Tag Archives: Mexico

photo: nuestra señora


nuestra señora de Guadalupe
© erin dunigan 2011

“Maybe it is only “the Eternal Feminine” who will be able to heal the wars, the oppression, the mistrust and the status symbols that divide the children of God.”

-Father Richard Rohr (from ‘A Brown Madonna‘)

photo: vaquerito

more shots of the vaquerovaquerito, la mision baja california
© erin dunigan 2011

dia de los muertos (remebering, celebrating, and living)

catrina, la mision baja california, mexico
© 2012 erin dunigan

Day of the Dead‘ may sound like a morbid description for a holiday, at first, but as celebrations go, morbid is hardly the word for it.

Festive is a much better description of the day – a day that acknowledges and remembers those who have gone before us (our ancestors, as some might describe them, or the ‘saints’ as is more common in the language of the Christian church) and celebrates their memory even as they continue to live on in us.

It is a classic melting of an indigenous Aztec celebration with the Catholic beliefs and culture that came to overlay (some might say colonize) that existing practice in what we now know as Mexico.

Day of the Dead, as with All Saints Day (November 1) in the strictly traditional sense, is a day to remember that we in our individual lives are not isolated, but part of something much larger than our own personal existence.

As Franciscan Friar and author Richard Rohr puts it, in our individual selves we are part of a larger ‘we’ (the we of our country, our tribe, our religion, our ancestors) that, in turn, is a part of the ‘great I am’ – what the mystics throughout the ages have seen as the ‘univocity of being‘ or the connectedness of all that is.

The Day of the Dead is a day to stop, to pause, and to celebrate those who have given us life, our lives, to remember them well, and to live out their legacy as we carry it forth into our lives as they unfold.

The author of the book of Hebrews, in the Christian Scriptures, put it this way:

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off all that hinders and entangles and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

barbies crossing borders

Often, when you grow up with a particular custom or habit, it seems normal because that is, of course, normal for you, in your life, in your world. So, it didn’t really cross my mind that there might be something unique about a particular game I used to play as a young girl growing up in Newport Beach, California. I have come to call it ‘Barbies Crossing Borders.’

I was reminded of it yesterday when I, for the last time, crossed south from the US into Mexico, across the same border that has been there my entire life – with it’s off-white pillars, and a large sign above, MEXICO, in red letters – for me a sort of ‘comfort food’ from my earliest memories. It was the last time I would cross that particular boundary because as of November 1, 2012, the border between the US and Mexico, in San Ysidro, will be changing to accommodate the expanding lanes heading north into the US, and the new crossing into Mexico approximately half a mile west of the longstanding crossing.

In a world that is changing so rapidly we have difficulty keeping up – even twitter, which is still baffling many (was it a tweet? Did you tweeter?), is beginning to become passe – it may seem silly to mourn the dissolution of a particular structure such as a set of border gates. But it was, I realized, as I crossed through that last time, with a sense of sadness I did so. This image, this crossing, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Enter, Barbies Crossing Borders, which could, of course, have been a reference to my tan but still white skin and blond hair (both of which, in addition to my having been born on the ‘right’ side of that boundary line defining what that crossing, and the ease with which I could do it, meant for me) – though Barbies younger sister Skipper would have been more appropriate. But, as a young girl growing up down the street from Newport Harbor High School, Horace Ensign Middle School, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, this was the game I played with my barbies, who would regularly travel back and forth across the US/Mexico border as I did most weekends growing up.

An only child, I traveled with my parents as we ventured south most weekends to care for the house that had been my paternal grandmother’s. When she passed away the care of her house was left to her only child, my dad. So, on any given weekend when other children in the Newport Mesa area were off to AYSO soccer games, I was in the back of our 1970 Ford van heading south along I-5.

I do remember being disappointed about not being able to play soccer (something I finally remedied as a student at Newport Harbor – though clearly showing the lack of all those AYSO weekends) but going to Mexico on weekends also seemed like, well, seemed just normal. It was a part of my life. The navigating of these two very different worlds was planted within me from my very first trip south as a six-month old baby. At my grandmother’s house there was no phone and no t.v. and so  most of the weekend was spent reading, playing cards, sitting on the patio, or walking to the beach.

The highlight of the return trip was navigating the border crossing north – something that my dad, an engineer, always tried to predict (“The line will be shortest during dinner time,” was one of his favorite assumptions) and something that taught me the word ‘bifurcate’ (when one lane becomes two, which, of course, we were always hoping for to speed up the line) much earlier than would be normal for a young child. To this day, even with my SENTRI pass for expedited crossing, I still take note of the exact time I arrive in line at the border and the minute I am across – my last trip it was a 7 minute border (unheard of in the early days, unless one was crossing in the middle of the night like we did when my dad broke his leg walking home from a party – a story for another time) all thanks to that SENTRI pass.

My memories of these years crossing back and forth over this international boundary, but also somewhat arbitrary delineation, are not marked with particularities – except the one time we got into a fender bender because my dad refused to let someone cut in line in front of us  (or was he the one doing the cutting? I can’t recall) – but more of an overall sense that was sown in me from a very young age. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized, in traveling the world, that the places where I feel most ‘at home’ in the world are actually the places that remind me not of my birthplace in Newport Beach, but of my adopted home, Baja.

