Home is Not Always Where You’ve Lived the Longest
Although I say that I grew up in Los Angeles, California, I secretly identify with growing up in Aguascalientes – I spent all of my childhood summers there. So much of my family history comes from Aguascalientes.
My grandmother on my mother’s side grew up on a hacienda in Durango, Mexico in the early 1920s. After my great grandparents lost their home and surrounding land during the Cristero War in the 1920s, they re-established roots in Aguascalientes. My grandfather grew up not too far from Aguascalientes, and it was there that he met my grandmother.
My mother was born in San Luis Potosí, but my grandparents decided to try the American life in Chicago. When my mother was thirteen years old, they decided to move back to Mexico – to Aguascalientes, where my grandmother’s parents had re-established their roots.
My father was born and raised in the city of Aguascalientes in Mexico his entire childhood and early adult life, so it was there that he met my mother, when they were in their early twenties in medical school. By then, Aguascalientes was very much homeland for both of my parents. My mother lived across the street from Plaza Patria, the historical center of the city, and my father lived in San Marcos, the oldest neighborhood in Aguascalientes. If you ask my parents, they too identify with growing up in Aguascalientes.
While I mostly have digital scans of old family photos, I do have a few originals of my parents. One of them is an early 1970s black and white snapshot of my parents standing on a Spanish-tiled stairway as they are gazing at each other, my father with striking sideburns down to his jaws and my mother with iron-pressed long hair down her back. They are both wearing bellbottoms. I never looked that cool when I was their age.
They got married in 1975, and I was conceived in Aguascalientes, but due to family strife and economic struggles, they decided to move to the Los Angeles area while my mother was pregnant. I was born in Santa Marta hospital, no longer in existence, in the heart of East Los Angeles. I can’t remember which language I learned first – English or Spanish – I was born speaking both.
We moved back to Aguascalientes shortly after my brother was born – I was about to turn four years old. Mostly, I hated it. We briefly lived in a three-room shotgun house behind my grandparents’ house, and when it was clear that there wasn’t enough room for our family of four, my parents sent my brother and I to live with my grandparents.
Looking back, I don’t blame them. Maybe they wanted their privacy, or maybe they were tired of sleeping on the floor. I don’t remember them replacing my old twin bed with a larger bed, so I guess they both slept on the twin. But I’d cry at the top of my lungs until one of my parents showed up and carried me back to the twin bed in their little house in the back, and I guess they’d go back to sleeping on the floor.
My brother, still a baby, didn’t seem to care either way. All he cared about was scrambled eggs in the morning, which my grandmother would cheerfully make us for breakfast after my parents had gone to work.
Going to school was a mortifying experience, at least at first. I went to two different schools over the course of two years, and I hated both at the beginning. When my parents would drop me off the first day, I’d go into a crying and yelling fit until I exhausted myself. Both teachers and fellow classmates tried to calm me down. In the end, I was fine, and I got through both school years with minimal trauma, except for the time my mother was late to pick me up from Colegio Cristobal Colón (the second school I went to), and I had to wait in the cold, dark chapel with the school nuns for what seemed like hours.
By then, my father had already returned to Los Angeles, because he couldn’t find employment in Aguascalientes. My parents had really wanted to relocate permanently to Mexico, but they couldn’t make it work. I remember my mother saying once that she didn’t want to raise her children in American society. In 1982, Mexico massively devalued the peso, and my parents lost nearly all their savings. So my mother packed up the rest of our belongings, along with my brother and me, and we moved back to Los Angeles in the summer of 1983.
But my parents were determined to infuse my brother and I with as much of our homeland culture as possible, so every summer, from the time school let out until right before school started up again in September, we flew to Aguascalientes to live with my grandparents.
As I was a bit older – and I knew the separation from either of my parents was only temporary – I really looked forward to summers in Mexico, even if it meant being away from them for an entire two months. My father would never join us, but my mother would take two weeks vacation to spend with us.
One summer I took piano lessons with a pianist named Cesar, and I learned to read music by learning solfege. Once a week, I’d sit at the maple wood Wurlitzer, the same piano my mother had taken lessons on when she was a young girl in Aguascalientes.
