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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1 Response to The Culture Shock of Coming Home

  1. not sure why but this post made me tear up a bit… the leaving, the coming, the going resonates with me, I feel I leave parts of myself behind, and not always sure what I bring along (is it something I’ve gained? or what is left?) when I return. And for me, even though I’m in San Diego in Albuquerque… San Diego goes on without me and when I return everything has changed, everyone has changed, especially me. It’s all very confusing, even though I’ve been coming and going my entire life.

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