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The Return Fourteen

Christina Nealson

There is the most yellow of yellow butterflies stuck under our windshield wiper. A piece of the sun, moving with us towards the border, flapping in the wind. Journal, June 16


Xilitla exit, on our way home. Niñas dressed in pleated skirts and white blouses emerge from the jungle on their way to school. A man dressed in an embroidered Mexican wedding shirt, leather briefcase under his arm, kicks his dilapidated, oily motorcycle that has broken down along the side of the highway. Our route winds steep and sharp through thick jungle. Traffic slows to a crawl. We drive 5 mph for over an hour, aware of our blessings: we have the option of air conditioning. We have the option of taking the fast route to Texas. Of crossing the border free and clear.

Shaggy burros. Last night's raging rain. Angelica's bubbles to Xilitla's sky. Mexico shakes the soul. A roadrunner flies low between the cars. Men with machetes, wheelbarrows and shovels work the road. We pass a double semi-trailer truck, turned over on a curve. We pass the truck and continue north, through Monterrey. North, across the border at Laredo. Fodor's Mexico, The People's Guide to Mexico, The Birder's Guide to Mexico, and the many maps of Mexico make their way to the backseat floor.

The first sound I notice across the border is the sound of a lawn mower. The man with the machete, trapped behind the border. My eyes keep searching for him along the Texas hills. Mexico behind. Mexico inside. I wonder who is trapped? The man with the machete, or me? A carved gate across a Texas ranch reads, 'Middle Age Spread.'

Thoughts of Mexico flood my mind. Feelings stagger about. Exhilaration. Relief. Gloom. I did not feel the Mexico of my past. This time I encountered a Mexico stumbling towards modernity, unsure of itself and its direction. North Americans can speak all they want of the friendliness of our southern neighbors, but this time I witnessed a Mexico very different from my lengthy journeys of ten to twenty years ago. Then, warmth and friendliness were the status quo. Since that time, sojourns south have revealed a hardening of spirit. Today, friendliness and antagonism are more equally balanced. The daily face of Mexico to Anglos is indifference. Indians and Mexicans alike tolerate our presence for our dollars. And yes, will shed a smile here and there.

"She only smokes when she drinks," pops out of the speaker as I surf the radio stations for NPR.

Mexico behind me. Mexico inside me. It takes a few days for me to stop the automatic reach -- toilet paper to wastepaper basket. Home in Nuevo Mexico, six loads of wash. Hang it out on the line in crystalline clean mountain air. Sort the mail. It is good to be back where I can speak without attention to every word and its possible correctness. To not be fluent in a country's language is the ultimate impotence. As I learned in Guatemala many years ago, conversational Spanish doesn't cut it for those who seek intimacy with landscape and people. Which leads me to the second largest impotence, white skin. Just as Indian and Hispanic Taos can never be my home, so it is true of Mexico. I can be here or there. I can visit, even buy a home and lay my rituals upon the land. But this place is of the brown-skinned peoples, dictated by history molded of olden days. I can settle here, but it will never be my home. The money that provides a boost to the local economy also serves as crucial insulation.

Impressions crash around my body like ping-pong balls. Mexico remains as complicated and contradictory as ever, and I hope that never changes. Still, I must 'fit' my experience and images of this journey with the woman I am now. A woman in her fifties who savors silence, the wild, and small doses of civilization. I don't need to 'reinvent' myself. I require a landscape where I can BE myself. I don't thirst for adventure for adventure's sake … my life has been defined by adventure -- thanks to my Viking blood. Travel. Writing. Photography. One precious daughter. Homes in the wild. The novelty I seek is in nature. The surprise of a bird on wing. The jolt of an elk to attention. The lover I seek is my husband.

Journal, June 21st, Summer Solstice morn: A prayer for peace by the fire, as I muddle through the middle of my life.

Journal, June 23rd: There's no way in hell I want to move to Mexico. There. I've said it! Now, at this moment, I say no. Stunning places. Wonder-full trip. No move.

Xilitla exit, on our way home. Niñas dressed in pleated skirts and white blouses emerge from the jungle on their way to school. A man dressed in an embroidered Mexican wedding shirt, leather briefcase under his arm, kicks his dilapidated, oily motorcycle that has broken down along the side of the highway. Our route winds steep and sharp through thick jungle. Traffic slows to a crawl. We drive 5 mph for over an hour, aware of our blessings: we have the option of air conditioning. We have the option of taking the fast route to Texas. Of crossing the border free and clear.

Shaggy burros. Last night's raging rain. Angelica's bubbles to Xilitla's sky. Mexico shakes the soul. A roadrunner flies low between the cars. Men with machetes, wheelbarrows and shovels work the road. We pass a double semi-trailer truck, turned over on a curve. We pass the truck and continue north, through Monterrey. North, across the border at Laredo. Fodor's Mexico, The People's Guide to Mexico, The Birder's Guide to Mexico, and the many maps of Mexico make their way to the backseat floor.

The first sound I notice across the border is the sound of a lawn mower. The man with the machete, trapped behind the border. My eyes keep searching for him along the Texas hills. Mexico behind. Mexico inside. I wonder who is trapped? The man with the machete, or me? A carved gate across a Texas ranch reads, 'Middle Age Spread.'

