Many of us spend our lives searching; we search for love, a reason for existence, and answers to deep questions about life and its meaning. On our journey we meet people along the way that assist in enriching our lives, and contribute significantly to the path we take going forward. In April of 2010 fate brought a stranger into my life randomly, and as time passed I learned that this stranger held the key to unlocking some of the hopes and dreams I hid for many years.
It is said that as humans we live our lives inwardly, hiding the depth of who we are from most individuals. We live life as an iceberg showing only 10 percent of who we really are, while the other 90 percent remains below the water line. A select few (close friends and some family) get to see a glimpse of what lies below. Last year I decided to allow the waterline to recede in my own life, revealing not only some of my deepest secrets, but also my vulnerabilities. In so doing, I welcomed a new wave of interest in my life, and made deeper friendships with those who embraced the realities that surfaced. The stranger I met in 2010 demonstrated to me the depth of true friendship. In a short period of time I realized that the world held more promise for me than I had previously expected. For the first time in my life I felt that I had someone to listen; I felt that I had a support system that would stand by me in the greatest storm and made me stronger than any force which came against me before or that awaited me in the future.
My new friendship showed me a world I never thought existed. On December 28th, 2010 I embarked on my fist trip to Morelia, Mexico. While a highly anticipated trip, it was filled with its fair share of apprehension as I was warned frequently about the escalating violence that plagued the country. As the plane landed, my fears began to play on my emotions as I questioned the rationality of my decision to spend the end of the year not with my family, but with a family that I hardly knew. It did not take long for my immigration papers to be processed and I was on my way to exploring a new country.
Mexico had a great task ahead of my visit. It had to demonstrate to me that it was more than the stereotypical views I held for several years. The stereotypes I held were fed daily by the news media concerning immense violence, and a nation of people whose only hope was to make it successfully across the borders into the United States of America. Who were Mexicans? After all, my only knowledge of Mexico and its people was the language that unites them. I was also aware that America had constantly been waging a war against massive cases of illegal immigration by members of its (the Mexican) citizenry.
As I exited customs I was greeted by my friend (former stranger), indeed by this time, a brother in my own heart. Luis and his mom gave me a warm welcome and signs of “Bienvinedo Mexico” were in sight. After the pleasant formalities my Mexican vacation finally began! The drive to my temporary home included stops in Guadalajara visiting many of the architecturally significant cathedrals and monuments which seemed to line the streets. Luckily for me my hosts were well versed in Mexican history, and my visit did coincide with the bicentennial celebration of the Mexican Revolution. It was a history lesson I could immerse myself in.
The first thing that struck me about Mexico was the very nature of its inhabitants. The people of Mexico were busy going about their daily lives, living the best way they knew how. I saw a proud people, a country rich with a heritage so many of us undermine due to our own ignorance and inability to understand a world more complex than the simplicity of a news reel. By many accounts, Mexico reminded me of my own home in Kingston, Jamaica. There was no doubt that income disparity existed among the population, and by such a degree that the fact that poverty limited the hopes and dreams of many, was a reality any visitor could see. Everywhere I turned you saw people doing what they could to make additional income for their loved ones. If it meant walking the streets daily, sitting in squalor to make sure your child had food to eat, it was to be done. This is the determination I witnessed first-hand as I took in my first sights of a country I have grown to love tremendously.
The highlight of my first day was definitely the food! To my surprise I was not given chips and salsa while I waited to devour my main entrée. My hosts quickly pointed out that I was spoiled by my many encounters with the Tex-Mex tradition I became accustomed to in East Texas. With no apprehension I engaged in what I can only describe as a cultural play on the palate. I was whisked off my feet and taken to a land where food reigned supreme, where each bite brought me to the root of the heritage that makes Mexico such a memorable place. To be honest, I do not remember the names of my first local dish but just the thought of it has caused a reaction similar to that of Pavlov’s dogs at this juncture. My love of Mexican food has continued since then. The cuisine does not feature the heavy use of cheese and oil as is played out in Tex-Mex restaurants. Overtime I became familiar and a chef myself of dishes such as the Cubana Torta, Corn Tortillas, Pazoli, and a vast array of flavored waters; mango water being my favorite.