On October 31 I crossed the border for the last time as I drove south from Newport Beach, where my mom, now widowed, still lives, and headed toward what was my grandmother’s house, but has now become mine, about an hour south of the border, in Baja. As I looked up and saw the sign announcing my entry into MEXICO, with big red letters, I thought of that game I used to play with my barbies – as they traveled back and forth to Mexico – and how this place has, over these years, permeated my very being.

What a gift it has been, and how thankful I am, as we enter into this month of giving thanks, and these few days of remembering and celebrating those who have come before us, for the gracious hospitality of this country that for so long has felt like home, and now finally is.

today – chairs, chile rellenos, fear and gratitude

I love my life. I don’t say that with a desire to boast, but merely to celebrate, and, I realize, to stand back in some amount of amazement at the way continues to play out. I think the word for that is probably gratitude, though that can sound so ‘heavy’…sometimes it is less heavy, and more like it gives me a chuckle.

Like today.

I won’t give you the entire play by play (like that I woke up, had my morning coffee, then my oatmeal with apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond milk and toasted walnuts–see, you shouldn’t trust me!) but rather just my walk to lunch.

I was set to meet a friend at Maganas for lunch. I decided that I’d walk. On my way out the door I put out my empty ‘garafon’ (5 gallon plastic water bottle) since Friday is the day that the water bottle truck delivers–taking the empty, and leaving a full one in its place. All for the whopping price of 12 pesos, or about $1.

As I was doing so, I saw my neighbor, who asked about ‘Not Church‘ and so we chatted awhile about it. I told him I had to be on my way, and continued down the path by the side of the house. As I walked, another neighbor, well, actually son in law of a neighbor, yelled down hello, and wondered when I was going to play spite and malice with them. Spite and malice happens to be a card game that I learned as a young girl, a card game, which, as it happens, I played, with my grandma, at the very table on which my laptop sits as I type this.

Another friend and neighbor heard us yelling back and forth, and yelled down a hello as I continued my way down to the ‘river road,’ now wondering if I’d be late to Maganas. As I walked down the river road past El Rancho Exilio, I saw Emilio there, working on these wood chairs he makes by hand. We chatted a bit, and before I knew it I had agreed to buy two of the chairs–‘segundas’ if you will, for a good price, because his brother had accidentally run over them. “They still work–I fixed them,” said Emilio. “Okay, sounds good,” I answered as I tried to keep walking toward my actual destination of lunch.

I did have one errand planned on the way–to stop by the clinic and see Dr. Sarah. I was hoping she could give me some tips on fending off ‘bugs’ while traveling, and also a surgical mask to wear on the plane, just in case. In exchange for the appointment at the clinic I had brought her a beet, carrot, and some swiss chard, fresh from the garden. Since I was running late and so was she, I told her I’d come back by after lunch.

Finally I made it to Mangas at 12:01pm, only one minute late, which is, when you think about it, not really late at all. It had only taken me 45 minutes to get there–a walk of about one and a quarter miles, that normally takes less than half that time.

Becky and I had lunch together, and talked about the new community center that she and her husband Mike are opening as part of Vida Outreach. After a yummy lunch of chile rellenos I headed back to the clinic to meet with Sarah and get my necessary trip provisions, as well as a lecture about wiping down my tray and armrests when I get on the plane (so she’s that person I sat next to recently who ‘sanitized’ all items near her when she took her seat!) and not to put my fingers in my mouth. Next time I’m going to have to bring more vegetables in payment.

When I got home I found that the water truck had come–my new full garafon was waiting on the patio for me, as were my two new chairs, and a small table, handmade by Emilio.

I went out into the garden to pick some veggies (chard, carrot, beet, kale, tomato) to make a ‘green juice’ and sat down to write this.

So, yes, I love my life. I love the craziness of a day that can turn a lunch appointment into nostalgia over old card games, new chairs, a germ lecture, and water delivery. I love that I have time for such ‘distractions’ and am not so busy that I can’t appreciate them or have time for them. For that, I am thankful.

And now, on this Friday afternoon, I’m off to Splash for an 80 peso ($5.89) car wash, and likely a nego model and ceviche tostada that will put me back another $2.50, total.

People in the US always ask me, living in Baja, if I am afraid. What I’m realizing is, I’m actually becoming more and more afraid–afraid that this place has rooted itself so deeply within me that it may be hard to ever leave.

salsa verde

When learning recipes from Vita, the amounts are always given as ‘about this much’ rather than exactly. I’ve done my best to get as close as possible  below

5 medium sized tomatillos (husks removed)
1 jalapeno (unless you like a lot of spice, then more)
1 half white onion
2-3 garlic cloves
salt and pepper (optional)
lime (optional)
cilantro (optional)

Put all ingredients (whole) into a pot and cover with water. Boil for about 10 minutes or until done. Remove items with a slotted spoon into a blender, adding only a bit of the liquid. Blend.

Add more liquid as needed for consistency/texture. Add salt and pepper as desired. Add lime juice and cilantro as desired.

in the distance

I loved watching this young girl stand there, gazing off in the distance, holding her little white purse

Yesterday I was in Tijuana photographing churches of the Northern Baja Presbytery. This little girl was nearby playing. She is living, along with her family, on the church property since their house/shack burned down recently. There are folks trying to raise money to help them rebuild their home. In the meantime, there she stands.