Who Made this Grave


A few days before the actual Day of the Dead, I picked up my son from his Montessori school and we strolled together down Morelia’s Calzada, a ficus-lined cobblestone pedestrian avenue that stretches from the colonial city’s pink stone aqueduct to San Nicolás, the university where more than two centuries ago Mexico’s revolutionary priest, Father Hidalgo, was teacher to the city’s namesake, José María Morales. As we left his less famous school and strolled towards the aqueduct, my son and I noticed that a crowd was gathering, and to the best of our collective ability, we hurried to find out what Morelia had in store for us this day.

In the months we had roamed our temporary city together, me pregnant and waddling, my son only two and toddling, we had happened upon the sorts of spectacles that made living in Michoacán’s capital just a little bit magical. Since Michoacán was stewing in the heat of Mexico’s escalating drug, this magic helped. A few weeks earlier, we’d watched a crew filming a telenovela, while off-camera cast members dressed as revolutionary soldiers hoisted passing children onto their half-sleeping horses and women in petticoats sat on the old stone benches sending texts. And once, for reasons we never quite discerned, we came upon the Calzada to find it had been carpeted end to end in a mural made entirely of flower petals, grains, dried leaves, and pine needles. Now, on this late October day, we joined the milling crowd and found that the attraction was the girls from the Catholic high school standing still as statues in little sets they had made to represent an old family portrait, or a garden party, a wake or a wedding. The girls in their tableaux were dressed in gowns and veiled hats or cross-dressed in suits, but their faces were painted black and white and ash gray, and on bare arms were painted bones. They were “elegant skeletons”—calaveras de la Catrina, or simply “Catrinas”—like the delicate ceramic figurines of skeletons in media res made in the campo outside Morelia. They were the living, living dead of Mexico.

In time for the Day of the Dead festivities for which Michoacán is famous, my son happened to be just entering the incessant-question stage of toddlerhood

“Who made this?” he asked three hundred times a day.

“Who made this book?”

“Dr. Seuss.”

“Who made this food?”

“Your daddy made your omelet from eggs that a chicken made and calabacitas that a farmer grew in a field from a seed.”

But so far, in situations like this one in which I now found myself, I’d been lucky: 1) who made this was the extent of his interrogative repertoire, and 2) he had not yet learned to ask why.

My son had no idea what a skeleton was. He didn’t even know the word “dead” pertained to anything beyond the grasshoppers he’d left locked in the driver’s seats of toy cars on the roof of our apartment or the desiccated scorpion we’d saved to show him. Death was not yet a bewilderment: it was an all-but blank space in his conception of the world.

This isn’t to say that I minced words when I explained to him the finite mortality of grasshoppers and other victims of his rooftop play.

“He’s dead, honey,” I told my son when he tried to goad his latest, legless victim back into action. Or, when he was served roasted chapulines in lime and chile in a restaurant: “That’s a grasshopper, like the grasshopper you play with on the roof.” And, as he examined the scorpion carcass, “This alacrán is dead. Your daddy squashed it with a shoe so it cannot pinch you with those pincers or sting you with its tail. But remember what it looks like, and if you ever see another one, back away, call a grown-up.”

I would not lie and say they were sleeping, I would not disappear a corpse, and I would not get metaphysical. But the pedagogy of bugs only went so far in Mexico.


Read the rest of this essay (and view slideshow) at its source: http://velamag.com/who-made-this-grave/

Posted in Living Abroad, Love in Mexico, Mexico, Mothers, Parenting, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Culture Shock of Coming Home

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 boogie man 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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Mexico’s March for Peace with Justice and Dignity


In March, the son of Mexico’s prize-winning poet, Javier Sicilia, was found murdered. The poet’s response was two-fold: one final poem and two feet on the ground. Sicilia has led several marches now, from his home in Cuernavaca to President Calderón’s door in Mexico City. The poet’s followers chant ¡Hasta la madre!–enough already.