On my second night in Mexico, Luis took me to my very first street taco stand. He knew how repulsive I became at the thought of eating food prepared on the side of the road but convinced me enough to give it a try. It was a sight to see and a taste to behold! Watching the make shift cooking station with pork meat being rotated and sliced by the chef to create tacos al pastor, I salivated in anticipation. Let’s just say that it changed my life forever! Approximately 5 tacos later I felt satisfied and submerged in the street taco experience. It became one of countless numbers of trips to various street taco vendors in my one week adventure in paradise.
A vast amount of my trip was spent in Morelia, Mexico, the hometown of the family I resided with, the Suarez Family. My greatest pleasure was learning about the history of Morelia and seeing the sights of the town my best friend calls home. Morelia is located in the north central part of the state of Michoacán (pronounced “Me-tro-can”), and is recognized as the state capital, with the cathedral of Morelia being the main tourist attraction of the city.
My visit also included trips to see the pyramids in Teotihuacán, Mexico City, Leon among a few others. Each city provided a different view of Mexico, all too great to encompass in detail, particularly in written form. Despite the many buildings I saw, the food I ate, and the attractions I visited, nothing compared to the warmth and love I felt from my host family. The Suarez Family showed me compassion. Compassion given to a stranger met the day I first landed in Mexico. They ensured I was never in want. Particularly impressive was the fact that the entire family spoke English, some fluently than others, but they tried their utmost to ensure I never felt ostracized. This level of hospitality came from a people so often categorized in America as being reluctant to learn English, as some strive to find the American dream.
The family eroded every preconceived notion I had about Mexico and its people. They took each day to make sure I was comfortable. Every step I took was a history lesson. Every building I saw, every cathedral I visited, I received historical details in a language I understood. Sure you may pass their actions off as mere hospitality, but I guarantee you that being hospitable doesn’t stipulate that people must go above and beyond, yet they did. To feel a part of a family of which I only spent a week with still amazes me. Mexico gave me a family and taught me the importance of learning about others before ever passing judgment. It taught me that the media isn’t always right, and implored me to examine my own tendency to stereotype and generalize a world more complex than I had ever imagined.
The Value of Friendship
You may wonder why I started this entry talking about friendship and the necessity of going beyond the face value of who we are as individuals. Friendships provide a gateway for us to accept as family the strangers that walk into our life, yet in a moment, they manage to change our life forever. No person is an island; we all need a listening ear. The heartache and troubles of this world demand that we find people who we can trust and a shoulder we can cry on. Our greatest friends are going to be those who stick with us through thick and thin. They are the persons who know our faults and still accept us for who we are. So I encourage you to be vulnerable, let go of your inhibitions, show your emotions, let go of your secrets and lay it all on the line. There is no need to suffer in silence, or fear rejection from people. Our greatest gift is a friend that will always be there even when the world turns its back on us.
I took the time to learn more about my best friend; I decided to emerge myself in a culture unknown to me. By so doing I learned more about the person I call friend and brother. Take the time each day to know a little more about the people you talk with. Learn their history, learn what makes them unique. People are more than the sum of their problems and their daily trials. If we each as humans take the time to know people for who they are, to explore different cultures, to go beyond the status quo, maybe then and only then will we have a world that tolerates being different. Through compassion we will have a world that embraces diversity and celebrate what makes us unique. Maybe there will be fewer wars and less heartache. Maybe we would laugh more and cry less. Go beyond your comfort zone; learn a new language, visit a new country. Pursue your dreams, and learn to cherish your friendships.
I took a risk, I became vulnerable, I decided to trust and be less reserved. By learning to trust more, I gained a friend that demonstrated to me that life is still good. I gained a brother that I know will stand by me when I need him the most…
© Dimitri Lyon and dimitrilyon.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dimitri Lyon and dimitrilyon.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.