Author: Thomas Hallock (page 3 of 4)

A Letter to the Past (Luisa Fernanda Monroy Flores)

Querida hermana,

Author with plaque outside Caesar’s Restaurant, Tijuana, home of the famed “Caesar Salad.”

Some years have passed since we moved from Tijuana and to the small town of Irapuato. And I don’t know how many memories you have of Tijuana. You were only four years old, and I was six, so maybe you have fewer memories from back then. And I honestly think I know how you felt about moving away from the northern part of Mexico, so close to the USA, to be in the center of the country. It was (and is) a great change, not only because of the area, but because the whole reason we moved.

When we moved to Tijuana, just on the border of California, it was for dad’s job. And it was not that big of a change; I think we got used to it quickly. It was not a pretty city, but it had so many perks: crossing the border to the States every other weekend to enjoy an afternoon in the park, shopping, reading books at Barnes and Noble, etc. That was something unique that we got to experience.

The most memorable memories I have of living in Tijuana is going to the USA each weekend. I took it for granted while I was living there. Now that we are living in the center of Mexico, I can see that it was sort of like a privilege. Every weekend was different; there were a lot of family friendly things to do together so that made us more united.  Instead of only being family Sunday we had a family weekend. Not only did we get to live out childhood dreams — going to Disneyland, Seaworld, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo and Safari — but we also got to travel a lot in California, thanks to our mom’s love of marathons.

Remember when mom started training, and how she rapidly started going to half-marathons that later became marathons? This opened doors and excuses to go visit different cities. One of my favorite ones was San Francisco; when we went, I was about eight or nine years old and it was the rainy season. Thanks to the weather, as soon as I set foot in San Francisco, I got a cold. So I did not enjoy the trip. I think that is why I want to go back there really badly. Other places we visited were Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Napa Valley, Chicago, and so many other cities that I cannot recall.

Besides getting to go on road trips and creating a love for travel, we also went to many parks and libraries. I think I enjoyed those spontaneous trips to Barnes and Noble at noon, just to scout for new books. We would spend hours in the bookstore, either going to read Fun Facts, Amelia Bedelia books, or playing with the plushies. We would lose track of time until one of us got hungry, then we would call it a day and head back home to eat.

As I am writing this letter to you. All these little pieces of memories make me really nostalgic for the place we once lived. We moved to Irapuato because our parents got divorced, so of course, it isn’t the same to go back to Tijuana during breaks. I am longing to go back to my life back then. Even though we still go back to Tijuana during the breaks, it is not the same. I think that in the end we do not know what we have until it is gone.

A Family in Greece (Melissa Andrade Morales)

Santorini is an island with many activities–wine tasting, a volcano and a brewery, restaurants, hotels with an amazing view of the caldera. People can take a walk and visit the stores along the island. As a result, tourism has a huge impact on the island’s economy. Something very characteristic about this place is the volcanic caldera and the white buildings with the blue domes. Santorini has many luxury hotels, most of them with a pool or jacuzzi in each room. I had the opportunity to travel to Europe two years ago.

This trip began on the right foot because all my family and I were very excited. I wanted to see the view from our room. I wanted to feel the water of the jacuzzi that we had on the balcony. So I put my foot in the water. But I didn’t realize that there was a step, so I fell in with my clothes on, I was not even wearing a bathing suit. This was just a very hilarious experience for my family. We were all laughing about my fall.

Santorini for me is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. We created incredible moments that will last forever. In my case, my family’s decision was to buy a yacht trip on the day of my mom’s birthday. We started the trip and visited some beaches. After a while, the boat stopped near the red beach, so we could do some snorkeling in the sea. After that we ate a delicious meal. On our way back, the yacht made a last stop so we could watch the sunset. It was a perfect moment and the perfect way to spend the evening.

I lay down on my towel to see the landscape. The sound of the waves hitting the bottom of the yacht. Watching the awesome colors of the sky. Seeing my mom happier than ever. Seeing her dream of spending her birthday in Santorini come true. It all made me very happy.

