The Mexico I Once Knew


When I was in college a few years ago (in this sentence, “a few” means “way more than a few”), I lived in Mexico for a semester. I achieved said semester abroad by selling the whole “I should learn a language!” idea to my father who then tried less successfully to sell the whole “This will be a great life experience for Jo!” to my wildly furious but ultimately out-voted mother.

During my stay there, I spent a minimal amount of time attending language classes while opting for a maximal amount of time salsa dancing on the tables and traveling all over the country. To my father’s credit, it did manage to be an incredible life experience, and by some miraculous intervention of divine grace, I also managed to become quite fluent in Spanish at that time. Sadly my Spanish-speaking skills are in the “la crapola maxima” category nowadays, but I can still run (speak?) circles around my white bread (yet ironically an actual Mexican) husband who doesn’t speak the language. As I am basically the whitest girl you will ever see, this confuses the crap out of most of the workers who come to our home and that never stops being funny to me. That reaction alone would automatically deem the trip a perpetual win in my book, but the truth is that Mexico holds a very special place in my heart for a million better reasons.

I love to travel and have visited Central America, Europe, and Asia over the years. Although I stayed briefly with families in Japan and Ireland when I was young, I didn’t have the same sense of feeling truly at home in the culture and the country as I did when I was in Mexico. Perhaps it was the length of time that I was in Mexico or maybe there was some kind of genetic mutation that occurred with my excessive cerveza consumption / extensive bom-bom shaking. Whatever the reason, I fell head over heels in love with Mexico and have never fully recovered from that infatuation.


I spent five months living in the home of a beautiful family in Cuernavaca (located in the lower central Mexico). They looked after me but also allowed me to come and go without restrictions. Every few days, I would hop on a bus with a friend or two and head somewhere new – Veracruz, Oaxaca, D.F., Tepoztlan, Puebla, Acapulco, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, and anywhere and everywhere with pyramids.

We could ride for a few hours in any direction and find ourselves in a place that seemed like a new country. Exquisite beaches this way. Thick jungles complete with monkeys and jaguars in another. Deserts over here. Mountains over there. The natural diversity that we experienced still remains unrivaled in my travels.

The only element that rivalled the beauty of the country was that of its people. Their kindness was beyond measure. Given that we were young, low on cash, and even lower on common sense, we didn’t think twice about grabbing a ride with a total stranger, crashing on the sofa of someone we met hours before, asking taxi drivers to trade seats so we could take the wheel (ok that was just me, but the drivers enjoyed the breaks as I drove and yammered total nonsense into their communication radios). I basically lived the ultimate Mexico travel blog that never made it to the internet since Al Gore had just recently invented it in those days.

One of my most amazing and special memories is the trip we took to see the monarch butterfly migration in Michoacan. Given the young / dumb combo pack we were sporting, we hadn’t booked an actual trip to visit the place thousands of people would travel to see. As a bonus, we didn’t realize that it wasn’t exactly (a.k.a. no way at all) walking distance up the mountain once we got close-ish. Ultimately yet another kind stranger saved us. We hitched a ride Jack Kerouac style and bobbled along the dustiest path in the world via the tailgate of that pickup truck. I was covered in a foot of dust one we made it to the site, but I couldn’t have cared less. The butterflies blanketed the area. It was truly breath-taking. I often imagine taking my own butterfly fanatics there someday and even browsed the internet a few days ago to see if just maaaaaybe it might be possible. I felt such sadness when the first notice that appeared on the browser site list was the US government advisory warning citizens to steer clear of the area. In truth, it was far beyond sadness. I felt deeply cheated and my heart ached at the thought of never being able to share that kind of magical natural wonder with my daughters.

It was such a sad reminder of how greatly the country has changed in the years since I left. The safety issues aren’t at all limited to that area. I hear that there are still many places that are safe to visit, but I can’t confidently discern where those safe places are. My worry grows even deeper when my Mexican friends who are visiting the US express their fears about the extreme deterioration in their own towns. Some of them live in places that are shadowed by crime or run by drug lords. They are forced to send money to their families to maintain “protection” or they have to watch what they say and whom they cross. This Godfather reality seems surreal to me, but I’m not being fascetious. This is happening in many areas, and it is devastating to the country. I want my children to know the spectacular part of their heritage, but I can’t take them there. Their safety is never going to be optional in our minds.

So when I hear about Mexican citizens trying desperately to come to our country because they want a better life that they can’t find there, my heart goes out to them. In an ideal world, every single person would enter legally. End of story. However the information currently detailed on the US government immigration boards suggests that you should expect to wait 5-10 years or more to receive possible approval. In most cases, a visa must be obtained before applying for a green card, and in 2017, about 1,250,000 applications were on the visa waitlist. Only 85,000 of those applications were approved, and many of those went to highly skilled workers or people with immediate family in the US. If you do the math, that’s about a 6% chance of getting approved and is weighted toward those with US famliy or a Ph.D. level degree or skillset.

As a parent, I can tell you without question that I would go to the end of the earth to protect my children. Most decent parents would. They are woven into our souls the moment they enter our lives. We are here for them from that point on. So knowing that, I get why someone would risk it all for the chance of hope for the sake of their loved ones.

I’m not saying that it makes it right. I’m just saying that I get it.

I don’t pretend for one moment to have the perfect answer nor will I tell you that there is a right side or wrong side to this crisis. In truth, I don’t have any answers to this problem at all. In my eyes, there is no black and white. All I can see is gray after gray after gray, and I struggle immensely with all sides of the issue.

Reading about the separation of the immigrant families makes me feel such sadness. It reminds me once more how blessed I am. I am blessed because I can’t fathom what a life like that must be like. I am blessed because my biggest problem is my town is a ridiculous monthly water bill, not a crime boss demanding favors or payments. I am blessed because my husband and children are sleeping safely in this home a few mere feet away from me. Yes. I am blessed in more ways than I can count.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the stories, I send prayers to all families. I pray that we will always be blessed with the company of others who love us, that we will forever be given shelter and protection, and that we will be guided with our families to our true homes wherever they may be.

I pray for you. I pray for them. I pray for us.

Blessings to all of you. Jo

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