Another summer I took folklorico dance lessons at the Instituto Cultural, and I vividly remember stomping with mary jane shoes, clad with steel nails on the tips and heels, on the old wooden floor, staring up at the vaulted brick ceilings as the sounds of the old Diesel trucks and honking taxi horns drifted in through the floor-to-ceiling wooden framed windows.
Mostly, I hung out with Blanca in the florist studio behind my grandparents’ house. Blanca was a sort of housekeeper, nanny, and flower shop employee rolled into one – to me, she was my best friend. I talked to her about everything, and she’d patiently listen and have conversations with me while we listened to music on Radio Uva. She’d let me have the flower scraps to make my own arrangements as she worked on orders for some of the most important people in Aguascalientes society. Florería Mayali, which my grandmother owned and ran, thrived for nearly two decades.
I was thirteen years old the last summer I spent in Mexico, the summer after ninth grade. We didn’t spend as much time there that year, since my sister had been born the previous fall, and I had things I wanted to do back home in Los Angeles as I prepared for the tenth grade. For the first time, we went somewhere outside of Aguascalientes, spending a week in Mazatlan, where I got typhoid fever and was so sick, I was barely able to get out of bed for a whole week. Strangely, I enjoyed walking across Plaza Patria, hanging onto my mother’s arm, weakened from the fever, to go see the doctor. I would never have experienced that in the United States.
I didn’t return to Aguascalientes until nearly ten years later in 2000, when I was 23 years old. I’d gone to visit with an old boyfriend, whom I ended up marrying a year later, and divorcing in 2004. Since then, I’ve only been back once, with another old boyfriend. Looking back, I’m not sure why I took them. Perhaps I wanted to share with them a city that was such an important part of my childhood – but in the end, all they seemed to get out of it were photographic opportunities for their picture albums. They never really understood that Aguascalientes is a big part of who I am.
I’ve often dreamed of returning to Aguascalientes. My parents still own a little house just outside the historic downtown. My grandparents’ house, now inhabited by my uncle, is still across the street from Plaza Patria, but the shotgun house where my parents used to sleep on the floor is now a parking garage. My grandparents also have a second home on the outskirts of town, now the suburbs, in an area called Vergeles. We’d go there on the weekends to enjoy the countryside, but my grandfather would take trips there during the week to tend his peach orchard.
I tried to move back to Aguascalientes when I was eleven years old. Mostly, it was because I was scared to death of earthquakes in California after a traumatic experience with a medium-sized one on October 1, 1987. (Nothing bad happened, except for my belief that my parents no longer had control over my safety in this world.) Because it didn’t make sense to put the responsibility on my grandparents, I moved instead to San Luis Potosi to live with my aunt, who was already putting my cousin through school and was in a better place to look after a child.
Although I moved back home after six months because I missed my parents, I had one of the best times of my life when I was going to school in Mexico. I listened to Flans and Timbiriche, which made so much more sense to me than Madonna and New Kids on the Block, and I got invited to birthday parties on a regular basis, something that rarely happened during my loner childhood in Los Angeles. I didn’t have to worry about dressing fashionably. My friends in Mexico were more interested in how crafty and clever we could be, both in the classroom and during playtime.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about making another return to Mexico – perhaps spending a year there. The first time I lived there, it was because my parents wanted to escape the dangers of American culture. The second time I lived there, I was escaping the dangers of earthquakes. Now I’m escaping the dangers of my own existence – the danger of stagnating in a town where I have lived for eighteen years.
But also, I’m drawn there – by the memories, by my roots, by a city that was once my home more than any other place on this earth. There is no rule that I have to live in Austin forever. I didn’t even intend to stay here this long. I moved here by accident, and I stayed because it was convenient. Some writers are able to nest forever and write entirely from their imaginations. I am not that kind of writer. I need to live out the experiences.
Perhaps I can rent out the house in Austin and find an English teaching job in Aguascalientes. Or I can pick up some freelance writing gigs that I can do remotely. I already have free places to live. I have a network of relatives and even a few childhood friends. Aguascalientes is a thriving arts town, with literature, music, and film. It actually seems like a very practical reality.
Perhaps, a year from now, I will be publishing a blog post from Casa Terán on Rivero y Gutiérrez. And if I’m not, I hope you will remind me that by then, I’ll have been in Austin for nineteen years, so what’s stopping me?