Time flew. Soon I could not even remember what day it was. But on July 10th my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary. During breakfast, my dad proposed one more time to my mother, and my mom said “yes.” It was one of the best moments of the trip. The same day, during the afternoon, we went to a wine tasting with an amazing view to enjoy another sunset because we could not get enough of it. We had an amazing dinner again. This was our last day, so after we had dinner, we returned to the hotel. We sat on some chairs, put on some music and staid there for a long time to admire the sunset.

It was amazing to watch the sun go down. The sky was unbelievable, a fading blue on top, with a mix of light yellow in the middle, melting to an intense orange. As time passed by, the sky began to turn darker, until it was an intense blue and purple. To finish the perfect frame, below the village, it was completely illuminated. We were thrilled to keep exploring this amazing country, and ready to continue our tour in Athens. But for the remainder of the evening, we were happy to take in the twilight together.

My True Meaning of Home (Ana Paola Gonzalez)

Not many people talk about the true core of Mexican culture: family. We´ve had several interpretations in popular culture, but somehow the message gets kind of lost. When the movie Coco came out, foreigners got to take a closer look at Día de Muertos. Mexicans however, got sentimental about the family-focus that the movie portrayed. I cried when Coco was about to forget her father, and I cried at the very last scene where they were all there– living and dead–together.

A couple of months ago, my mom got the brilliant idea to sit us all in the living room and watch old home movies. Out of the entire box of DVD´s, we played one at random: the first year of my life in a movie. The DVD showed my first sonogram, my first vacation, my first Christmas … everything.

January 11, 1999. We saw my mom with a giant tummy holding a little boy standing in a chair. A birthday cake and very low light. My dad, looking so young, drinking beer right next to my padrino. My madrina standing in another corner, yelling at my cousin Victor for something he had done. The camera turned around the room and I got just enough time to catch a glance of a young Uncle Poncho joking around with my Aunt Cristy, making fun of themselves.

May 20, 1999. We´re in a hospital waiting room, my grandma Lolita being the focus of the video, same style as always, pantsuit and short pixie hair. My Uncle Jorge and Aunt Felix talking to her right by her side. A little farther away, my grandad with that brown mustache that he´s kept on and off for the past twenty years, holding hands with his now ex-wife, Pilar. Mis padrinos, my cousins, my aunt Cristy … they were all there. Uncle Poncho is the one recording. Suddenly, my father walks out with hospital clothes and a baby in his arms. He is on the other side of the glass window, so they all walk up to see me up close

May 23, 1999. We´re in the same house as before. It´s my madrina´s house. They installed a temporary tub in their room so they could teach my parents how to give me a proper bath.  The room was crowded–my padrinos, my cousins standing there watching in their school uniform, until they were interrupted by their mom saying they would be late for school. They gave me a little kiss and ran out the door.

June 16, 1999.  My mom panned in on my little face while I was sleeping peacefully at the beach. When she zoomed out I could see Luis and Victor playing on the sand right next to me. Uncle Poncho, my padrino, my granddad and a man I have never seen in my life (I guess it was my Aunt Cristy´s boyfriend at the time) were next to a cooler, having a beer; by the other beach chair, meanwhile, the ladies of the family were talking about who knows what. Every now and then my madrina would check on her kids. Any mom knows that when you´re a mom, you never get vacation.

We jumped over to my brother’s DVD´s. Not much had changed after three years. This time I was sitting next to the baby, old enough to play in the sand with Victor and Luis.

December 25, 2002. We were in that house, the one that has been home for all of us all these years. It was my granddad’s home. He built his family here and raised all four of his children: Andrea, Laura, Cristy and Poncho. When my grandma Lucy passed away, my Aunt Cristy, my mom, uncle Poncho and my granddad were still living there. My madrina was already raising a family in the apartments across the street. They waited until getting married to move out; including mi abuelo. He offered the house to my madrina and her family, since they were having certain economical issues, so they accepted. They´ve lived there ever since. It´s were my mom grew up, and even though I never actually lived there, I consider it home. We all do.

My family moved right across the street from that house before my brother was born so I spent most of my childhood there. We still lived there for a couple of years after Sebastián was born. My mom and madrina even shared a car. We struggled with money, so we helped each other out. We eventually moved a little farther away, but we kept seeing them for dinner a few times a week, at school recitals, at birthday parties, etc.