Sicilia is currently leading a march called La Caravana Nacional Ciudadana por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad, or The National Citizens’ Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity. It began on the 4th of June in Sicilia’s home city of Cuernavaca and then set forth upon “la Ruta del Terror”: Cuernavaca to Mexico City to Toluca, Morelia, Guadalajara, León, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Durango, Saltillo, Monterrey, Torreón, Camargo, Chihuahua, and ending on June 10th in the city called “most visible face of the national destruction” of Mexico, Ciudad Juarez.

Saturday night, La Caravana por Paz came through Morelia. The photographs below are images of the march to the city center, followed by speeches in front of Michoacán’s seat of government.

Many of the speeches voiced solidarity with the indigenous community of Cherán, which is facing off with the criminal organization that has disappeared members of the community and murdered others (see my earlier post on Grassroots Resistance Movements). A representative from Cherán was welcomed to the podium by the chant “No estan solos”–you are not alone.

But the hero of the night was the grief-stricken poet Sicilia.

Welcome Caravan for Peace with Dignity and Justice, Here We Are Also Hasta la Madre!

"We want to see justice"

"For a Culture that Respects Human Rights"

"Juan Jesús Ortiz Chávez, disappeared in Acapulco on September 30, 2010"

No more (blood)!

"We demand the truth: 2 Michoacanos are still missing"

There were political parties represented in the march (and pamphlets being passed around), although the movement, while opposing the government strategy, claims to be non-partisan

In Cherán, the pueblo shall overcome

Cherán is present, demands security, peace, and justice

Javier Sicilia (applauding)

Javier Sicilia in Morelia


Javier Sicilia

El mundo ya no es digno de la palabra

Nos la ahogaron adentro

Como te (asfixiaron),

Como te desgarraron a ti los pulmones

Y el dolor no se me aparta sólo queda un mundo

Por el silencio de los justos

Sólo por tu silencio y por mi silencio, Juanelo



Javier Sicilia

The world today is not worthy of the word

That they drowned within us

As they did you (asphyxiated)

As they tore from you your lungs

And the pain does not leave me

A world is silenced

By the silence of the just

By your silence and by my silence, Juanelo

(translation mine, with all apologies to the poet)
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Adiós to Mexico

My keyboard looks like a pirate’s maw, gaping holes that were once keys, stains on others, and my hard drive is jammed full of photographs: pyramids, pink stone, parades, fireworks behind cathedral spires, and hundreds of hotel rooms I could never afford on a hotel reviewer’s income. My clothes are ragged (who knew clothing in Mexico was so expensive?!), and so is this body that still shows of pregnancy and has not been for a jog, ridden a bike, or seen the inside of a yoga studio in so many months. My son picks up the phone and says ¿bueno?, calls tanker trucks pipas, and prefers chongos over all other flavors of ice cream. My husband is pulling out his eyebrow hairs, one by one, frustrated that the product of his fieldwork looks so different from the proposal that won him so many fancy grants a year ago. And the baby, fat and giggly and so eager to be cooed over and pinched by señoras in the streets, at last has all of the paperwork he’ll need to enter the U.S., his newborn eyes crossed in the picture in his crisp, blue American passport.

Which is all to say that, it is time to leave Mexico. To go home, I’d say, but “home” doesn’t really exist anymore for academics under forty. Mexico is one of four countries we’ve lived in since my husband and I aligned our itineraries: if getting tenure means we have to outsource ourselves to universities in Dubai or Tel Aviv or São Paolo, we will. Next up: I’ve been granted a one-year writer-in-residency at a university in the northeast. I’ll write a book and teach. My husband will write his dissertation. My kids will learn to live with cows and snow.

Goodbye loveinmexico, hello love(ideally)inthelandofperpetualgrayness.

We are fortunate for this future, but it is hard to remember this because what is to come can’t actually be known. What is more poignant is the gratitude I feel for the recent past.

