They say that memories fade with time. Sometimes I wonder if that’s really true. Sure some of the mundane moments of my childhood have disappeared into the ether of my mind, but there is a multitude of memories that have remained with me as the years have passed. Points of time that I was aware, even as a small boy, that they were going to have an impact that reverberated through the years. They are like the notches made in the wood of a walking stick, as a reminder that those moments walk with you on your path.
Growing up in a Mexican American family that is quite large on both sides of my lineage, I was always struck by how much love and compassion was shown for one another and anyone we encountered. Even though there were 26 first cousins on my mother’s side, we all treated each other as siblings. Primos pero hermanos - Cousins but brothers/sisters.
Traditions run deep in the cultura that I was raised. Even though we have been here for over seven generations, the passionate blood of the Mexica (meh-shee-kah) still flows through our veins. We celebrate, grieve and persevere together as a familia. When a child is baptised, we are gathered in joy and orgullo. When a loved one dies, we gather in mourning for our loss yet the celebration of the life that was lived. Grieving is something done with force, and while it can be depressing to allow clouds to constantly rain over your life, it also builds a strength within you that makes it easier to keep trudging down the roads.
I come from roots that are built on service of others. My great, great grandfather was the blacksmith of the small town I grew up in and was known for his generosity. That kindness and basic decency flowed through the ages and is something that I work everyday to keep alive. When I see the interactions of people around me I often shake my head and dream of a different world where cosas are just cosas, but amistad is the foundation for being. It is something that takes alot of work and patience, but it can be done if we are willing to challenge ourselves enough to break the bondage of a society that screams “ME! ME! ME!”
The greatest of all virtues, in my humble opinion, is humility. (how’s that for a pun) Service and compassion towards others are mere acts and they can be easily perverted by pride. It is an easy trap to fall into, one that I know all too well. The irony is that even though the action is based on convergence rather than divergence, the soul - the alma - is still rooted in the race-to-the-top worldview. That is a path that only leads to a superficial change of reality.
I write these things not to boast or be condescending, but rather to show whomever may stumble upon these words that there is another way to live and interact with our fellow human beams. The world is governed by people who care nothing for the common good. They are only concerned with profits and wins. Gestures of assistance or compassion are met with a glance that signals a demand for payment someday for what has been offered. What good does that do? It only succeeds in widening the divide between understanding of different cultures and political systems. No growth occurrs, and while there are sometimes temporary successes, they are on a superficial level that condemns us to fight the same battles in generations to come.
The memory I would like to share comes from a September weekend that has been replicated most of the years of my life. The small town I come from holds an annual Fiestas Patrias in celebration of Dies y Seis de Septiembre, the Mexican Day of Independence. It is an annual fiesta of our bi-cultural identity and is always a highlight of the year for me.
As my 11 year old ears were soothed with the mariachis playing on the stage, singing the songs of the rancho, I found myself working in the burrito booth that my nana always coordinated. I spent that weekend listening to the elders talk about the ways they would prepare the chili verde y chili colorado con carne, y los frijoles, of course. Closing my eyes now, I can still smell the fresh scent of the tortillas being warmed up on the griddles before moving down the assembly line to the ollas filled with the chile.
Isidora was her name, she died many years ago, but the spirit that woman exhibited lives on in my memory. She was under five feet tall with a slightly hunched back. I recall being amazed at her ability to pick up the tortillas from the griddle without wincing in pain from the heat. She told me: “Mijito, mira mis calluses” - and she turned over her veined, wrinkled hands to show me what years of toiling for her family had done to her fingertips. Her eyes showed no pain, but rather a glint of joy that told me that everything she had done in her life was done with a sense of love. Though life had put many burdens on her, she transformed any hardship into a force of compassion.
I hadn’t thought of Isidora in a very long time until I started to ponder what it truly means to walk the walk of Peace. She was but one of many elders in my life who have inspired me to keep my focus outward on others in humility. I can’t help but imagine meeting her again someday and sharing our stories over one of those world famous burritos.