At the age of six, my dad got offered a job in Miami, and so we moved. As much of a good time as I had there, I still felt something was missing. I got sad every time we would Skype my family back in Mexico. Once a year they would fly there and visit, we would go to Disneyland, have a good time, but time came when they had to go back; it felt like leaving home all over again.

In the holidays we would come here to Mexico to spend Christmas and New Years Eve together. I still remember how excited I was to have sleepovers with all my cousins (my Aunt Cristy and my Uncle Poncho had kids eventually). All six of us would make gingerbread cookies at the dinner table and spend entire days with each other. I think that´s why Christmas is one of my favorite holidays; it reminds me of all the excitement. When January came and we had to go back, I was a sea of tears. It was harder having to leave instead of watching them leave. I wasn’t only leaving my family, I was leaving my country, the house, memories–everything.

When we finally bought a one-way ticket back home, my mom begged my family not to throw any sort of party. She was certain all four of us would be tired; she wasn’t wrong. My family obviously ignored her. We hadn’t bought a house yet so we were going to stay at my grandma´s house for a few months until we figured everything out. We walked through the door and into the living room and saw everyone there. Hugs went all around. We were home.

These videos capture the secret ingredient of Mexico. La familia.

Snow Day (Stephanie Schmidt)

Author shoveling snow in upstate New York.

UDLAP Note: In this essay, Stephanie Schmidt describes the strange phenomenon (to us) of snow days in New York–when school days were cancelled because of winter storms. As Mexicans, of course, many of us have never even seen snow! So that fact makes snow a cool and kind of unreal experience; it is something we have only seen in movies.  Even though this essay is about the weather, however, we think Stephanie Schmidt goes much deeper. Her essay addresses nostalgia, when she thinks about snow during her childhood. It explains the different reactions between children and adults during snow days. Schmidt distinguishes the lost of innocence someone experiences growing up, using the analogy of snow. 

As Mexicans, again, we can say that we don’t get snow days in most parts of the country. We have no such thing. For us snow is something almost magic-like. Its fleeting and ephemeral and so clean! We get a lot of hail, though. Sometimes it hails so much it looks like snow, but the texture is not similar at all. If you get caught up in a hail storm you might get hurt, especially in Puebla. The seasons in Mexico are not as obvious but the weather can be equally violent and unpredictable. Yet people think Mexico only has tropical or desert-like weather. We think its funny that stereotypes are not only about people, but also about things like weather.  And we do have a similar tradition to the spoon under the pillow. Here, we stick a knife in the ground to stop it from raining. We don’t know what cutlery has on controlling the weather, but is interesting to know we are not the only country taking advantage of them.


I was born and raised in New York and nothing was better than hearing the words “snow day.” Every winter, usually in the months of December or January, we would usually have at least one snow day where some businesses and schools would shut down for the day because of heavy snowfall.

The excitement would usually start the day before; with the announcement of snow on the weather channel. When I was just a child, we would all get together and discuss the possibility of this heavy snow and school cancelation. There were some strange rituals we would perform thinking that it would guarantee a snow day. The only one I can remember was to sleep with a spoon under your pillow the night before. The spoon, I think, represented a shovel for clearing out snow. The spoon trick never worked, in fact I think it scared any possible snow storm away. While we children would be excited, adults would be feeling the complete opposite. Adults would rush out the night before and gas up their cars and buy out any non-perishable foods. Store shelves would be obliterated; no more cans of soup, no more bread, no more peanut butter, no more bottles of water. Every adult had the same fear of being snowed in. Of course, it never happened.

I used to wake up early on a snow day, the first thing I would do would be to listen to the radio because most stations announced school and business closings. I would lie in bed with anticipation, waiting for them to call my school district. It was one of the most exciting feelings when you knew you had the day off. I would open the window in my room and a rush of brisk icy air would drift in. Outside, the world was white and extremely quiet except for the sound the occasional snow plow pushing down the street. Some towns had entire fleets of snow plows while others, like mine, would rely on their citizens. My neighbor had a large plow shovel that he would attach to the front of his pick-up truck. For that day his truck was transformed into a snow plow.