If I were a better poet, I would write an ode, but since I’m not, I can only say goodbye to Mexico. Goodbye to the workers building the hotel across the street—painting it a rich brick orange and then butter-cream and then orange again, and laughing off the owner’s fickleness as the opportunity for more work. Goodbye to the smiling baker rolling dough all day in the panaderia. Goodbye to the trash man ringing his bell and asking, for the third time this week, if my children are still growing, reminding me that we still falta la niña, lack the girl. Goodbye to Juan, who teaches me about fruit, and his boss, Don Pepe, who throws in a free cucumber or jicama para el niño. Goodbye to the grumpy man who sells the long loafs of yeasty bread in the market and never lets my husband buy the wrong kind. Goodbye to the old woman who runs the restaurant on my street where no one ever eats, myself included, and goodbye to the family who run the almost identical restaurant across the street where everyone eats. Goodbye to the writer’s widow who invites us over and explains to us the why of things. Goodbye to the roof dogs, the long-faced hound on one side, the two humping Great Danes on the other. Goodbye to the night stench that wafts in on the breeze. Goodbye to the kinglets who live in the bougainvillea in our garden. Goodbye to hanging laundry on the roof. Goodbye to the quinceañera girls posing in the park and the exchange student selling ice cream. Goodbye to the secretary in the doctor’s office next door who approves (or doesn’t) my infant’s outfit before I leave home. Goodbye to combis and Gas de Lago trucks. Goodbye to Victoria beer, chiles peron, and blue corn tortillas. Goodbye to mangos and limes. Goodbye to pay de queso and sweet hibiscus water. Goodbye to our bumper-dragging VW Pointer. Goodbye butterflies and hummingbirds. Goodbye to Alice’s smiling face at my door, and goodbye to Alfredo’s sorrows. Goodbye to so many holidays, to parades, to balloons and bubbles in the plazas. And goodbye to the teachers at my son’s Montessori whose holistic approach does not stop at the child when his parents are so clearly inept. Goodbye to Dr. O. who delivered my too-soon baby and looked a bit like a matador doing it. Goodbye to that baby’s birthplace. Goodbye to Spanish in my mouth like a handful of marbles. Goodbye to the soldiers and goodbye to their guns. Goodbye to the musicians who sing in the taqueria, and goodbye to the viejitos who dance by the cathedral, and goodbye to the fairy mime, my son’s first love…

Today, I will prepare a despedida for my son at his little school: ice cream and crepes. On Tuesday, his grandmother will fete him welcome: belated birthday cake and a new bike. Transitions are important, I think. And I know there will be sadness between these celebrations. Every day this week my son has packed a box with toys and books and his red shoes.

He’s only three yet he knows how leaving works. But I don’t think he knows that the best of this life we can’t take with us.

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Hasta la madre: Grassroots Resistance in Mexico

I am trying to write this from my temporary home in Morelia, Michoacán, one of the places red alerted for travelers, to sum up Mexico’s War on Drugs so I can write about some of the things (extra)ordinary people are doing about it, but it is Sunday night, and while nearly 35,000 people have died in the U.S. and Mexico’s war, the number that everyone is interested in is 3. Yes, Morelia’s Monarcas just crushed Mexico City’s Cruz Azul (3-0) and the noise—car horns, whistles, whoops, bottles breaking—has been at top volume on for almost an hour. This is the disconnect that has baffled me ever since I arrived in Mexico ten months ago, that has made it impossible for me to reconcile what I read–35,000–with what I see and hear around me–¡Viva Morelia!

But there are three events—all of them grassroots, two of them all but spontaneous—in my inbox this week that make more sense of this conflict and this country for me. Or at least they appeal to the idealist in me that stubbornly believes that the power of the people’s will is ultimately unmatchable.

Resistance Blockades in Indigenous Community

The first is local, and it’s a bit of a David-and-Goliath situation. I heard about it through a letter calling for people to take notice of events in the indigenous Purhépechan community of Cherán, here in Michoacán, and desseminating an Amnesty International Urgent Alert. Apparently, because of collusion between criminal organizations (a.k.a. “cartels,” a misnomer, or narcotraficantes, a reductive term that doesn’t quite get at the scope of these organizations) and local authorities–yes, Cherán’s own municipal police, the community forests around Cherán have been logged illegally. The logging is the last straw, but it is not the only abuse the community has suffered. More than a dozen of this community’s 16,000 citizens have been killed or disappeared in events linked to Michoacán’s currently unnamed organization. (La Familia disbanded–or splintered, or who-knows-what–in Deceber.)

