I heard these words and felt my heart drop: “Are you guys finished packing?”
For one week, my family and I would be visiting my grandfather; a man who I had never met in my life, yet a man who would eventually have a profound effect on it.
Being only fourteen, one can imagine the terror that seized me when my mother told my sisters and me we would be flying to a different country to meet our Abuelito.
We landed at the airport in Chihuahua, Mexico where my deep-wrinkled, dark-skinned grandfather greeted us. This was my Abuelito Tito. My mother lightly pushed me forward, urging me to give him a hug. At the time, I only reached up to his belly-button, so I slowly veered my head upwards to look at his face.
He loaded our luggage into his run-down sedan as I climbed into the back seat. With the bright sun striking my face, I held up my hand to shield myself, but the sunlight seemed to seep through my fingers like sand running between my toes.
During the car ride, I noticed the dilapidated houses situated on the corners, the children working outside in their tattered, hand-me-downs, and my grandfather’s distressing expression as his smile promptly turned into a frown.
We eventually arrived at his house, a modest shack with shingles stripped from the roof and water bleeding through the walls. Inside, it smelled of traditional, Mexican-style cooking and the aroma of enchiladas and mole danced around my nose. Even though the house was no five-star resort, I could at least have comfort in knowing we would eat well.
As I became more comfortable around my Abuelito, he revealed his troubling yet inspirational childhood to me; and with each new story he told, the puzzle about who my grandfather was began to fill.
As a child, my grandpa did not live such a different life than those that my family and I had witnessed on the streets in Mexico. At the age of five, he was forced to work out on the fields to support his father’s addiction to alcohol. Even though he wanted to flee his abusive father, he found himself held back by the need to protect his mother. Finally, at the age of sixteen, he and his mother packed up their belongings and left their old life behind. He would later find work at a cannery and eventually earn a position in charge of production.
He made humble earnings from this job, nothing too much, but certainly enough to move away from his ramshackle abode. Towards the end of the trip, I asked him why he had never left the house he has lived in ever since the age of sixteen. His answer was simple and revolved around one word: roots.
Even though he has overcome much in his life, he would not allow his successes to make him forget his roots. As a way to remember where he came from and who he is, he stays in the modest house that sheltered him through his obstacles and triumphs.
When I returned from Mexico, my grandfather’s words still rang in my head and they had me looking at my life in a new perspective. Even though my school and friends are in the small community of Los Gatos, my roots and family still lie in the little town of Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, Mexico. It is for this reason that I keep returning each and every year to Mexico so that I will never forget where my family came from.
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