When I was younger, I would spend the entire day outside playing with my neighbors in the snow, but when I was older, I was given a shovel and put to work. The year I began to shovel  was the year that we had a snowstorm that delivered over three feet of snow. Everyone would be outside digging their cars out of snow and scraping it off their driveways. When a person was finished shoveling their property, they would go help a neighbor. It was everyone’s duty to help  clear off the elderly couples driveway. A simple “thanks” would be exchanged, there was no big fanfare, it was what you were supposed to do.

While life seemed to stop for those in school during a snow day, it did not for those who  have jobs, especially those who worked in retail. A 10 minute drive to work can easily turn into a 45 minute one when icy, slippery snow is involved. It can be even longer when the vehicle that is being driven is not equipped to drive in the snow. This made waking up extra early extremely important during snowy days. On the bright side though, the workday itself would be  straightforward and smooth since the store would be empty; most people thought it was foolish  to drive in bad weather, but then again store managers and owners are not like most people.

Snow days usually only lasted one day since the purpose of them was to keep people off the road and give the town a chance to clear the roads. It was rare when an extra snow day was given. The next day, once everyone was back in school, everything would fall back into its normal routine. Sometimes, It would feel like a snow day had not even occurred; maybe that is why they felt so special?

Cholula: A Different Kind of Magic (Diego Ramón Miy Barrera)

Author’s family visits the Cholula Pyramid–an agnostic father and Catholic aunt.

I have lived in three different cities in Mexico, in three different states. None of them is like Cholula. I walk to school every day, and even though I hate waking up early, when I manage to get out of my house, I really like the morning stroll. As soon as I cross the door, I get the best view of combis (questionable public transport, typical to little towns in Mexico), dropping off kids at the school that I live next to. I’m sure the kids appreciate the stench of horse manure as much as I do.

I can also see the usual people opening up their businesses: grocery stores, butcher shops, papelerías, and the rest. If I see them, I greet them, because it is the expected thing to do–everyone around the block knows them. Rather than using the big chain stores, we get our things from Don Beto and Doña María– being younger, I still use the respectful Mr. and Ms.

These things didn’t happen in the other towns I lived in. But that is not the reason why I think Cholula is unique. What strikes me as odd is the fact that only three blocks away, not far from the cows, horses and milkmen, I will see really classy nightclubs.

San Andrés Cholula is what we call in Mexico a Pueblo Mágicos. “Pueblo Mágico” is a touristic program, with the intention of protecting the cultural value and identity of a place. Cholula is one of these “pueblos”; it really doesn’t feel like one, however, since there is so much big business here. We have not only companies coming here, but Cholula has also become one of the “go-to” destinations for students. A lot of people from all over the place come to live here, making it feel a lot more like a city than a town.

Funny enough, I think the most well-known Cholula landmark represents this merging of cultures. It’s a church commonly known as “La Pirámide.” Even though it is a church, where you can go to mass on Sundays, it is also a tourist attraction for everyone–from the hard-core Catholic to the most skeptical atheist. One time I saw a group of people doing one of those cleanses, where they rub an egg all over your body and I’m pretty sure God would have frowned on that. Yet the cleansing was happening right next to the church.

What I’m trying to say is that even when the original purpose of that church was to be cleansed of horrible sins, by sitting around on a Sunday, it is now a place for everyone passing through to take a long walk. I think there is a parallel between how that church is now two things at once: just as Cholula is a town that loves to throw fireworks every day in the name of a lot of different saints and virgins, it is also a place to throw up and fall asleep on the side of the sidewalk at two in the morning.

Unlearning Thanksgiving (Jennifer Stott)

Louis M. Glackens, Puck Magazine, 1904 (Library of Congress)

UDLAP Note: In this essay Jennifer Stott shows how knowing the origins of a holiday can change your perspective–or the way you feel–about a certain holiday. Because we as Mexicans (who are also “American”) do not celebrate this festivity, we have many questions! What does the author do for Thanksgiving now? What are her opinions on gender roles during holidays? What does her family thinks about her not celebrating it? And does eating fake turkey change Thanksgiving’s meaning?

