A few weeks ago, I heard the FaceTime call notification buzzing from my phone. My eyes shifted and saw that it was Mom who was calling. Calls from Mom brighten my mood because on days that school takes up so much of my time, it’s nice seeing and hearing her face and voice from all the way back home. Mom called to ask about when my spring break for this school year was. After a quick Google search for the UMich academic calendar, I told her the dates. The next thing I knew, she was talking about sending me to Mexico for spring break.
I thought to myself, “Mexico? Mexico!” I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico, but I wasn’t expecting to go so soon. I had talked with my mom about wanting to go and we had decided to go together next year after I graduated. I thought to myself again, “Why am I going so soon? And without Mom?” I was excited, but I didn’t know the reason for the trip. This would be my first time stepping foot in Mexico and finally getting to meet my family. Up until this point, all I’ve had are laggy Whatsapp video calls. The plan had been to go to Mexico with Mom, but it was too urgent to wait.
Mom told me that I needed to go see Abuelita.
The reality is that Abuelita is getting older and her health is becoming a concern. Our whole family knows this, and Mom wants me to see her and enjoy as much time with her as I can before things get worse. Abuelita has always been the one who visits us, but not this time around. Now I’m the one who’s visiting her. Over the years, it’s gotten harder for her to travel from Mexico to the U.S.; she has difficulty walking and doesn’t like to travel by air due to all the stress, commotion and long periods of waiting and sitting down. Abuelita’s health is getting worse with every passing year and I needed to see her. I want to hug her, I want to hold her hand — for Mom, who hasn’t been to Mexico in over 30 years. But mostly, I want to create more memories with the person that I love so dearly.
Thankfully, my family has been lucky enough to have visited my grandma throughout the years but sadly not as much as we would have liked to. Geographic conditions make it difficult for me to connect with my family in Mexico, and I don’t get to see them as much as I would like. You see, these are the things you go through when you are part of an immigrant household. Our families living in the U.S. and Mexico are miles apart, divided by a border that shows no remorse and imposes stringent immigration laws.
When my family lived in Los Angeles, Abuelita would visit us regularly, but I was too young to remember. At the time, she was 20 years younger and happy to see all her new grandchildren and be surrounded by my tíos, tías, primos and primas. A lot of our family migrated to Los Angeles, so it was like a second home away from everyone in Mexico.
When I was five years old, we moved to Wyoming, Michigan. It took about five more years for Abuelita to visit us in the Midwest. I was 10 years old when Abuelita first visited. I still remember her adventurous spirit joining my siblings and me to explore the backyard, which is primarily forest; for many years there was a large, sand dune-like hill and vast empty lot being prepared for construction. Once you pass the woods and lot, you are within walking distance of a Dollar Tree and liquor store.
As my siblings and I followed Abuelita through the bushes and trees, I stopped and froze when I saw the biggest spider I had ever seen. I had been comfortable exploring the backyard for some years, but my fear of spiders always stayed with me — I was terrified of spiders as a little kid. Everyone walked right past the spider, but not me; I was stuck. Tears began to flow faster and faster down my cheeks. I knew that I had to pass the spider to be with my grandma and siblings, but I couldn’t pull myself together. The tears kept coming and everyone else became desperate. Abuelita got a little impatient but it’s not my fault; I wasn’t raised in the Mexican countryside like her where spiders and snakes were commonplace. Once Abuelita yelled, “Apúrate!” I knew that was my cue to get it moving. I was so little, but I knew that Abuelita wasn’t scared of anything and that she would push me to overcome the smallest of obstacles. I knew, even then, that her age and short stature never defined her because regardless of the adversity she faced in life, she never turned away. And I wanted to be like Abuelita. Fearless. As I got older, I began to understand what her history and upbringing were truly like. Abue’s mom lived through the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s, where she had to hide from Mexican officials.
There is a history of resilience in my family from the women who have shaped me into the person I am today.
Some other memories I cherish with Abuelita when she visited were the times we went cherry picking, napped on the same bed, prayed alongside each other with a glow-in-the-dark rosary before going to bed and when I watched her take down shots of tequila like water. She didn’t visit often, but reflecting back on the times when she was here, I was always present with her. One of the most recent — and one of my favorite memories — is when we sat down and made bracelets together.
The last time I saw her was when she most recently visited us in the summer of 2017. She spent the hot summer days inside the house nestled in our massage chair sewing or outside on a bench on the deck, knitting away. Abuelita loves to knit and quilt. It was something she enjoyed, but more importantly, it was also how she made money in Mexico. She was born in 1933 and never got an education. Abuelita was born and raised en su rancho with no schooling, so she started working as a young girl. She doesn’t know how to read or write either, so selling the things she knitted and quilted was one of the best ways she could earn some income. She’s extremely talented, from making her own blankets and scarves to countertop mats and sweaters. She always adds a special touch to her pieces, knitting in floral designs to make it her own. I’ve always wanted to learn how she does it because I want to create some of my own clothes in the future.
During this particular summer, I would read books beside her in my own nook and occasionally glance over and watch as her tense hands worked their knitting magic. At some point, I put the book down and decided to sit next to her and just watch. She was knitting together a red hat. I wanted to join her but I knew that my skills were very limited. After telling her this, she taught me some of the knitting basics, but soon I lost track of the steps and gave up a little too quickly. When I put the yarn down on the floor, I saw her little box containing all of her supplies by her feet and I began to dig through it. There were so many different colors of yarn, so many different types of yarn. All different shapes and sizes.
After failing the knitting experiment, I asked her if there was something easier we could try. This is when she brought up the idea of making bracelets.
She told me to pick the color of yarn I wanted to use and I ended up picking the pink and yellow yarn. We sat by the window for the next 20 minutes working on the bracelet together, with the pink yarn in her hand and the yellow yarn in mine, creating this bracelet together as she was walking me through the process.
“¡Así no mijo!”
“Mira, ¿ves? Fácil.”
When completed, the bracelet was fresh bright pink and bright yellow. It was something that I created with Abuelita and it’s something that I’ve worn every day for the past four and a half years. It’s a reminder that Abuelita is with me wherever I go. Now my bracelets are a part of me; and when I don’t have them on, I don’t feel like myself. When I’m nervous, I fidget with the strings and I like to shake my bracelets out of habit to hear the beads beat against the yarn. Whenever I look at my bony left wrist, I’m reminded of that summer day spent by the window sill with Abuelita tying together this bracelet.
Soon I’ll be back with Abuelita in Mexico creating new memories at her bedside. I’ll be in Abuelita’s home and city, her birthplace. There’s so much history I want to uncover, a journey I can’t even begin to describe. Abuelita is an essential part of that history and I’m overjoyed to board my flight on March 3. It’s been almost five years since the last time I saw her. Dropping her off at the O’Hare airport in Chicago was the most recent time. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Tears rolled down Mom’s cheeks. It’s been a long five years since then, but when I see her again, we’ll have lots to catch up on and tons more bracelets to make. This time I’ll be making bracelets for the entire family back at home.
MiC Columnist Juan Pablo Angel Marcos can be reached at email@example.com.