By April Vazquez
I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians. Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love. But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.
I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays… or other days, sporadically and without notice.
I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.
I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park. I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it. Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe?
With the exception of my own kids, I’m the only vegetarian I know. I don’t eat birria or menudo or moronga, and furthermore I can’t believe anyone else does (translation: goat soup, cow’s stomach, pig’s blood). No one else flinches at the sight of organs laid out on metal trays at the market. I get asked all the time what I eat.
I’m the only woman who wears flip-flops outside her house. Most women here are Jennifer Lopez-level glamorous–dark shades, sleek, lacquered hair–even at the laundromat, even picking their kids up from preschool, even walking a half-mile to the bus stop in stiletto heels. No, not a half-mile. Eight-tenths of a kilometer.
El sereno, the night air, is a deadly threat here. It’s the cause of colds, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia. I’ve been scolded for running the ceiling fan at night. I’ve been scolded for not putting a scarf on my children when the temperature’s in the 60s. I’ve been scolded for letting them drink cold water. By people who heat Coca-Cola for their children, in plastic cups or baby bottles.
My children are the only kids we know who don’t drink Coca-Cola and are universally regarded as sorely deprived.
Though Coke is not one of them, I do seek out American products, some of which I pay too much for without even particularly liking them. I also sing along to Bon Jovi on the only English language radio station, though I wouldn’t have been caught dead singing Bon Jovi in the States.
I’m still not used to people ringing our doorbell and asking for money, or food, or anything resale-able, or blood. I want to help them, but I draw the line at blood.
When I feed the baby at my in-laws’, I don’t just cover up, I go into another room. Because my husband has five brothers and a father, besides the assorted uncles, friends, relatives of more tenuous connection, and neighbors who always seem to drop by–including Raúl, sometimes on days when he’s supposed to be at our house, working–and my husband doesn’t want me seen in the act of feeding our child. It’s scandalous enough that I still breastfeed at her age, long after the pediatrician advised me to stop.
There’s a billboard downtown of a sexy blonde woman in the arms of two gorgeous, hip-looking men labeled American Life. Apparently this is a brand of shoes, but that does not look like what they’re advertising.
I put things in the curio cabinet that aren’t supposed to go there–hand-woven napkins, ribbon-haired dolls, clay piñatas. I have bibs embroidered with my children’s names hanging on the walls in their rooms. I can’t bring myself to let baby food dribble onto folk art.
I can’t believe the temperature’s in the 80s all winter. Every watermelon I eat I declare the best watermelon I’ve ever tasted. I’d never eaten zapotes, chabacano, nopales, mamey, tejocotes, jícama, or chayotes until I moved here, and it stills feels exotic to pick limes and guavas off trees in my own back patio.
I hit all the piñatas I can, because I never hit one as a child.
On Independence Day my daughters wear indigenous clothes and spin like whirling dervishes, sending their long skirts flying out. They drink agua de tamarindo on Children’s Day. They have Children’s Day!
The devil is as real and personified here as he could ever have been in medieval Europe–horned, cloven-hoofed, leering. He makes appearances in Nativity scenes and pastorela plays and street dances, where he lashes a whip and scares children. Evil here is simple: a red-faced devil, an assault weapon-wielding narco. There are decapitations and mass graves, but they’re far away from us and somehow less frightening than the mass shootings of innocent people in my own country, where evil is more convoluted.
I think of all the food, time, and money I wasted in the United States. I don’t know what I did with all that time, when I didn’t have to wash dishes by hand or hang every single little baby sock on the clothesline. And yet it seems to me that I complained a lot more then.
I’m the only one who tears up at the Christmas posadas when the children chant the liturgy in Latin, candlelight shining on their little faces, their dark eyes full of joy. I cry because some of them don’t have shoes, but they have faith. Here people walk for days on pilgrimages, sometimes doing the last stretch on their knees. They buy roses for the Virgin Mary, though they can’t afford more than beans on bread for supper.
And when I’m inevitably asked if I think I’ll ever want to move back home, my answer is always the same: I am home.
A native of the North Carolina foothills, April Vázquez holds a B.A. in Literature and Language from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and an M.A. in the Teaching of English as a Second Language from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently lives in León, Guanajuato, Mexico, where she homeschools her daughters Daisy, Dani, and Dahlia. April’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Missing Slate, Windhover, The Fieldstone Review, Eclectica, Foliate Oak, The New Plains Review, and others.