Freedom, ‘I’dom, ‘Me’dom
Where’s your ‘We’dom?
This past weekend I went on a short trip to Mexicali with a small group from my school. It was the perfect weekend getaway/break from the hectic schoolwork and daily grind. We explored the city, ate the most incredible food, went to a Mexican baseball game, and helped do some painting at a local Nazarene church. Mexicali is a colorful city. I definitely want to go back sometime.
Of all the times I’ve been to Mexico (twice) I realize that I feel very human there. It there that I am faced with the inexplicable authenticity of life, and sometimes the brokenness of life, in the heat of the desert.
There is an authentic beauty to the first-glance wear of the neighborhoods in Mexicali. That is precisely what gives it a genuine feel that I rarely experience in the States. Mexicali and TJ have a sincerity, a people-ness, a slower-paced lull that is refreshing and, honestly, confusing coming from a high-strung, fast-paced culture.
It was a very strange sight to see the border fence right up against the edge of the city and see American houses in Calexico on the other side. American families whose across-the-street neighbor is a border fence and a big international city. It’s hard to grapple with that. Different cultures and countries, but the individual people—not so different. The stereotypes and assumptions totally diminish when you come in contact with an individual who has a life and a family similar to your own.
On Friday afternoon, we stepped inside the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe). It has a vibrant orange exterior that is unmissable in the city. A beautiful scene that I hope to never forget was seeing a woman walking/crawling/scooting on her knees down the center of the aisles in between pews towards the altar. The cathedral was so bright and light-filled that the sharp shimmer from the chandeliers and stained glass that cut into my eyes as I sat in a pew and marveled. The smell of fresh lilies and lilac completely thickened the air. Part of me wanted to mimic the humble gesture of the woman scooting down the aisle, simply from sheer awe at the place. It was amazing.
The food, of course, was insanely delicious. I tried grilled cactus soft tacos with incredible melted cheese and the BEST homemade tortillas and tostadas with fresh guac and beans. Fascinatingly, there is a large Chinese population in Mexicali due to immigration from railroad work. Mexicali, therefore, has amazing Chinese food. We ate fried rice and deliciously prepared tofu and potstickers. Family-style dining is the norm in restaurants. No one really minds if you stick your fork in the big shared bowl. When it comes to food, it’s not awkward, which is honestly so great.
On Friday night we went to an Aguilas de Mexicali baseball game—which was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at any ball game. The game started a half-hour later than advertised, but it was okay. Time is definitely not strict in Mexico. The whole atmosphere was in-the-moment fun—the music, the cheers, the smells of incredible snacks—chips (papitas) with red hot sauce drizzled over them in the bag with fresh lime squirted on top, gorditas filled with cream cheese and Nutella, churros, horchata…the array of flavor overwhelming. The stadium was filled with dancing, laughing, und unashamed cheering. There, it’s not weird to start conversations with strangers. People enjoy talking to one another. Also, people weren’t on their phones as much and were instead engaged in the game, engaged in the people they came with and just met.
Eros Hoagland, a photojournalist who gave a presentation at my school and has done a lot of work at the border, lives in TJ and summed it up well:
“Americans are driven by a sense of fear and are constantly focused on the problem to be solved. In Mexico, it’s very “live for right now.” In the people, there is a lot of appreciation and gratitude. I don’t know if it’s this Protestant/Puritan efficiency vs. the Catholic chill-out, let’s take a nap for a few hours, but I breathe easier there.”
On Saturday morning, we helped paint a children’s nursery room for the local Nazarene church. The church was in a small house in the middle of a neighborhood run by a young couple. It was humbling to see a little church like that thriving in that particular area. It was awesome to be there are paint alongside the youth of the church and witness their passion and dedication to that place and to each other.
Mexicali is a beautiful place. I am reminded there of the realness of life, the day-to-dayness of it. To be confronted with the simplicity of life—to know the brokenness that exists at the center of all humanity and to remember that love and togetherness and family are vital in all circumstances, across all cultures. The manual labor of painting a wall definitely made me tired and reminded me how grateful I must be toward people who do that everyday of their lives. Remembering that all the people here, and everywhere I go, know something I don’t. Mexican culture teaches me to live in the moment, to take life a little slower, and to focus on the core of what it means to live. To be kind, to be helpful, and to not stress over the small things like I so often do.
Tomorrow is open, and right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today.