What I Learned from Traveling to a Foreign Country with My Family
By Elizabeth Barrera
Earlier this year I went on a family trip to Zinapécuaro, Michoacán, Mexico, my parents’ hometown. It wasn’t my first time visiting their hometown. As a matter of fact, it was at least my eighth time going. However, there was something different about this trip in comparison to all the others. It had been five years since I had last visited. I didn’t know it yet, but this trip was about to change many of my perspectives.
My first realization happened during our drive from the airport to Zinapécuaro, Michoacán. And it was the immense poverty that plagued Mexico. You’re probably asking yourself: “Why are you barely noticing this now if you’d been going for years?” Great question. I had seen the poverty every time I visited when I was growing up, but it never really sunk in. I want to blame it on my lack of maturity or just simply taking everything I have for granted. However, as we continued on our trip to visit nearby towns and cities, the poverty never seemed to diminish. And I’m talking about homes falling apart, children coming up to you for money, and people selling the most humble of things just to get by. This reminded me of the road trips we’d take to Mexico as children. During the drive, you’d see families on the side of the road asking for compassionate drivers to stop and buy snake skin or help them in any way possible. The memories came rushing back to me, reminding me that poverty is real.
The second thing I realized was the importance of family time. Though there were instances where I just wanted to smack my brothers across the face (for real) and walk away from my dad after a heated argument, there was nothing I needed more at the moment than to have them by my side. The argument with my dad was pretty bad and, embarrassingly, in public. Tears were pouring down my face as he walked away and I couldn’t help but feel like I was at fault. Once we all made it home, there was one beautiful thing that came out of all this. It didn’t matter to them how ugly our fight was or how wrong we all were at the moment. The important and most memorable part came when we apologized to each other, hugged, and appreciated every moment we spent together afterwards. Family is everything, and I’d lie to you if I said I never shed one tear, because I actually bawled my eyes out three times. But they were still compassionate and loving. Not days or weeks later, but in that very moment. And that’s when I realized that nobody would ever love me or understand me in the same exact way they do, and they deserve that same type of love from me.
This brings me to my third point: time. Time is our biggest enemy. Time isn’t compassionate nor will it wait. Time will continue on its path with no remorse. During the five years that I was gone, my dad’s father and nephew both passed away on separate years. So during this trip, as I visited each family member, I noticed a huge smile on their face, and a few tears in their eyes. I ensured that my embraces were a little longer and for the shorter ones, I squeezed a little tighter. One of the people I visited was my 98-year-old great aunt, Pachita. She had the most energy I have ever seen on an elderly person. She filled my afternoon with anecdotes, jokes, songs, and advice. And I’m talking all types of advice here. Long story short, she told me to live my best life, marry the man who loves me more than I love him, and she even taught me how to kick a girl’s ass (not even lying). During our walk back home, my mom and I locked arms and teared up a little because we didn’t know if that was going to be the last time we saw her.
The final thing this trip did for me was an extreme eye-opener. Being away from Mexico for five years allowed me to detach from my culture in one way or another. This trip made me realize how beautiful Mexico and its people are, and how lucky I am to be Mexican. Especially during times like these, when we see people coming together as a community after the devastating earthquake. Mexico is filled with humble, honest, and hard-working people. It’s not all ugly, nor is it perfect. But its imperfections are what makes it so beautiful. I am a proud Mexicana, and I’m blessed to have seen my family, my people, my country, and my culture.
If you ever have the opportunity of traveling and appreciating your culture (or another), please do it. You will be humbled and appreciative of all you have. And remember, no matter your culture, country of origin, ethnicity, or race, always be proud of your roots and where you come from. And remember, nobody will be there for you like your family. So appreciate them while you can and love them unconditionally, just like they love you. Value what you have, both tangible and abstract. Family, good health, a roof over your head, and food on your table is God’s biggest blessing. Everything thereafter is on us.