I got there, I thought I was in a mix of a Brazilian and Spanish town. Everything was uphill and there was a statue of Christ overlooking the city with green rolling hills surrounding the area like in Brazil. The streets had stones carefully laid on and the colonial constructions are what I imagined Spain to look like. I was really impressed with the city. It was so beautiful and I never thought something like this would be in Mexico. The Santa Prisca church was amazing. My cousin paid for a tour guide that told us the history and I found out all the decorations inside were made out of gold. I never thought much of churches since in the U.S. they kind of all look the same, but this really impressed me. After exploring, we went up to see the Christ statue. We were able to see all of Taxco from up there and I realized how natural Mexico is.
Grutas de Cacahuamilpa
The Grutas de Cacahuamilpa is the largest cave system in the world. The cave is alive with groundwater still filtering through it with formations continually growing. It is an hour drive from Iguala. The cave is located at a national park where they also have zip-lining and rock climbing. But we really just went to go see the cave. At the entrance, we had to descend 20 meters to start our tour. We ended up walking for two hours straight on a cement walkway illuminated on both sides by tiny lights. We constantly made stops as our tour guide explained how the formations formed and the history of the cave. He also showed us the different figures you can see through the formations. The ones that stood out to me the most were: the panda, a dog, the queens throne, and the champagne bottle. Honestly, this was my favorite place to visit out of my whole trip. I thought it was so cool that I was literally walking inside of a cave. I was able to see real stalagmites. It was amazing to see the formations grow from not only the ceiling, but also the ground. After coming to this cave, I realized we truly live on such a beautiful planet where natural wonders like this exist.
Acapulco is the largest city in the state of Guerrero. It is also Mexico's largest beach and resorted city. We ended up staying there for three days and two nights. I'm from California, so I love the beach. The beach and ocean are one of my favorite places in the world. We spent the whole weekend at the beach. We'd wake up eat and head to the beach until it was dinner time. But I don't mind I could be there for hours and never get bored. But one of the things that was really different compared to the beaches at home was that the water was warm. Even during the summer, the water in California is still pretty cold. But my family told me that the water is warm all year round. Also, along the beach you can rent tents and chairs to sit down. It's not like California where you just put your towel down where ever you find a good spot. In Acapulco you have to rent a spot on the beach. We went when it wasn't vacation season, so the beach was pretty empty. My first day there I ordered a pina colada (not virgin) at the beach. It was literally paradise. On the second day, I ate oysters for the first time in my life. I thought they were really good and even better with hot sauce. Mexican beaches are better than California beaches. At night my cousin drove us around and took us to a really fancy mall in the area where the expensive resorts were. It was the most beautiful mall I have ever been to. It beat South Coast Plaza and The Spectrum. Also, at night the main street is full of bars and clubs. It's like Vegas, but at the beach so it's better. I really enjoyed my time there and can't wait to go again.
IgualaWhen I wasn't in one of these amazing places. I spent my time in Iguala, living like a local. I spent a lot of time with my family. I'd go to the marketplace with my aunt Laura and go eat goat tacos for breakfast. I ended up eating a lot of good food. Mexican food is so good, but so bad for you. The people over there eat meat for every single meal and hardly eat vegetables. I'm used to eating pretty healthy, so I really wasn't used to eating so badly. Also I found some food had a lot of excess sugar. For churros, they would add condensed milk or caramel over them. My family also drank a lot of Coke. I don't drink soda so they were really admired that all I wanted was water.
I would go to my grandmothers house and spend time with her. I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible since she was sick. She slept most of the time. But when she wasn't asleep, I would just spend time with her. She actually made me one of my favorite foods: mole verde. It was the best one I have ever had. Everyone always talked about how good my grandmother cooked, they were right.
I also spent a lot of time with my niece and nephew: Mario and Daniela. I would go to Mario's soccer games and me and Daniela would spend a lot of time playing Uno together. I never thought that I could love kids that weren't my own. But they proved me wrong. I love those kids so much.
The Mexican flag is very important to Iguala, since the first flag was made there. My family made an afternoon trip and took me to the Mexican flag overlooking the city. It was huge and one of the largest flags in the world. It was nice to have the family up there and teach me something about their country and where the town.
Honestly, I let myself be me. I didn't wear makeup at all when I was in Mexico. One of the differences I noticed was that people there are more confident with who they are. In the U.S. our country is based on images. We're told to look a certain way and to feel bad about ourselves when we don't. But over there you are who you are. I adopted that philosophy as well. I didn't wear makeup and didn't straighten my hair. In the process, I became very confident and comfortable in my own skin.
On my last day there, my aunt threw me and my grandmother a birthday party because we were both born on the same day, but I would be leaving earlier because of school. We bought one of my favorite cakes and had Mexican hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to spend my last day there. My grandmother looked very happy and I was sad to know that I was leaving her.
I truly love Iguala, my motherland. It's really sad what recently happened there after I came back home. But what happened does not reflect the city. If anything, I hope things calm down because my family lives there and I want them to be safe. I also want to be able to go back and not have to worry about being in danger.
At the end of this trip, I feel more grateful for the things I have, and makes me more appreciative of the sacrifices my mom had to make in order for me and my sister to have a better life than her. I have a better sense of belonging. My whole life I never had a big family, it was always just my parents and sister. Now I'm an aunt, a granddaughter, a niece, and a cousin. People that I have never met before welcomed me and loved me, and I loved them. I am Mexican-American, and I'm very proud to say that. I'm very proud of where my family comes from. This summer has completely changed my life the most positive way possible. My grandmother actually passed away in November. I'm very happy that I went to go see and meet her before it was too late. For that I am eternally grateful. I'm so happy that I went on this trip and am excited to go back soon. I had no idea who I was until this trip. Even though I am more American than anything, I am very proud of the Mexican blood running through my veins.
For all the Mexican Americans like me who aren't interested in going to Mexico, I strongly encourage you to go and learn about your family's history and culture. Even if you aren't Mexican, going to your motherland is such an important experience to have. It is truly a spiritual and heart warming experience. I don't regret at all going, the only thing I regret is that I didn't do it sooner.