As the story has come out, the community’s patience snapped about a month ago when townspeople began throwing rocks at logging trucks. Then the community blockaded the road and captured five of the loggers (later turning them over to federal authorities). There has been violence—two members of the community have been killed in confrontations between narcos (accompanied by local police, rumor would have it). Cherán will no longer stand to have its forests or its community plundered.

Oh, and they’d like some justice, please.

more info:

Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz: Human Rights Demonstration and Father Solalinde

The second event is international, and it has yet to take place. It is an invitation to participate in a peace march/freedom ride that promises to be monumental, whatever numbers actually turn out. To my great frustration (do you know what it costs to change plane tickets these days?!), but I’m trying to convince my workaholic husband that his research can spare a few days to march for what organizers are calling the civil rights struggle of our time.

Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz is tracing the deadly route that migrants travel to get to el otro lado, the other side, a few states at a time. In January, the first Paso a Paso crossed Chiapas through to Ixtepec, Oaxaca. This summer, Paso a Paso will begin in Ixtepec on June 20th and travel to Orizaba by train and by bus, arriving June 24th. Family members of disappeared migrants presumed to be among the dead recently uncovered in Tamaulipas state will be among the demonstrators (this group will actually be making the entire journey from their homes in Central America, to a rendezvous in Guatemala, and then joining Paso a Paso before completing the journey to the U.S. border.

Leading the march will be Father Alejandro Solalinde, a priest whose name is known throughout Mexico and, gradually, internationally as well for his work for human rights. I’m a little starstruck, but it is my opinion that Father Solalinde is the Dr. King, the Archbishop Romero, fighting for the oppressed in Mexico.

 The Paso a Paso movement is gaining momentum, albeit not in time for so many migrants whose travels have subjected them to extortion, rape, kidnapping, even execution. But if you are in Mexico, or are inclined to be in Mexico this June, try to be a part of this. (Find Casa Migrante Ixtepec on Facebook to get hooked up.)

A Poet for Peace

            In March, seven university students were killed in Cuernavaca. One of them was a young man named Juan Francisco, who just happened to be the son of Javier Sicilia, one of Mexico’s most prestigious contemporary poets. Sicilia promptly put down his pen—making his son’s death essentially a double murder—and took to the street and people followed, rallying to the line “hasta la madre,” the rough equivalent of “we’ve had it up to here.” Even President Calderón, who clearly sees the threat in an angry poet, keeps tweeting his solidarity with the people who march with Sicilia, and, according to the poet, the president has even conceded that there are flaws in his combative approach.



Peace demonstrations that I’ve seen here in Morelia do not privilege one side over the other–the government or the criminal organizations–in the ostensible War on Drugs. Peace demonstrations simply call for peace, and neither side—the criminal organizations that claim to bring security to the region and even provide some services (see William Finnegan’s 2010 “Silver or Lead” in the New Yorker), or the U.S. funded federal forces that patrol the streets in pickup trucks with machine guns manned by masked troops. Most of Mexico seems to feel caught in the crossfire and futility. To hear people talk about it, the current strategy of taking out kingpins is a little like bowling: knock some down and the system coolly re-racks.

And these events—Cherán’s spontaneous resistance which now has the roads in and out of the community blockaded while the community awaits backup from anyone, anywhere, who will help them escape the exploitation and abuses of their current subjugation, Sicilia’s grief-powered marches, and Paso a Paso’s sweeping gesture of solidarity with another subjugated people—these events are grassroots resistance movements. Rather than machine guns, these movements apply the force of pride, patriotism, and connected sense of community—like that of this city that is honking so wildly tonight—against the status quo of abject violence and political posturing.

I know it is limp idealism that thinks that much can come from gestures. But I grew up on the legend of “We Shall Overcome”–so much so that Pete Seeger wrote the preface of my first book–and I still believe that when enough people say “ya, basta,” enough already, peace is possible.

Now we wait for the call for peace to cross the border, both ways, as the violence crosses, as the drugs and guns cross, as the migrants cross, coming and going.

