Deep in the center of Mexico lies the vibrant city of Guanajuato where the people invite you in with a warm smile and a lively welcoming. Beyond Salamanca, Mexico lies the Cuatro de Altamira rancho. You can tell on the drive into the ranch that the people don’t have much and many make a living off of agriculture, but despite the humble surroundings there’s a spirit in the air that makes you feel so free. Kids run up the Cerro to reach La tiendita de Maria that rests at the peak of the enormous hill in order to buy candy and fried chips with salsa and spices. You hear the horses’ hooves clack on the dirt road and you can’t help but to turn around and face the men coming back from La Sequia. Exhaustion decorates their bodies and their sombreros help shield their faces from the setting sun. The cattle are rounded back onto the fields with the help of El Capitan- our trusty dog. Uncle Sol opens the green gates for the cattle and horses while the working men make their way into the adobe kitchen. My abuelita gives them hearty servings of chicken flautas with fresh queso, salsa roja and of course, a cold glass bottle of Coca-Cola.
As my father’s navy blue truck pulls up to the entrance of our ranch, all of our family members stop dead in their tracks and stare at the unfamiliar vehicle. Their expressions change from concerned to joyful once they recognize the faces of the people who only come around once a year. We are bombarded by hugs before our feet can even touch the gravely ground. My cousins and aunts bury me in questions about life in the United States and we get so caught up in the frenzy we fail to realize the moon has come to relieve the sun. After my family and I get settled we meet up with all of our family so we can walk together to the common land to greet old friends and make our visit known. The women and children are walking barefoot because the ground has transformed into a cool sheet of ice thanks to the starry veil in the sky. We spot our old friends and the atmosphere becomes alive. Everyone is laughing at the jokes being made, singing along to the mariachi, and making plans to make our visit memorable. The clock reads midnight and the children are reminded of the legend of the Weeping Woman and they bolt in fear to the safety of their homes while the women and men follow behind resisting the rocky road back to reality.
My family and I stepped inside our home and all the memories from the last visit hit us like a ton of bricks. My dad remembered the gigantic scorpion my brother found by the back door and how my mom squashed it with her foot like it was no big deal. My eyes were getting heavy and my body screamed for rest, so dragged my feet all the way to my room. I looked around and noticed how everything was the same way I left it during my last visit. The dusty books on the shelf, my old diaries, and my favorite homemade doll made me feel nostalgic. After struggling to open the rusty window, I made myself comfortable in my bed and let the calming whisper of the wind nurse me to sleep.
The sound of the rooster crowing awakened me the next morning. I slowly tried to pry my eyes open and after a little struggle my electric blue walls were revealed to me. I knew my dad was still sleeping by the excruciatingly loud snores coming from the room adjacent to mine. As I giggled at the loud snores, I heard my mother’s powerful voice calling us outside to eat. I sprung out of bed and slipped on my colorful huaraches. Once I stepped foot outside I saw colorful long skirts and flowy white tops accessorized with clunky rifles hanging off the backs of my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother. I always felt a compelling wave of confidence whenever I witnessed something like this because I would be reminded of the fact that I come from a long line of strong mujeres. The aroma of our breakfast was appetizing and the clay dishes complimented the sight of the food beautifully. We all ate our breakfast in good company, but it was disrupted by the sound of the bell letting us know that it was time for the men to go to work. They sat in silence trying to gather enough mental and physical strength to go back to the fields, but once they did they proudly lined up in front of my grandmother in order to receive her blessings before hopping on their horses and disappearing until sundown.
I watched my grandmother make her way towards the orchid tree and I followed behind her because that meant it was time for her to braid my hair. Abuelita took a seat on the rounded boulder while I sat on the floor and quietly endured the tugging and pulling of my hair. Once she was done braiding my hair she took my hand and lead me to her house and instructed me to open the doors to her closet. I got excited because as a curious 7 year old I loved surprises- especially the ones for me. Tears formed in my eyes when I saw the stunning traditional dress in front of me. The vibrant colors and the beautiful embroidery along the neckline and hem made me emotional because I was aware of the amount of time and patience my abuelita had invested into the making of the dress. I didn’t take off the dress the whole day; I loved the way it flowed when gusts of wind hit me or the way the sun seemed to make the colors shine from a mile away.
I was sitting on the highest branch of this old, enormous tree by the stream reading a book of scary legends when my cousin, Emily, yelled at me to follow her back home since it was getting closer to sun down. We raced each other to her house because her mom had just come back from the city and she brought back sweets and my favorite chips. I was munching away on the couch, watching TV when Emily’s mom and my mom walked in with my grandma. Abuelita tried to hide her pained expression so she wouldn’t worry her grandkids but I had a feeling something was very wrong. They laid down my abuelita on the bed and I heard our mothers trying to reason with her, but grandma refused to be taken to a hospital. So, they grabbed their belongings and left to a neighboring ranch to buy the herbs and oils necessary to make the medicine my grandmother requested. When I walked in her room and took in the sight of her, I finally noticed how frail she had become but you could still see the same resilience she carried all her life in her eyes. She grabbed my hand with her trembling one and weakly spoke. She said that our familia and our traditions were our power. She talked to me about the importance of being strong and confident in who I am. Minutes later her eyes closed forever. Sometimes being strong means deciding to finally make a truce with this life and move on to the next world.
That devastating night when my familia made their way to common land I stayed behind. I walked towards the Orchid tree and sat down on the same boulder my grandmother sat on earlier that day when she was braiding my hair. As I looked down at my dress I thought about what she told me before dying and I thought about how angry I was that she refused medical help. After much thought, my brain told my body to stand and my legs stubbornly complied. On the way to the common land I felt the refreshingly cold soil in between my toes and each step turned stronger than the last. I fixed my posture and held my head high; I felt empowered for some unknown reason. When I reached the gathering I walked up to my father and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. He wasn’t crying but you could tell he was on the verge of tears. That was the only time up to this day that I’ve witnessed my father cry.
Over the years, as I’ve assimilated to the American way of life and made mistakes along the way, I have gained more insight on what my abuelita told me years ago. Her words hold the utmost gravity and they resonate with my being every single time I think about them. My culture and the support I receive from my family is abundant. When I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders I know I have my people to lean on. The women are fearless and strong-willed and the men are protective and reassuring. Even though I grew up with nothing I never felt like I was poor and I’m sure that’s because of the love and security my community provided. Just like all those years ago when I would rush home in fear of the Weeping Woman, I now run in fear of my hardships and take refuge in my memories and my family.