As the granddaughter of a former Chief of the US-Mexico Border, it is no small irony nor coincidence that I, along with my husband and two young children, would choose to immigrate to Mexico four years ago. Departing from San Diego with nothing but a car and trailer full of stuff that we deemed to be the remaining essentials after gifting, donating and selling, we headed south.
Shortly after our arrival to the coast of Nayarit, we became permanent residents (having begun the process stateside) and are now considering applying for dual-citizenship.
From a very early age, perhaps even encoded in my genetics, I have had a deep love and respect for Mexico and her people–her magic, her allure, her fervent sense of community amongst family and friends.
Of the many influences I had growing up a half an hour away from the San Diego-Tijuana border, my relationship with my Grandfather was by far one of the most significant factors in this unquestionable connection I have with Mexico.
My “Big Joe”, as we referred to him, grand in vision in his stetson cowboy hat and crisp-collared Oxford shirts, demonstrated via his speech and in his way of conducting himself in cross-border relations such a deep respect and admiration for our south of the border brothers and sisters, that I too could not help but fall in love with a land so magnificently rich in corazón y alma (heart and soul).
We would frequently drive down to Rosarito Beach on weekends to enjoy a family meal at El Nido and I would marvel with the pride that only a granddaughter can feel at my Grandfather’s ability to conduct himself so eloquently in both languages and cultures. Sitting in front of the open fire wood stove where our quail and lobster tails would cook, he could turn the ordinary into magic.
His affinity for conversation, his staid charisma, his thoughtful ways and his sharp sense of humor made for a dynamic mixture of traits that simply attracted people to him. It felt good to be in his company and I just happened to be lucky enough to be his granddaughter.
I used to sit mesmerized on his living room couch, listening to stories of herding cattle and training horses down at our family’s dairy ranch in Chula Vista. He would speak of his many adventures, one of them of having left home at the age of 14 to become a cowboy on the last rancho that spanned the US-American border.
I imagined him to be some sort of a bicultural John Wayne.
Family historians have shared with me that they used to call him the “Paul Revere of Chula Vista” on account of his warning the Otay Valley on horseback of impending rain that ended up bursting the Sweetwater Dam.
He died when I was a freshman at university, one month after the passing of my cherished Grandmary, and although they had lived years and homes apart, their bond and love was undeniable and one that literally lasted a lifetime.
He was the consummate gentleman and could cure the common cold with a shot of tequila and a slice of lime.
While I miss him dearly, I will always carry the strength and memory of his legacy, his humility and his wisdom within me.
My proximity to the San Diego-Tijuana Border also granted me access to a bilingual/bicultural upbringing that allowed me to move easily between both worlds. Speaking in both Spanish and English at school, work and play was my norm and to this day I happily intermingle between both my anglo and Mexican friends.
If former lives exist, I am sure I was a salsa-dancing Latina in mine! I spent many a weekend in my late teens and early 20’s crossing the border with friends to explore and adventure our way around Tijuana proper and points of interest further south—Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada, La Bufadora…good times for sure.
My Grandmothers Mary & Elizabeth (Grandmary & Baba) had their own fair share of fun shenanigans south of the border and their stories were never short of being hilariously entertaining! This picture below is of the two of them (in the middle) in Tijuana, in 1982 when I was 14.
Although my Grandfather passed before I began my teaching career, I know that he would have been so proud that his Granddaughter had chosen to go into a line of work that would not only share the beauty of the Spanish language with her students but also the love of a culture so near and dear to his (and my) heart.
While working on my Masters in Cross-Cultural Education & Curriculum Development, I shared the following reflection in a class exercise—its application and truth is just as valid today (if not more so) as when it was when I wrote it in 1995.
A Mexico Influx~It’s More Than Just a Trump Thing
It comes to me as no great surprise that we find ourselves in a time when more and more people are seriously considering moving to Mexico, looking not just for an escape, but for a reinvented, reinspired life—where adventure is affordable and time and freedom are your most precious commodities.
Here, there is a palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and to take it all in, to be in the moment and not rush from point A to point B on autopilot for the sake of expediency and checking off a to-do list. The stimulus and sensory-rich nature of the Mexican culture—alive with a detectable vibra (energy)—beckons you to be awake to and appreciative of the details around you.
Life in Mexico WAKES you up from whatever slumber you might have previously found yourself in, RESETS your outlook and REMINDS you that true, mindful, engaged living results from paying attention and participating.
Mexico has taught me, and reminds me daily, to relish and thrive in the here and now, to celebrate the present moment and the textures and layers within that moment, and to always, always be grateful.
Mi Querido México, thank you for taking us in, for welcoming us and for graciously adopting us O’Gradys with open arms and hearts. These past four years have been one heck of an adventure and we are better people for it.
Dear Mexico, WE LOVE YOU!
..and THANK YOU Grandpa!!!!
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