In the final week of August, I once again was able to step under the historic street lights of Mexico City and wake up in my Abuela’s house. During that week, my skin generously soaked in the sun that spilled over the sky and onto the mountains and homes of Jiutepec and Mexico City. That final week, those seven days, those 168 hours, was the time that I was looking forward to the most from the moment I learned I was going to be able to visit family in Mexico again. I would say to myself,
“When will I come back?”
“There’s so much more to learn.”
I don’t think I’ll get tired of telling myself these things in between trips to and from Mexico.
I would be able to return after completing my summer internship, and this second trip to Mexico was full of family time and exploration — way more than the first time I visited. When my primo picked me up from the airport, he immediately took me through the slippery streets of Mexico City on a drizzling night to have some of his favorite street tacos. And let me tell you, those tacos did not disappoint.
Stretched out on the tight sidewalk with an awning and an umbrella, the taco vendors had their music bumping from the speaker, muffling the conversations taking place from behind the greased grill. On the tight sidewalk stood a group of friends talking while they ate their tacos al pastor, and a couple shared a hug while they paid for their meal.
Once I got my first plate of Suadero tacos and added cilantro, cebolla y limon, I eyed the two salsas sitting gently next to each other on the grill. Before reaching over and grabbing them, Pikin warned me that the salsa verde was very spicy, thinking that that would stop me from trying. It didn’t, and man do I tell you: these were the most delicious tacos I’ve ever had. The soft crispy handmade tortilla was the perfect home for the meat, cilantro and cebolla to rest. And the mix of the limon and salsa verde created a sour kick that left my tongue calling for a drink.
This memory of the tacos I ate with my primo on my first night in Mexico City is something that I have brought with me back to the states. Pikin was kind enough to drive at one in the morning to show us his favorite taco spot, and he even bought some cervezas to drink at his apartment. Now that I’m back in Ann Arbor, I think about this night a lot, and how there are still no restaurants here that bring me that immense amount of joy.
I found myself holding on tightly to memories like these once I returned to the states from Mexico and was thrown right back into the adult responsibilities of being a college senior. I wish that my trip could have lasted a little longer, but the pending semester ate away at this thing we call time. Despite being hungry for more Mexican adventures, I needed to return home. And once I got back to my hometown of Wyoming, Mich. on an early, early Saturday morning, I only had three hours to sleep and another three hours to pack my things before my inevitable move back to Ann Arbor. After a quick rest, my mom, sister and I packed the truck with suitcases and boxes and off we went.
During the two hour drive from Wyoming to Ann Arbor, I shared the stories of my time in Mexico with my Mom, and she also shared some of her own stories about what it was like growing up there.
Some stories I will keep for myself, and some stories will be told another day.
Not all stories need to be shared; they are personal pieces of ourselves and we have full autonomy to share as much as we like with the world. But listening to them does bring me joy and, in a sense, revives me.
Whenever I feel stuck in a rut, I think back to the wonderful memories that lurk in my brain and fill me with life. I’m reminded of Mexico and all the people that I know who are connected to it, like my friends and family.
There’s so much history that I have yet to unearth from within myself; through writing, I’m weaving loosened threads together and tightening my soul. I am proud to call myself a Mexican artist and a Mexican writer.
Hispanic Heritage Month is soon coming to a close and I want to celebrate the beautiful voices of my friends who are Mexican. It’s a chance for them to be involved in the writing process because as a writer, I can offer a collaborative experience where I can give a voice to someone who wants it. I’m not the only Mexican voice on campus; while there are a few of us on this campus, there are millions of us worldwide outside this predominantly white institution bubble we call Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.
Thank you Aliyah, Angel and Lesley for your time and energy.
This is what they had to say…
I met with Angel late in the morning on the Diag. I had sent him a Google Calendar invite for our meeting at 11:30 a.m. and as I was finishing up some homework in the Fishbowl, Angel texted me at 11:14 a.m. telling me that he was already at our meeting place. I shut off my computer and ran out of Haven Hall to meet Angel, but I would soon retreat back to Haven Hall to avoid the incoming drizzle — I didn’t want Angel to get wet! I turned on my voice memo app as students began to fill the hallways and had my full attention to Angel.
