Cafecita con Elma

Hello everyone  🙂 thanks for checking in! The last time we talked, I had just moved from the barrio La Santisima to Santa Sicilia; I still visit my first host family, neighbors and friends in the first neighborhood, but have changed mailing addresses.

In a lot of ways, moving back to Santa Sicilia felt a lot like moving home. I stayed with Elma and her family during my very first week in Tepoztlán at language school–could it really have been four months ago? Conversation was always light and full of laughter (though, admittedly, I could barely understand anything and relied on Leah to help me through). After four months, I could finally understand our conversations. And from the moment I arrived back to Santa Sicilia, Elma and I started talking — and could hardly stop.

Mexico has a beautiful conception of time. In the US, and especially in college, the clock governs your conversations. When your five minutes were up and you had to dash to class, you cut things short and ran in opposite directions. In Mexico, the priority always lies in the conversation; if you’re chatting, but finishing your conversation means being a bit late — well, then work can wait.

So, in short, I’ve been late to work nearly every day since I moved to Santa Sicilia. Elma and I will sit over the breakfast table looking over the most beautiful view in Tepoztlán and chat, and chat, and chat.

We talk about everything. Our families, our neighbors, our beliefs, our memories. I love to hear her stories about her time in the U.S. Over eight years, Elma would make a seasonal migration up north to work, send money back to her family, and come home. Her stories are hilarious and rambling. She often describes her years working as a hotel cleaning staff in Arizona and Massachusetts; there were more than 20 hotel rooms to complete before noon, and she had only 10 minutes to finish each one! She reenacted everything for huge comic effect, running back in forth in the kitchen as I laughed out loud. “What! How did you do it so fast?” I asked. “I still don’t know; all I know is that I was tired afterwards!” Elma insisted the work was hard but the pay was good from hotel tips. My conscious squirmed uncomfortably thinking of hotel rooms I had left in a hurry — how many tips had I accidentally forgotten … ?

She still fondly recalls the managers she worked for, and the day that they surprised her with a gigantic birthday cake. “They didn’t speak any Spanish — and I didn’t any English,” Elma shrugged, and I remembered the very first time I arrived to Santa Sicilia barely able to articulate basic phrases. “But there’s so much of communication that lies in a smile, in body language, in just facial expressions.” Our eyes met and we laughed.


“I always had a good experience in the U.S.,” she concluded after my eager questions. “People were always kind to me, which made it easier to be away from home. I got the opportunity to even see some new places.” That started a whole new conversation of our favorite places to visit on the East and West coast. Then she added, “That’s why we didn’t think twice to host you, Annie. I know how hard it is to be away from home.”

I learned so much talking with Elma; especially hearing her first hand accounts on immigration to the United States from Mexico. The current political debate on public policies regarding immigrating is as convoluted as it is vitriolic; it rarely acknowledges that there are several different types of immigration. From a legislative standpoint, there are three distinctly different policies.

There are those who are seeking permanent U.S. citizenship; who want to rejoin their families or start their families as immigrants have here for hundreds of years.

Others are seeking safety from extremely violent and politically dangerous situations in other countries; these people are seeking asylum and are refugees. While nations are free to determine how many new citizens it permits into the country, countries have an obligation to the UN to accept refugees seeking asylum and safety.

The third category are for migrant workers; people like my host mom who feel that their family and home lie elsewhere. Meanwhile, our economy relies on migratory help every season–for the basic fact that the U.S. is creating too many jobs for naturalized citizens to fill. Politicians from both parties realized that throughout the 70’s and 80’s and supported public policies that allowed people from other countries to work and return home. It supports the economy both ways; and when we refuse to acknowledge that, the rights we provide for national workers–basic tenements like minimum wage and safe working conditions–don’t protect migrant workers.

It would be one thing if the national debate were only surrounding policy; democracy thrives on debate. We can’t even begin to debate policy given the extreme backlash of xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. Hate crimes against Latinos have risen dramatically since 2016 alone, and no doubt coinciding with the tone set by our President.

The second realization was far deeper, and took far longer to understand.

I could feel it soon after my move to Santa Sicilia; my chronic medical condition started to flare. As daily walks were getting harder to finish, as my heart kept pounding harder by the second, and I started to faint at work… I knew I was having a medical flare of old symptoms. Elma worried about me constantly. With an efficiency I’ve come to associate with mothers in Mexico, she brought me food and herbal teas and to doctors appointments; she wondered aloud if I was drinking enough water or if my blood pressure was too low. After a few days of increasing chest pain, we both knew that had to happen. I had to go back to the U.S. I hope, temporarily; as I see a few cardiologists and settle things out.

A week ago to this day, I landed in Chicago — after briefly saying goodbye to my cohort, my coordinator, and my coworkers. It feels weird. It feels weird not being with them. It feels weird to be surrounded by people speaking English. It feels weird that, for the first time in five months, I’m not the only U.S. citizen in a crowd. It feels weird that while I’m simultaneously excited to see my family, I feel as if I’ve left something behind …

I remember the moment vividly when I was scanning the diverse crowd in the O’Hare airport while munching on a candy I’ve been craving, and wondering why in a familiar place everything suddenly felt so unfamiliar. The place is the same but I feel so different. I feel like the stories I’ve heard have become knitted into my own story, with strings still left unfinished in countries that are now far away.  I’m trying to get my mind off the fact that I won’t be in Tepoztlán to share stories over coffee with Elma tomorrow morning. I glance at a passing custodian, a young Mexican woman, who looks a lot like faded pictures of my host mom — our eyes unexpectedly meet.

And I suddenly burst into tears.

“YAGMS: You will have the privilege to hear stories around the world and that will create a deeper sense of compassion and understanding for how the world works. I encourage you to look at the systems which create problems for the people you will come to love.”~ Pastor Heidi

One thought on “Cafecita con Elma

  1. Annie,
    My heart goes out to you! (My attempt at Spanish: Mi corazon para tu corazon). Speaking from a spiritual (not a medical) perspective – is it any wonder that your heart aches? It is full of love but also the aches of a whole people. Be gentle with yourself. Let me know if you are going to be in Mpls.before you go back to Mexico. I would love to have coffee with you. Peace – Paz – Shalom, Pam


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