My high school Spanish teacher, Señor Haakenson, led a group of high school and college students to Mexico every summer. I didn’t bother to ask my parents, because I was kid # 7, and we didn’t have a ton of extra money. So imagine my surprise the day Señor Haakenson showed up at my house to urge my parents to send me to Mexico, just because I was good at Spanish. They actually said yes!
We took a bus all the way there from Wisconsin. (I still don’t like buses.) We stopped in San Antonio, then spent a few days in Monterrey, which was like any other big city, except that they spoke Spanish. Mexico City for 10 days. Wow. My favorite memories: the floating gardens of Xochimilco, the pyramids, the Ballet Folklórico, fantastic murals and sculpture, churros ... and wandering around by myself. Everywhere. Freedom!
|Pyramid of the Moon|
We spent most of the rest of our trip in Guadalajara, where we lived with Mexican families and attended the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and, as I recall, did no studying whatsoever. That summer, we mostly just lived. In Spanish. For me, speaking and thinking and dreaming in Spanish. I was so immersed that one night, when a group of us went to see a just-released American movie at a theatre, I kept looking at the Spanish subtitles because English had become my second language.
To fully immerse myself in the language, of course, I had a cute Mexican boyfriend. (Heh heh.) Alberto sang and played guitar, beautifully, although he never ONCE serenaded me under a balcony, unlike the boyfriend of a girl in the family with whom I lived. (Naturally, I felt cheated.) I also had to conduct a romance entirely in Spanish, and let’s just say it wasn’t always an easy task at 18.
|Alberto and his guitarra|
All these years later, I still remember vividly my little “brother” Beto, who was adorable, and my “brother” Genaro, who was gruff at first but eventually learned to joke around with me because I offered him no other options. And Lalo, a friend of Alberto, whose brainy and dry sense of humor and kindness probably made him, ultimately, my favorite Mexican friend from that summer. I just happened to fall for the musician first. Story of my life!
We did amazing things that summer, all of us. I particularly loved the long walks I took by myself, all over Mexico City and especially Guadalajara. Many years later, I found the letters I wrote home, talking about my adventures and my solitary rambles. I also found out that my mom had read each letter, nearly had several heart attacks, and told everyone that her baby girl was wandering around Mexico BY HERSELF and would likely be killed or SOMETHING. She never breathed a word of her fears to me, though, because she decided that I should have my adventures. And hopefully not die.
Since then, I’ve taken long walks by myself and had epic adventures in cities all over the world. But that summer was special, and the start of it all. I’ll always be grateful to Señor Haakenson and my parents for that.