Two women who lived with several Mexican states between them found themselves in a common place and time in a breath-taking setting, El CREFAL (Regional Center for the Education of Adults in Latin America) in Pátzcuaro, (Michoacán,) México. They shared an experience they had in common. The two women had been sent to prepare to go to the United States as exchange teachers. I had hosted these ladies in past years at my Colorado home for these programs of which Colorado and Mexico were a part.
A friendship blossomed since my first visit to Mexico in 1993 when I was part of a group at CU Boulder’s teacher exchange program. After my first visit to central Mexico, I fell in love with Puebla. I also enjoyed all the other states in Mexico I had visited throughout my educational career. Mexico became my healing place, a place where I was taken care of so I could continue to face my challenges at home.
The teachers from Mexico treated me like royalty when they hosted me in their homes. I did my best to try to match their hospitality when they stayed in my house. After hosting teachers year after year, we became good friends. We’ve kept in touch since then. Our relationship grew beyond friendship. To this day, we treat one another like family. Each time I visit Mexico, I fill my bags to the maximum with items that are abundant in the United States. We take things such as clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, Christmas lights, and ornaments for granted. These items are lacking in my friends’ homes and communities. Likewise, my home is full of the beautiful gifts they have brought me throughout the years. My walls have Puebla’s hand painted decorative plates, known as Talavera. My china cabinet is full of these beautiful and unique plates of all sizes, a complete tea set, hand embroidered cloth kitchen towels and a huge collection of ponchos, sarapes, and dresses.
When I was teaching at CU Boulder in 1999, the professor sent me to Mexico to bring back documentation and photos of el Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. I called my Puebla friend, Aleyda, and asked her what she needed since I was traveling through Puebla on my way to Morelia, Michoacán.
—Un abrigo, Maria, está bien frio—. A coat, it’s very cold, she told me.
Days before my trip, I started looking to see how much coats cost at the local K-mart®. The cheapest I could find was around forty dollars. I could afford that for one, yet I could not take a coat only for Aleyda. I had many other teacher friends in Puebla who I knew had similar needs. As teachers, they earn very little, and many times did without what they needed to pay for the bare necessities. I then decided to go to a local thrift store in Brighton. I looked carefully at the price tags so I could find several nice coats for my other six teacher friends. When I had selected them, I approached the counter.
The attendant rang up my items and said, “It’s $9.98.”
“What?” I (asked.) “There must be a mistake.”
“No mistake, miss, today is our 99-cent Wednesday.”
I could not believe what I had just heard. I quickly paid and told the lady, “I’ll be right back.”
I raced to my vehicle, unloaded, came back, overflowed another cart, then went home to unload, and returned for more.
By the time I packed, I had two huge bags, plus one more that went over the weight limit of ninety-five pounds. Luckily, the lady at the counter said, “No worries,” and tagged them. To save space, I took minimal clothes for myself and whatever I could pile on, I did. I had double socks, two sweaters, and a coat on my arm. As a carry-on, which had no restrictions then, I took a Christmas dish set for the school director and things to help Aleyda’s father who had recently lived through a mudslide in their mountain home in Cuetzalan. I also packed a bag of shoes, hoping they would fit my teacher friends, especially my friend Rosa, who had a hard time finding comfortable shoes.
Before I left, I had called the Puebla teachers to meet me at Mexico City’s airport during my layover.
When I was pulling my line of suitcases, an immigration agent looked at all the things I had and asked, —¿Quien viene con usted? — Who is traveling with you?
—Nadie—, No one, I responded.
—Todo esto es suyo—? All of this is yours? He turned his head, scanning the long line of bags.
—Sí, — I said.
—Le van a cobrar por todo, y si le toca la luz roja, le van a quitar todo. — They are going to charge to get this across, and if you get the red light, they’re taking it all.
—Pero todo es usado y lo llevo para gente necesitada. — It’s all used things. I am taking it for people in need, I told him.
He shook his head as I pulled and pushed all my cargo, praying that I would get a green light. I prayed and said to myself, “God, you did not bring me this far to leave all these needed things behind.”
I held my breath as I pushed the button for the light, looked up, saw green, and breathed. I looked back at the immigration officer, smiled, and waved. He stood, arms crossed, frowning as I walked away.
As soon as I crossed the immigration station, I saw all my friends and their family members waiting for me. We were elated to see each other, yet I had to hurry so that I could make my connecting flight to Morelia. I had packed each of the teachers’ things in separate bags, so I quickly handed each her own things.
—Aleyda, esto es para ti, Rosa, para ti, Conchita, esta es para ti, Blanquita, Lolita, y esto es para Mago. — This is for you Aleyda, Rosa, for you, Conchita this is for you, and Blanquita and Lolita, this is for you, and this is for Mago, “I told them as I distributed the bags.
Then there was the bag of shoes, which I dumped on the floor, and said, “I don’t know which will fit you, so try them on and take the ones that you like. “
It was a Cinderella frenzy; everyone took off her shoes and started trying on the different footwear. Rosa was over joyed that she had found several pairs that fit her wide, chubby feet. They all took some for themselves and their daughters. While people stared, I smiled as I watched their excitement. We hugged and said goodbye. I rushed to my connecting flight with the gifts I had separated for my Morelia hosts.
Years later, Rosario from Zacatecas and Rosa from Puebla attended el CREFAL the same summer to prepare for another exchange visit to the United States.
One of the participants shared a concern. —Me platican que las maestras de los Estados Unitdos son muy frias y distantes. — I’m told that the teachers from the U.S. are cold and distant.
Then Rosario stood up and said, —No todas. Una de las maestras de Colorado me brindó lo major de ella. — Not everyone. One of the Colorado teachers gave the best of herself for me. My host was not the best. When I shared this with Maria Ramirez, she picked me up and had me join her and the other teacher from Zacatecas she was hosting and gave me the best experience of my life.
Rosa, who was sitting across the room, stood up and said, — Yo conozco a Maria. Yo también me he hospedado con Maria Ramirez. Ella es maravillosa. Me compró zapatos, muchos zapatos. Si tienes suerte, te tocará alguien como ella. — I know Maria. I have also stayed with Maria Ramirez. She is wonderful. She brought me shoes, lots of shoes! If you are lucky, you will be hosted by a person like her.
Both teachers glanced at each other. The rest of the class was speechless. When Rosa shared this story with me, I too was without words and my heart smiled. To think that two individuals who lived in different distant states in Mexico brought up my name to share their appreciative experience at my home was extraordinary.
Maria B. Ramirez
Edited March 1, 2023