Thoughts of Mexico flood my mind. Feelings stagger about. Exhilaration. Relief. Gloom. I did not feel the Mexico of my past. This time I encountered a Mexico stumbling towards modernity, unsure of itself and its direction. North Americans can speak all they want of the friendliness of our southern neighbors, but this time I witnessed a Mexico very different from my lengthy journeys of ten to twenty years ago. Then, warmth and friendliness were the status quo. Since that time, sojourns south have revealed a hardening of spirit. Today, friendliness and antagonism are more equally balanced. The daily face of Mexico to Anglos is indifference. Indians and Mexicans alike tolerate our presence for our dollars. And yes, will shed a smile here and there.

"She only smokes when she drinks," pops out of the speaker as I surf the radio stations for NPR.

Mexico behind me. Mexico inside me. It takes a few days for me to stop the automatic reach -- toilet paper to wastepaper basket. Home in Nuevo Mexico, six loads of wash. Hang it out on the line in crystalline clean mountain air. Sort the mail. It is good to be back where I can speak without attention to every word and its possible correctness. To not be fluent in a country's language is the ultimate impotence. As I learned in Guatemala many years ago, conversational Spanish doesn't cut it for those who seek intimacy with landscape and people. Which leads me to the second largest impotence, white skin. Just as Indian and Hispanic Taos can never be my home, so it is true of Mexico. I can be here or there. I can visit, even buy a home and lay my rituals upon the land. But this place is of the brown-skinned peoples, dictated by history molded of olden days. I can settle here, but it will never be my home. The money that provides a boost to the local economy also serves as crucial insulation.

Impressions crash around my body like ping-pong balls. Mexico remains as complicated and contradictory as ever, and I hope that never changes. Still, I must 'fit' my experience and images of this journey with the woman I am now. A woman in her fifties who savors silence, the wild, and small doses of civilization. I don't need to 'reinvent' myself. I require a landscape where I can BE myself. I don't thirst for adventure for adventure's sake … my life has been defined by adventure -- thanks to my Viking blood. Travel. Writing. Photography. One precious daughter. Homes in the wild. The novelty I seek is in nature. The surprise of a bird on wing. The jolt of an elk to attention. The lover I seek is my husband.

Journal, June 21st, Summer Solstice morn: A prayer for peace by the fire, as I muddle through the middle of my life.

Journal, June 23rd: There's no way in hell I want to move to Mexico. There. I've said it! Now, at this moment, I say no. Stunning places. Wonder-full trip. No move.

So, where does Mexico fit into my body?

Where do I fit into hers? How much does she need another well-intentioned, gringa sugar-mamma?

Newly energized, I would return to every place we visited. Even those of previous trips, like Oaxaca and San Cristobol, that I visited several times. I would take off for an undiscovered Mexican spot in a nano-second. But honesty demands that I am past the stage in my life of the $2/night pensiones. I desire clean, comfortable beds. Tasty food. Amoeba-free water. And perhaps this is the nucleus of conflicted feelings. I have outgrown the Mexico of backpacks and shared bathrooms and the reckless forage of food off a cart (well, almost). The Mexico of my younger days is different from the Mexico I seek now. I am haunted by the large numbers of North Americans I encountered who had lived out their 40's, 50's and 60's in Mexico and are now desperate to return stateside. Perhaps because of poor health. Maybe because of grandchildren. If money and investment is a factor, one cannot be assured of an investment return in Mexico. Even here in the U.S., the real estate bubble is on the cusp of burst.

Several friends have said that if George Bush wins the next election they are moving to Mexico. I have left this country once for political reasons. I expatriated to Toronto in the early 1969. Viet Nam days, when United States deserters and draft dodgers were welcomed with open arms; assisted with programs; granted government amenities like nationalized health care. My daughter was born there. It cost me $5.06 to deliver her in a Toronto hospital.

It was easy to live and work. There was no language barrier to overcome. And still, I eventually returned to the United States. United States citizenship is a love/hate relationship.

One might say I lost my virginity when it comes to expat-hood. Hindsight insight: as much as I wanted to leave the United States behind, I could not exorcise the fact that I was from the richest, most powerful country in the world. That fact was a part of my psyche, in all of its dark and the light. I learned that it doesn't really work to build a new relationship to country based on disfavor of the old one, any more than a new lover can be found in the shadow of the old. Political causes, Canadian history classes, or reading Canadian literature did not make me Canadian. Or more to the point, did not erase my American-ness.

Now, could I re-write the above paragraph in the present tense?

What is true is that Mexico is a luscious, mysterious, picturesque place to go. Where native ritual thrives. Where death and life are integrated on a daily level. Where the standard of living can be much cheaper than in the U.S.A. She offers different opportunity. Mañana slow and simple. But she, like most every other country in the world, is tied to this one. So one must be realistic about how far one can really escape. 'Around and around and around I go, where I land, nobody knows.'

I find myself scanning the want-ads lately, looking for Argosy travel trailers, vintage 1970. I think of putting the house on the market. I dream of a lazy place along the ocean, where waves soften brusque edges.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2005 by Christina Nealson © 2008
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