We gave our daughter a lot of presents over the years. The one that endures is her ability to understand two cultures, two languages.
Her father taught her Spanish. I taught her English.
But it was Lucy’s grandmothers who taught her how to walk in both worlds without fear or judgment.
Lucy grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and had a close relationship with my mother. We began making trips to her father’s childhood home near Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, when she was a toddler.
She made her Quinceañera in Mexico, and she had her wedding there last year.
When she was a child, the trips always ended with a day of making tamales.
One day she would help her Mexican Abuela mix masa in a home that still had a dirt floor. The next day, her American Grandma would pop a few of those tamales in the microwave of her white-tiled kitchen for our lunch.
Lucy grew up with a soul-deep understanding of both cultures that came to her naturally through her love of her grandmothers.
It wasn’t so natural for me.
I first saw the differences between my husband’s world and mine as an adult. That makes it harder to strip away the layers of judgment that adults bring to each new experience.
My mother and Sixto’s mother helped with this, too.
On the surface, my mother and Doña Sole had very little in common. But they were both wise and they both wanted the best for their children. They showed me how to accept the differences with less judgment and more grace.
Mind you, I was four-and-a-half months pregnant with Lucy when they first met, and I was in no mood for fun. I was steeped in the seriousness of a pregnant woman who had already suffered a miscarriage.
Yet there was no escaping the sense of sheer joy when these two magnificent matriarchs met.
No escaping the drama, either.
It happened at a most inauspicious time, just as the Rio Fuerte flooded, sending the entire village — including us — to seek higher ground on a nearby hill.
Here’s an little bit from “Crossing the Line: A Marriage Across Borders” about that journey and the first time our mothers met:
My mother, sister Patty, and her son Devon were bright-eyed and eager as we left for the airport.
“Are you ready for the big adventure?” I asked nephew Devon.
As it turned out, none of us were ready.
When we got back, the January 6, 1991, headline on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star announced: “Homes swept away—Floodwaters wreak devastation in Sinaloan towns; death toll is 5.” The story told of the worst flood in local memory. In some towns, only the roofs of houses were visible above the floodwaters. At least 27,000 people were being fed in relief shelters, but that didn’t count all of those who had evacuated themselves to higher ground or those who were stranded on their own rooftops in remote communities that were cut off by downed bridges and washed-out roads.
Nor did the news coverage tell of the little band of gringos who sought refuge on a small hill in the middle of some of the 150,000 acres of crops that were destroyed by that flood.
That was us. We went to Mexico on vacation and became part of a news story.
It started like a scene out of an old movie. We exited the plane in Los Mochis down a set of portable stairs onto the tarmac. A crowd of people was pressed up against a fence outside the airport’s lone building. A cluster of them erupted into shouts and waves when Sixto and I emerged from the plane. This time Sixto held my purse as well as the carry-ons. My job was to hold the railing and move slowly. This was actually my second pregnancy; the first ended in a miscarriage, though neither of us spoke about that.
As we entered the building, a large contingent of Sixto’s family surrounded us.
The protocol was instantly clear: Matriarchs ruled.
Everyone waited as Sixto’s mother hugged him and wept. Then she hugged me and wept. Then the mothers-in-law were introduced and Sixto translated their words of greeting as others watched respectfully. Then my sister and nephew were introduced to his mother, and Sixto translated their words of greeting. After that, it was largely a free-for-all of hugs, kisses, air kisses, hand clasps, laughter, and salutations.
“Somos muchos,” Toñita said. We are many. They all seemed eager to get even bigger by adding a few North Americans.
A great deal of attention was paid to my pregnant belly. I was only sorry Manuel wasn’t there to congratulate us. But he and Ana were living in Ciudad Obregon, and he had duties at the church where he preached. They would travel to Los Suarez later in the week.
Sixto and some nephews went to get our luggage as the rest of us made our way, like some giant, bilingual amoeba, toward the big glass doors that led to the parking lot. Trini brought around the truck, and Toñita gave us directions. La Señora, my mother, would ride up front with her and Doña Sole. There was room, they insisted, for me to sit up front, too. Ordinarily, my sister would have been given that honor because she was older. But I was pregnant and that was a trump card. It would have been a tight squeeze, so I decided to ride in the camper shell with the others.
The drive to Los Mochis was a pageant of rural Mexico. On one side of the road there were little houses peeking out from under mounds of fuchsia, neon orange, or cranberry-red bougainvillea. The other side of the road was lined with tremendous cottonwood trees that marked the edge of fields of sorghum. Under the trees there was commerce and conversation. Shelves of wooden kiosks were stacked with cans of motor oil. A man pedaled a tricycle-cart that had a frozen fruit bar painted on the side. A woman shaved raspados from a huge block of ice set on the tailgate of a pickup truck. A boy waved a sign announcing that the once-white plastic ice chest he was sitting on was full of camarones—shrimp. Men with nothing to sell sipped from bottles they kept in paper bags. Women and children walked to the bus stop.
Through the window of the camper, I could see conversation in the cab of the truck that looked as lively as the scene outside. My mother didn’t speak Spanish, and none of them spoke English, but they were laughing and gesturing.
The mood where we were was more somber. Sixto was listening quietly to something one of Toñita’s sons was telling him. When I asked what was wrong, he said: “Nothing, mi amor.”
But he didn’t sound convincing.
We drove for about 30 minutes, then did a U-turn. As we headed back the way we’d come, Sixto slid opened the window to the cab. Trini told him the road was out, but not to worry. He knew another way. A few more miles, a few more turns and he stopped again, this time by the side of the road.
The men got out and talked. When Sixto got back in, he explained that there had been some trouble upstream on the Rio Fuerte. Runoff from too much rain was threatening the dam, and the government had ordered a release of water. The dam was miles upstream, but the Rio Fuerte around Los Mochis was rising fast. There was talk of releasing more water, which could create real problems for the low-lying areas—like Los Suarez and Cohuibampo. So far, one bridge was closed, and another was iffy.
Trini figured out a third option, Sixto explained. It would take a little longer, but we’d be fine.
“Did you tell my mother?” I asked.
Sixto opened the little window to the cab and told her what was going on.
“I know,” she said, “your mother explained it to me.”
How this had been accomplished was beyond me.