To people who don’t know him well, Angel is a senior at Michigan and is in the Ross School of Business and hails from a very special place in Southwest Detroit, also known as Mexicantown. Some of the earliest Mexican families settled down in downtown Detroit in the 1920s. When I asked Angel what it was like growing up in Southwest Detroit, he quickly broke into a smile.
“It was a lot of fun growing up in Southwest Detroit! It’s a very immigrant-based community in which chances are your next-door neighbor is first-gen or also Latino. … There’s so much color on the walls, on the street and there’s such a vibrant history. It has an energy to it. It was a lot of fun strolling up and down the streets with your friends, maybe with five bucks in your pocket trying to see how it’ll work. And being a Latino there, it’s kind of home, I don’t know if I can say this but – we’re like the white people there! It’s nice being around fellow Latinos and to know that your neighbors would offer to feed you, everything … and I haven’t had coffee yet so excuse me if my words are slurring!”
Even if Angel was slurring his words due to the lack of coffee, I didn’t notice because I understood him. Growing up, he was always comfortable growing up in Southwest Detroit due to the strong ties with the Latino community. This was something I noticed when I lived in Detroit two summers ago. When I explored Southwest Detroit, the sugary panaderías filled the streets along with murals, Latin imagery and colors.
I also asked Angel if he could share one of his favorite memories growing up in Southwest Detroit.
“Bro, Quinceañeras! When we were all at that age of 13 to whatever, man it was so much fun. Me and my friends would sneak into random Quinceañeras in the neighborhood. There are these two venues in Detroit that everyone went to. Every week there would be a Quinceañera there and my friends and I would always sneak in. We would go to just dance and have fun and just to be surrounded by friends. There’s great music, great food and there was always amazing company overall and maybe this is irresponsible for me to say but I would always tell my mom that I would have a ride back but I never did! Always knowing that the fun is going to end and [that] you got to turn on that responsibility switch was a rush.”
As Angel told me this memory, I was laughing and smiling the whole time. I could just picture the venue and imagine the kids running around while family members drank and danced through the night.
I spoke with Aliyah in the basement of East Quad after I attended my second ever ACLU meeting on a chilly Monday evening. I tried to find the quietest spot in the freshmen-infested building and as soon as I did, I opened up my laptop and began recording our Zoom meeting. Aliyah is from Grand Rapids, Mich., and she’s studying graphic design at Grand Valley State University. Aliyah has been a friend of mine since high school and I wanted to talk to her for this piece because she is so far away, and I find myself thinking about my friends back home constantly throughout the school year.
Aliyah calls Grand Rapids her home because it’s where she grew up, but she made sure to say that home is wherever she feels most comfortable, and that’s usually with her family.
“I guess home could be anywhere. Because the way I look at it, you wanna feel safe. You wanna feel secure. And you wanna feel loved, so if I feel all those things around people who aren’t my family, then that’s like a second home. I feel those things around my immediate family, and that’s like that’s my main home.”
It was nice to be reminded that home can be a feeling and that it doesn’t always have to be a physical space. Home is where you feel secure and loved.
Aliyah also spoke about growing up in Grand Rapids as a Latina hailing from a family of immigrants. She’s always prided herself on this, and when she’s in a room and notices that she’s the only Latina there, she will make it known and demand that her voice is heard.
“I’ve always prided myself growing up as … a brown woman because I just know that there are so many disadvantages, not even just because of the way the system works, but by the way that people look at you. Growing up, I’ve definitely felt that because of the stereotypes and all that stuff. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely learned to be more confident with who I am.”
I’ve been around Aliyah for many years and I’ve always loved her confidence and the energy she brings into a room. Thinking back to our marching band days in high school, Aliyah would be the loudest one on the field, leading her clarinet section during Monday night rehearsals. And during our water breaks, we would be on the sideline teasing each other. She’d poke fun at my love for Kendrick Lamar and I’d poke fun at her height. We would just stand there giggling while we waited for our inevitable return to the football field.