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Roots and Wings and the Story (for Mother’s Day)

I grew up on a farm in your quintessential middle-of-nowhere. While my dad cursed his cows and tractors and broken down trucks—“peckerhead” should have been my first word, my mom nursed a vast  vegetable garden, a flock of Thanksgiving turkeys that were notoriously too large for anyone’s oven, and us three kids.

It was an idyll and it wasn’t. My memories are steeped in the scent of boiling maple sap, river mint, and new hay. But anyone who knows anything about dairy farming in the 1980s knows how low we kept our heads during tax season when my father did his books. And anyone who knows anything about how one gets a dairy farmer’s attention can guess at the volume of two things: my mother’s tractor whistle, and the way she could slam a front door. On those latter nights I remember nesting down with my sister and brother in the chaff pile below the loft ladder, drifting off to the constant sound of chewing and the tsk-tsk of a milking machine.

But my mother let me know her in ways that made those stranded nights make sense. People didn’t speak about transparency in government then the way they do now, but my mother practiced it as a parent.

I knew she worked hard—chopping, shoveling, hoeing, canning, freezing, slaughtering, mothering. And I knew she was lonely living on the outskirts—and I don’t mean merely geographical—of a very small town. She made sure I knew, as an elementary school feminist-in-training, that undervaluing a homemaker was nothing short of sinful. When my father forgot himself, she took herself out to the movies. Forty miles away. Alone.

And it wasn’t just current events that my mother let me in on; she isn’t much for surprises or secrets. Like me, she errs on the side of too much information. So I knew her old flames by name and how each fizzled out, and I knew what it was she buried in the parking lot of the Bombay airport when she left India for the last time.

Indeed, my mother wasn’t raised on a farm herself; her childhood memories take place at the country club. And I don’t mean that figuratively. Weekends and summers, her mother dropped her off in the morning and picked her up in the evenings. Swimming lessons. Tennis lessons. Lunch at the clubhouse. Her childhood housekeeper still sends us all Christmas cookies.

My mother was just home from wandering around India and Afghanistan, looking for that great alternative her generation once sought, when she met my father. She says that near the end of her traveling days overpasses made her sad: below her she saw the headlights of people who were headed home, who would get there in time for dinner, who were not passing through. When she met a man applying a sweeping intellect to working a ramshackle farm, she exited the highway. It was the 1970s, late for some trends and early for others, when they went back-to-the-land, local, organic, free-range.

Farming was not an inheritance for either of my parents, but a lifestyle choice. It was idealistic, unrealistic, romantic, but my parents don’t fail at things they set out to do. Although they do sometimes switch-out the end goal. Cows gave way to crops and now they sell garden-fresh prepared food at farmers’ markets.

But this was their path. We kids were charged with finding our own. I know my way around a Ball Blue Book and a John Deere and I’m not half bad with a hammer and nails. But my mother didn’t raise me to be a farmer or even a farmer’s wife. Rather, she raised me to adapt to my circumstances. Hungry? Buy ten pounds each of potatoes, carrots, and onions: you won’t starve. Stuck in a blizzard? Shelter yourself in snow. At the Plaza? Order tea.

My mother expected us to run wild, to experiment, to take chances. We were allowed to do almost anything but “hang out.” Still, I admit, I resisted. When I was sixteen, my mother enrolled me in summer school in Madrid, Spain. I fought to stay home, hoping to ride some horses, help my dad with the haying. But I lost. Round two, she remained unfazed when I tossed my high school diploma in a box and went to work on a farm. My mother knows that some seeds planted have to winter over. After a year of farm work, I went to Italy for my first college semester and, once my travels gained momentum, I hardly looked back.

My siblings’ stories are different, but we are all facets of our mother writ large. My sister is a corporate climber, a little like a chainsaw in high heels. She can play polo, shoot up beer cans, and throw a smitten man out on his ass. My brother, a ship without a compass but blessed with favorable winds, longs to go to Africa, to do hard work in hard places, but keeps getting waylaid because he is too practical not to know that he accomplishes more engineering the Bigger Picture for government agencies and international organizations. Of us three, I am both the dreamer and the one who most knows what I want, a writer and a wanderer and a mother myself. Most of this is only possible because my mother sees my will-o-wisp path as viable.

