Our favorite waiter, Agusto, at our favorite rooftop restaurant in Pátzcuaro was the latest person to say, “I’ll come with you,” when we let him know we would soon be heading back to the US. So did the nice man outside of church who makes the tacos, and twelve-year-old Tadeo who we had a long conversation with in the plaza. Tadeo wants to go to Disney World, but also promised to visit Vicky Ann and me. The comment is made with a sense of longing, and an immediate acknowledgment that it is nearly impossible for the average Mexican to obtain a visa to enter the US. As Tadeo said, “Maybe I’ll make it in twenty years.”
Still, I was surprised to learn this week in a New York Times article on unauthorized immigration that only about three percent of people who try to move to the US are able to do so legally, due to the many barriers put in place over the years. On her flight here, Vicky Ann met a pastor from Indiana who swam across the Rio Grande as a teenager. Many of the families we met have similar stories.
Diving for Pesos
We ran into José Roberto, a middle school kid I met at the National Park in Uruapan four months ago, who was still working there when Vicky Ann and I visited last week. He never asked about coming to the US with us – perhaps he has no desire or has realized it’s an impossible dream. José Roberto works at the park every day after school and during weekends and vacations, offering informal tours and jumping off a platform into the rushing river so spectators can give him a few pesos.
He immediately recognized me as Vicky Ann and I strolled up the riverside path beside misty waterfalls. Walking through the park together, José Roberto told us more about his life. His father passed away two years ago, and his mother and younger sister, 7, work at a tortilla stand. He was proud to show us every corner of the park, which is a piece of paradise in a bustling city about an hour from Pátzcuaro.
It has been a week of a birth and a death back at home, and I’m returning for a family wedding this weekend. As I reflect on these milestones of life, I witness similar rituals here in Mexico. Every day for the past week, Vicky Ann and I have walked by a wake for an elderly woman who passed away in the neighborhood leading into town. Wakes here take place over nine nights and spill out onto the sidewalk, into the street, and sometimes close entire blocks.
Yesterday, we caught the end of a wedding and the beginning of a “quinceañera” celebration in a small town nearby. We’re pretty sure we would have been invited had we been better dressed, but they were happy to let us take pictures.
And at church each week, we see at least one baptism. After remarking how perfectly behaved all of the babies are, this week’s baby made up for it by screeching loud and long enough that the grandmother finally had to take her outside. It is comforting to witness these loving rituals which are both foreign and familiar, especially at a time of so many similar changes happening at home.
All in the Family
Family bonds are strong in Mexico. During our strolls through the plaza or even when dining out, Vicky Ann and I notice that we are mostly surrounded by families. Kids run freely between tables in restaurants, families of several generations take up entire park benches, and nobody is seen scolding their kids or arguing in public. It’s not unusual to see teenage boys sitting with arms around their mother or grandmother.
Everyone assumes Vicky Ann and I are married (and expects me to pay every bill), and we are warmly greeted everywhere we go. Even our local seemingly unhoused man greets us in English with “Good morning” and a handshake, no matter what time of day it is.
It’s clear to me that those who ask to “come with us” don’t want to leave their families. They seek opportunities, a better job, a chance to earn enough to be able to support those at home, perhaps enough to keep their children from having to dive for pesos.
Pátzcuaro is full of welcoming people, close-knit families, and hard workers of all ages. The name of the town comes from a Purépecha word meaning “the gates of heaven.” I am sure that any who have left this place long to return to their beautiful home someday.
Here are some images of the parade to celebrate the 489th anniversary of the founding of Pátzcuaro, and more below of our final week in Pátzcuaro, Michoacan.
A few more from our last week here: flora, fauna (walking sticks), dining, Janitzio Island, and more (click to see them all).