I finally got to talk to Lesley on a windy Wednesday afternoon after a week of assignments and sudden schedule shifts. We sat on the ledges next to the Kinesiology building, passing my phone back and forth to make sure the wind was not ruining our audio recording. I only had 30 precious minutes to talk to Lesley before she had to go to a virtual training session for a conference she’s going to attend later in the year.
Lesley is a senior in LSA majoring in political science and sociology and minoring in Latino/a studies, and she calls Syracuse, Ind., her home. But, similar to Aliyah, Lesley feels most at home when she’s with family. Currently a lot of her family resides in Sacramento, Calif., so even if she doesn’t live there, she still considers it home. During our conversation, I asked Lesley what she misses most about home when she’s in Ann Arbor.
“I really miss eating my mom’s freshly-made tortillas. … Every time that I go home, I always ask her to make fresh tortillas or any Mexican dish, like some Caldo de Pollo or her Tinga, which I think is the best. I miss the cuisine and the food. Here in Ann Arbor it’s really hard for us to go out and buy stuff, especially if you don’t have a car. I have to say that I missed the food and I just also miss being around my family. I really love my little brother and my little sister, and I’ve tried my best to instill Mexican values in them because my parents did that for me and my brother growing up. So I try doing that when I’m at home. Every time I go back home, I’m always talking to them in Spanish and showing them memes in Spanish.”
Lesley talked to me about being Latina on campus and told me that she was nervous about coming to Michigan since she had little exposure to communities outside of her immediate family when she was growing up in Indiana. Because of this, she didn’t know if she was going to fit in with other Latinx students once she arrived on campus. She was also worried about leaving her predominantly white town in Indiana to attend a predominantly white institution in Michigan. However, she quickly realized that she did fit in when she found the University’s Latinx community through the student organization La Casa. Even if she still misses that feeling of home, the Latino community that she has found on campus makes her feel secure and loved, and she can say that she is proud to be Latina on campus.
I met Lesley back in our Summer Bridge days and once the fall semester started, we were both living in West Quad (thanks to the Michigan Community Scholars Program). Later in our second year, we would also be working together on La Casa’s E-Board. I’ve gotten to know Lesley over these last four years here at Michigan and she’s always been someone I can talk to and catch up with. I can also safely say that she’s the only Mexicana that I know who comes from Indiana. For one of my last questions, I asked Lesley what her favorite memory growing up was.
“It has to be when my abuelita was still alive. She was really into Artesania Mexicana and she loved to make flowers out of clay, and she would make the handbags and the tote bags out of recycled plastic bags. My girl was a sustainable queen even before it became so popular and glamorized!! And she believed in me. I was seven or eight years old and I would sit there and I’d watch her and everything she would do was just so colorful and so vibrant and represented to me everything that it meant to be a Mexican woman. I would sit there and watch her and once I reached the age of ten she would say, ‘Ven mija, ven pa’ca,’ ‘Help me! Do this and this.’ And slowly I learned how to crochet and do these clay flowers and handbags. That’s a memory that will always stay with me because my grandma has now passed and I feel like I should have listened to her and I should have been more present in the moment. … I could have passed on that tradition and legacy for my grandma because now no one in my family knows how to do any of that. I always hold onto that memory because my grandma really loved me.”
Lesley’s stories about her grandma show the importance of caring for our elders and respecting the women in our lives within Mexican culture. This is something that Angel and Aliyah both spoke on as well. There’s so much to learn from our grandparents, and there are so many traditions and customs that they may have passed down to us that we must keep alive through our words and memories. We must make sure that our loved ones are never forgotten and that their legacy impacts generations to come, in Mexico, in the United States or wherever any of us end up.
Angel, Aliyah, Lesley and I will always be connected to Mexico.
Through the food we eat,
the music we listen to,
the family we love,
the art we produce
and the stories we tell.
Let it be known that our roots run deep.
MiC Columnist Juan Pablo Angel Marcos can be reached at email@example.com.