Do you know the James Taylor song “Mexico”?
You can look it up on You-Tube if you have not heard it in a while. I looked it up recently because I could not remember all the lyrics.
I don’t like the line about “sleepy señorita” with eyes on fire. That feeds into a cultural stereotype that rings dissonant and untrue to all the non-sleepy Mexicanas I know, that work harder than 99% of the Americanos I know. But other than that, Taylor’s song is a dreamy fantasy on his idea of what Mexico must be like:
Woh, down in Mexico, I’ve never really been so I don’t really know.
Woh, Mexico, I guess I’ll have to go.
Muerte con colores (taken on Isla Holbox, Mexico – Sept 2017)
Next week I will travel to Mexico to interview some clinical research specialist candidates for an open position on my team. I always enjoy visiting, even though I prefer the country-side and the beach to the big city. I feel at home in Mexico in a way, even though my skin is lighter than most people (thanks to my Swedish grandmother) and I am also taller than most people there, at nearly 5’8″.
I guess you could say I have a romance with Mexico. It makes sense. Half of my blood ancestry is from there, and when I speak Spanish, it is with the same accent as my Dad, from whence my language skills arose as a young child. When I speak with my colleagues in Latin America, sometimes they ask me where I am from. I am sure they are thinking: “Her accent sounds authentic, but her grammar sucks! Where the heck did she learn her Spanish?”
Well, perhaps they judge me less harshly than I judge myself. But since it takes me about 48 hours down there to “flip on” the Spanish module in my brain, my grammar usually takes a little while to catch up with my communication intentions. My “lengua materna” – my “mother tongue” is English. Typically for children our mother tongue is our primary language, our base from which other languages can grow, if we speak more than one.
Early in my childhood, I visited Mexico. When I was 1, 3 and 7 we visited during the summers (my parents were teachers). I was “mariposa” and “reinecita” to my grandparents there, butterfly and little queen. Early photographs of me with them show their pride in me. They loved how I looked at my wrist as though there was a watch when people asked me “qué hora son?” (what’s the time?) even before I could really speak. They knew I understood.
Courtyard in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico
When I was 7 years old, my Dad his lost his Mom to cancer (the same year my Mom lost her Father to cancer) and after that, he did not have the heart to visit his home town of Saltillo again for decades. Dad is not fond of airplanes, and he prefers to drive down. I flew down in 2014 to meet him there, while he drove the long journey after a stop in Texas to visit with his sister and her family.
I spent about a week there, and I was fascinated to discover how musically talented my family is, and how beautifully they sing and play the guitar together. My Dad has been a musician for much of his life, playing on weekends and during the summer as a “side gig” even though his main profession was as a bilingual teacher. I wrote before about how my Mom first met him when she studied in Mexico after graduating from college in less than 4 years to teach Spanish.
I called Mom from Mexico during that trip, while I was staying in the duplex where my four of my aunties live. Two of my aunties are nuns, one of them is a widow and one is married with two beautiful children. Mom asked me if now I knew why she fell in love with Dad and his whole family. Indeed I did. They are lovely people, and their hospitality was amazing. I connected with aunts, uncles and cousins I had not known before. Some of us also connected on social media and still stay in touch that way.
Returning to my roots and knowing them better helped me know myself better. I have always been more connected to Minnesota and my Mom’s family. As I keep returning to Mexico periodically for work or vacations, I continue to experience a sense of re-connection within myself. I was born in Wisconsin, and identify myself now as a Minnesotan, having lived more than half my life here if you count summers in my youth.
Isla de Pájaros (Bird Island) near Holbox, Mexico
Yet Mexico continues to call to me, a siren song that enters my consciousness when I consider leaving my current job. I try to imagine what other kind of work would allow me to keep visiting there regularly. This is a kernel I need to keep in mind as I consider my alternatives.
I love exploring many countries, cultures and places. This is one aspect that keeps me in my current position, these precious international travel benefits. But I am especially interested in cultures that speak Spanish, since this is a part of my origin and ancestry as well. My husband and I have plans someday to honeymoon in Europe, but we are saving up for this. I do not like to go into debt now that I am in my 40’s. My husband has always wanted to visit the U.K., as have I (my grandfather on my mother’s side is from Cornwall). I also want to explore the Spanish countryside. Someday perhaps I will get to Sweden to see where my great-grandmother was born.
But a big part of my heart is in Mexico, and will never leave there. My feminist grounding tells me my role in empowering women (and men) I work with currently is a an important investment of my time. Then I consider other ways I can contribute to the country of my ancestors, while bridging the gap in understanding among the people I know here in Minnesota.
I am still figuring out what the next step on the path will look like for me. And some part of me tells me it will not be a well-worn path, but rather one in which I will need to bring a hatchet or some clearing tools to get through dense vegetation. It may need creativity and a clearer vision of what is possible.
I have been consulting mentors, teachers, peers and wise leaders on advice and thoughts about how to think about my future vocation. But ultimately, I will need to enter into the quiet wilderness of my soul to discover what she means to me, this Mexico that calls to me both in sleeping and waking hours.
Sign on a protected island we visited while on vacation – Holbox, Mexico (Sept 2017)