by: Elisabet Raquel
Una noche, soñé con mi bisabuelo and only a couple of months later, I found myself by his side in the ranchito where he was born and recently returned to. This pueblo is where my paternal family originates from, a place that I had never known before, located in La Concepción, Jalisco, México. One hundred-and-four-years old, my bisabuelo returned back home to live out the rest of his years after having spent about two decades in the United States with us. A couple of days after I dreamt of him, I was scrolling on my Facebook newsfeed when I saw that a cousin of mine from México (that I had never met in person or really interacted online with) had posted pictures of her family celebrating his one hundred and fourth birthday with him. I commented on her post, mandándoles saludos a todos and asked her about him. She let me know that he was doing well – he still walks, plays cards, has an occasional beer, and even dances. She then invited me to her wedding that was to take place in the rancho and I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Two goals in my life were to meet my whole family and to attend a wedding in México. I was able to complete both aspirations at once with this experience.
Two months later, I arrived at the airport in Guadalajara, Jalisco where I met with my tío abuelo and tía abuela who flew in from Los Ángeles. We were picked up at the airport by my other prima (the sister of the bride whom I had never met before either) since she was heading from the city to the rancho for the wedding too. At the airport when I heard my name called, I looked to see her face for the first time and her resemblance to another cousin I have back home was so striking that I almost mistook her for this other prima. In that moment I knew that we were definitely related. During the two-hour car ride from the city to the rancho, I got to know my prima a bit and asked my tía abuela and tío abuelo about their stories and how they came to the U.S.. We see each other every now and then at family parties back in L.A., but I only recently became more fluent in Spanish and able to really converse with them. They are so pleased that I continue to dedicate myself to learning the language that allows us to communicate, and I am too, for it has granted me access to worlds across geographies and generations. They shared their stories with me guided by my never ending but careful curiosity and I learned so much about the sacrifices they made in the search of a better life and future for themselves and their families. Taking the risk of a lifetime by walking the desert from México to the U.S. in the 1970s, working as a janitor among other odd jobs in downtown L.A., my tío abuelo funded the studies of his youngest brother who chose to stay in the country. The first teacher arrived to the rancho in 1968 – that was only 50 years ago. Today the youngest brother of my abuelo’s siblings is a professional who studied at a university in the city, as are his children, and he is able to offer a comfortable lifestyle for his family in the rancho that is their origin and was able to throw an extravagant wedding for his daughter.
When we finally arrived to the rancho, family welcomed me with open arms and I seemed to be no stranger to them at all – at the immediate sight of me they told me that I am the mini version of one of my tía abuelas who has never returned back to the rancho since she had left to the U.S.. She was the first person in our family to leave in order to work as a caretaker, and she is the reason why we all ended up in L.A. as her younger siblings followed her steps and met her there later – I am honored to embody her gracefulness and courage. Everyone was excited to meet me – the little sobrina nieta from Los Ángeles they knew to speak only English a couple of years ago who now studies, travels, and speaks multiple languages – and I was just as excited to meet them too. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world – I took a week off from school and work and sacrificed weeks of sleep by late nights, early mornings, and drinking toxic amounts of caffeine to stay on track with my coursework. It was all worth it – this truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew I had so little time, so I had to make the most of it. Who knows when we will all be able to be together again in the same place on this earth. Each day I made the time to sit down with different family members and talk about our shared histories and personal stories. I also took down everybody’s general information to make a family tree. I was able to do this with my bisabuelo too, though because he is nearly deaf, I asked him one main question – to tell me the story of his life. I let him talk without interruptions while I simply listened and took notes. His memory is sharp and he spoke for a long time, giving me insight to his life and our shared family history even six generations back. This was such special and important work for me to do and all my family members were enthusiastic to share their stories and help me with the information for the family tree.
Between wedding errands and getting to know to family, the week flew by and the day of the wedding came. The wedding was incredible – elegantly set-up, in the open air, on a sunny day, accompanied by Mariachi serenades. There were 800 guests invited and about 1,000 people (or more) came to enjoy birria & cubitos to celebrate. Unexpectedly, mi prima la novia, whom I had just met a couple of days before, made me a bridesmaid in her court of 14 women who live on both sides of aquí y allá. We were all glammed up with hair, make-up, and nails done – all of which only cost me a total of about $60. It was the first time I ever got prettied up like this and I felt like a true princesa del pueblo. There was live music all night, food & drinks, beautiful decorations, and cakes. Everyone was dressed in their most elegant clothing and many different people came up to ask me who I was, who my father is, and who his father is. When I would tell them, they would respond “I haven’t seen your father in thirty years!”, or “I grew up with your abuelito!”. Everyone was a tía or tío or primx, from one generation or another. I even made friends with one person with whom we later realized at the trips’ end that our bisabuelas were sisters, making us related 4 generations ago – so we too are basically primas. My bisabuelo had told me that we were going to dance together at the wedding, but we both ended up falling asleep at the beginning of the night’s end.
The day after the wedding, a couple of hours before having to catch the bus, I said goodbye to all my family members. My bisabuelo gave me some dulces and a bendición – I told him about the dream I had of him that brought me there in the first place. I cried in the garden, struck at the difference in which our families’ lives have unfolded though we share the same origin – this special place, the ranchito, la Concia, la Concepción Jalisco. My cousin, the bride, is now embarking on her own leaving of this origin place, moving to San Antonio, Tejas to live with her husband. She invited me to come visit her, and together with her siblings, we discussed the possibility of organizing a giant family reunion in the rancho for 2020. So many of us who live in the U.S. have never been to the rancho, and for the ones who grew up visiting every summer as kids, haven’t been back in over 30 years. We hope to unite our families across the two countries.
This coming home was truly una experiencia única and I am so glad my bisabuelo visited me in my dreams to call me home. We must follow these intuitive calls. Now is the time to listen closely to what our dreams, hearts, stomachs, and souls are telling us to do – to go home to our places of origin (if we have the privileges to do so because not everyone does) even if it is our first time. We musn’t be scared. Let us honor our families, our ancestors, and ourselves by knowing exactly who we are and where we come from. Also, there are people, earth, and culture that love us and have been waiting for us to reciprocate this love through action. People and places don’t last forever but what do are the seeds of love that we plant that can keep us connected to our homelands in life and in spirit.