“Do what you love, the money will follow,” she says, and sends me a check—not for material things, or even to get me by, she expects me to manage that, potatoes-carrots-and-onions style—but so I can do something decadent with my passport. So far, not much money follows, but my mother’s faith is unflagging.

Together, my siblings and I tootle around on bicycles in the Dutch countryside, eat steak on Capitol Hill, pickle ourselves in gin while we can dill beans, hitchhike through South America, sidestep rattlesnakes and bear in the backcountry. Together, we rake hay, throw it up in the loft, stack it tight, cut-end up. The way our parents want it.

From my perspective, it all comes down to this: my mother teaches me to write my own story, and to make it a doozy. This is something one does forward, making plans and choices, buying the ticket, as well as backwards, seeing the meaning in experiences had, however fleeting. Frankly, I hardly remember my mother’s oversized turkeys, and I never met her ex-flames, but the stories have stuck and I read in it a life that is well-lived. These days I write my own life in this vein. I know that my days are like anyone’s, dirty dishes and mundane frustrations—whether we curse cows or sip  tea at the Plaza—but if my story is going to be anywhere near as resonant to my children as my mother’s is to me, I must drive my life hard, mine deep, and tell it well.

FYI: Dia de la Madre is observed on May 10th in Mexico, so this is NOT late (really, Mom!).

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Dia del Niño

“When we see a pretty flower, we stop to look at it and smell it, right?”

My son keeps his face hidden. He gets shy when strangers gush at him.

“And seeing that flower makes us happy, right?”

He nods into my chest.

“Well, people in Mexico feel that way about children. When they see you, they want to touch you and look at you. And it makes them happy. Children make people happy.”

My son peeks up.

“Why?” he asks for the three-hundred-and-forty-third time that morning.

There is no Easter bunny in Mexico. Pascua is a holy affair (see my Good Friday post A Child Meets Jesus). But don’t feel sorry for the children of Mexico because they don’t get a basket full of jelly beans, chewy fowl, and chocolate eggs. The stores still display mountains of chocolate (and bicycles and dollies and games of every sort) each April. American kids get the Easter bunny, but in Mexico, the springtime celebration of all things adorable gets right to the point: April 30th is Dia del Niño.

In 1954, the United Nations called for a Universal Day of the Child. But Latin America was ahead of the game, Mexico in particular, where official celebrations of Dia del Niño began in 1916. And the celebrations keep getting more elaborate, or so say my friends who compare their memories of childhood with the expectations of their children.

Morelia certainly went all out this year.

Every plaza and park had city-run activities, with volunteers overseeing ring games and art projects or painting faces, city workers giving kids rides in cherry pickers, city gardeners helping kids transplant seedlings. And, as usual, the whole city was out for the festivities.

In the evening, things took a more somber turn with a procession honoring the Santo Niño de la Salud. Children dressed like angels rode a flatbed truck. Nuns sang over a squeaky sound system mounted on the roof of a truck. Prayers were read. A marching band played. In the crowd, children were dressed like the Santo Niño, in white with red velvet robes.

El Santo Niño de la Salud

But in Morelia’s Centro Histórico, there was more revelry. The usual Saturday night guitarists were replaced by a singing comedy routine in superhero costumes, and on the other side of the Catedrál, a kids’ quiz show was taking place under a huge tent (where free popcorn was being doled out). Clowns rode by on unicycles and the fairy mime that my son loves to the point of sadness was commanding a steady flow of coins in her tin bucket.

“Every day is Children’s Day,” my mother used to say when we celebrated Mother’s or Father’s Day. She says it again when we talked in the afternoon between events.

But is it?

I mean, I know parents feel like they go all out all the time. But as a culture—if so large a country as the U.S. can be accused of having one—so very few of us stop to smell the babies, as it were. Even us parents can forget to enjoy our children.

I hope that when I leave Mexico, I remember.

One more thing: I know that Easter bunny deliveries are a way that we instill a sense of magic in our children, but I’m not sure the fiction is worth it. There was plenty of magic on the streets of Morelia last Saturday—the magic that is beauty and the bonds of love and community—and no imaginary rabbit stole credit for any of it.

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