Love in Mexico

Navigating family and place


Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
December 31
This blog documents the encounters and events that taught me about Mexico, and about the culture of family, Mexico's and my own. .............................................… Find more of my work at ........................................... Thanks for reading.


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JUNE 30, 2011 6:02PM

The Culture Shock of Coming Home

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Church Rock vista
From Old Mexico to New. 


If I got in my car this too-hot afternoon, I could be in Juarez in time for dinner. 

When we drive across the Rio Grande for Sunday lunch with his grandparents, I tell my son that if we built a raft we could ride the river all the way back to Mexico.

Twice I have slipped across the border linguistically: once with a birthday girl who gave my son a party favor bag when we extricated him, sobbing, from the princess piñata party he was attempting to crash, and once with the pizza delivery man.

And every night, when my husband dials in from Mexico for his bedtime story duty via Skype, I see our old tile-and-arch house, a little piñata still hanging in the window. He ran into A’s teacher, Anita. Pati, the secretary next door gave him a hard time for leaving his gueritos on the other side, as people say. Raúl has been giving him pointers on how to sell our VW Pointer at Morelia’s Sunday car market.

There are still stray threads bridging the rift, but the tearing is done. I am here, in New Mexico instead of Old. And the divide feels insurmountable.



Self-portrait in a VW Pointer. 


Three weeks ago I was riding shotgun in that old Pointer, my hair blowing wild out the window, past volcanoes and hillsides covered with cactus. Now I’m an urban mom fresh from my air-conditioned Subaru getting slightly annoyed at Whole Foods for being out of size 3 diapers. Now, after nearly a year of being forced to forsake deadlines for holidays, I get a casual, pre-holiday weekend email from my editors who want all changes for paperback release Tuesday-by-the-latest; without missing a beat, my internal egg-timer begins to tick.

It isn’t distance; it’s differences. And it isn’t Old v. New Mexico: it’s me. Crossing that border, I became a different person: I am the hostess, not the guest. I am running the show, not blithely observing. I am responsible for what happens, not merely responsive to it. I am an American in America. Nobody, everybody, myself.


“I want Albuquerque to be in Mexico and Mexico to be in Albuquerque,” my three-year-old tells me.

He likes it here with the dog and the yard and the sandbox (a redundancy in New Mexico), and our too-late-for-hope garden. But he misses “my friend the doctor” (our landlord and the boogeyman we invoked whenever crayons were applied to walls or furniture), and Alice his babysitter, and Juan Fe his best friend.

I like the dog and yard and garden too. But I feel unable to miss anyone. The people we left behind already feel like characters in a book I read, characters in a life I inhabited only through imagination. I realize that I was always in Albuquerque in Mexico (and I know there are plenty of people who are in Mexico in Albuquerque).

It takes an abstracted person to wholly inhabit the place in which they are at any given moment. And on this side of the border, it is almost impossible to just be.



Mexico's art of ambiguity. 


In light of my failure to cross over without canceling out what came between, I seek proof: the pretty Capula red-clay platter, the hammered copper vase from Santa Clara de Cobre, the bag of dulces de leche that I escape into to fight the sadness of change, the Spanish words my son accesses first—“Look mama, ¡uvas!”

Everyone says coming home is the hardest part, that the steps of culture shock are more tedious in reverse. There are even those who insist “going home” is impossible. My problem seems to be hanging on to the part of myself that went away in the first place, keeping the sense of a single, on-going journey in spite of the thick, bookending gravity of return.

But I know that most of the residue of my Mexico self will wash off in the slip of days. When my husband returns in a few weeks he will spring my diamond ring from the safe deposit box. I will cut my too-long hair. The baby will learn to eat foods other than avocados.

The woman I am behind the wheel of my sleek white Subaru is not the girl—girl!—I was three weeks ago kicking the bumper of that Pointer back into place. The woman I am in Whole Foods is not just 1,200 miles removed from the man making plans for the Sunday car market.

The me that was in Mexico has become vestigial. In spite of how little actual time or space has come between us.

And I cannot wait to go away again.





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It was with great sadness that I read this. The end of an era.
I love your perspective on your two homes. I never would have thought of how hard it would be to come back after a long stay. The reference to being a hostess instead of a guest is a great way to look at it. I guess it's back to work!!
Very evocative. Hope you'll be happy in your new/old life/self.
Culture shock indeed! Very insightful and interesting.
Every word makes me want to be in Mexico more. Of course, you have lived there, and I haven't. You have your reasons to be on this side of the border, as I do. But .....
It's heartbreaking to leave behind a place you love. Best of luck with the rest of your journey back home.
impossible to extricate oneself from the other, once exposed, through peace or violence... (how often, combatants come to resemble one another... after), the truth of rivers and waters, the constructed artificiality of walls and borders, sometimes useful, more often obstructive.

A three year old could understand it... something positive
I revelled in the beauty of your writing, even as I felt so saddened by what you're going through. I remember the years I had to leave France and go back to America. It does get easier, and you end up feeling more or less at home, though certainly what you've experienced has changed you forever. Here's hoping you'll find things to love in Albuquerque NEW Mexico, as much as things you loved in OLD Mexico.

Also, your self-portrait was as unique and unforgettable as what you wrote here.
Eloquently written. I know the confusion of re-entry, which is unsettling but also the best way to understand who you are and what means home to you.
Beautifully, touchingly sad.
"And on this side of the border, it is almost impossible to just be."

a very succinct way to put it...and i think everyone who has left understands completely.

and going back is so much harder than's like trying to neatly close up your mind after it has been blown apart.
To know something is to compare/contrast it with something else you know. Thanks to your familiarity with Mexico, you now know America better than the average American, so, for the sake of the reader who ain't goin' nowhere, move to Asia or the mideast or some other alien place and keep writing.
I lived in Madrid, Spain in 1971-72. It was an important year in more ways than I can count, my first big out-of-country experience. I have lived in a lot of places since then, including the Amazon jungle and the last 19 years in New Mexico. We are different in every place we inhabit, the places themselves make us different. That is a good thing, the essence of what folks like us have that stay-at-homes never know. Last year I went back to Madrid for the first time with my 28-year old daughter. It was wonderful and at the same time impossibly sad, but there it was. Everything the same, everything completely different. I just decided to be glad that the wheel keeps on turning and let it go at that.
I missed this gorgeous essay on home, coming of age, change and love.
I hope you return here soon, your writing is beautiful and full. I will not soon forget this one.