Like every other house on the block, when I was a child, my family chose to celebrate one of the core holidays of the American tradition: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving sometimes included extended family, depending upon who we were on good terms with during that year; usually, because she lived a few miles away, my grandmother would be invited for dinner. She’d sit on the couch, or in the rocking chair, a soda in her lap while she waited, like the rest of us, for dinner. Maybe the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade would still be marching on the television, or perhaps it would be past noon and the National Dog Show would already be airing. I never quite understood why there was a dog pageant, but for as long as I can remember, it’s been there right after the Thanksgiving Day Parade, something to make background noise or chat idly about as the smells of turkey permeated the small house.

Usually, my mother would work alone in the kitchen until she decided I was old enough, and therefore not so much of a hazard, to help her peel potatoes, chop onions, pluck marshmallows out of plastic bags. Some Thanksgivings, while the turkey sweltered in the oven, she and I would bring the menu to life: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, (usually) canned corn, macaroni and cheese. Only when we had everything scooped into “the good tableware,” the pale China dish set, and wrapped under aluminum foil was it time for everyone (well, everyone who was invited that year, anyhow) to gather around the dining room table–already set with the holiday silverware.

I didn’t really come from a religious family, but my grandmother was Catholic and often offered up a blessing. Some years, the equivalent of a prayer was an awkward, uncertain glance around the table, the scraping of a half-dozen chair legs, and a quiet thanks to my mother. Mostly, we’d eat quietly, without saying much besides “pass the salt.” I don’t know what it is about the holidays, but for my family, it makes church mice of us. After dinner, perhaps an hour, it’s time for pie: always store bought, usually apple, since the only people who really like pumpkin pie in my family are me and my brother. By the time everyone’s scraped their plates of pie filling, it’s high time to clean–a task that’s never shared amongst the family. More often than not, my mother is the one who has to scrub dishes and clear away crumbs; my sister and I help her wherever we can. I suppose it’s just tradition, an odd, unspoken gender divide, but it’s not one I’ve warmed up to.

I never really considered the shadowy half of history, the framework for the holiday, until I grew into my adolescent years. Before that, I was blissfully ignorant, content to pile turkey onto my plate and stuff myself with stuffing. But as I learned more and more of the relationship between the natives and the settlers, the American tradition of Thanksgiving has grown cold for me. Now that I’m in my 20s, a vegetarian and a little more knowledgeable about history, Thanksgiving looks a lot different for me: for one, I eat Tofurky and, invariably, am urged to remind everyone at the table about the true relationship between the native people and the colonists. It’s bound to turn a few heads away from their plates. It’s sort of funny how holidays can adapt, for holidays are, afterall, founded on tradition. But new traditions, new habits, keep the holidays relevant.

Haunted Centro (Mariana Ramírez López)

Every city in Mexico is deeply haunted. The Centro I know best is in my hometown, Queretaro. There are hundreds of urban legends known by every queretano since childhood. I grew up with stories of Don Bartolo and La Llorona, I fear the Mad-eyed Witch of La Plaza de Armas. The queretano legends are so popular that we have tours every night through the most famous houses and alleyways.

My favorite legend is the Zacatecana. During the seventeenth century a young couple moved to Querétaro from Zacatecas.The husband was in charge of one of the silver mines in town and he bought a huge, luxurious house. Because he had to travel a lot, his young wife was left alone in a huge house for long periods of time. Soon the people of the town started talking about her and her strange friendship with the stable boy. The queretanos of the time were sure that she was cheating on her absent husband with the handsome young servant.

The husband eventually returned, but the neighbors noticed that he never left the house again. The people insisted that the Zacatecana and her lover had killed him. A few weeks, after the disappearance of the husband, the lover also went missing. The people were outraged. Convinced she killed them both for some unknown reason. Common sense wasn’t a part of the collective hysteria of the townspeople. They convinced themselves that the Zacatecana was to blame.

A few days later the body of la Zacatecana appeared hanging from the main balcony. No one knew who was the killer, but no one really cared. For them this was justice. She deserved to die, she deserved the lynching for killing her husband and her lover, even though her crime was never proven.

The house remained empty for decades, until the government decided to turn it into offices. When the renovations started the workers found two male skeletons buried in the stable. It seemed that the queretanos from the past were right after all. Even after this discovery, the renovations continued but when the new offices were occupied, office workers insisted that strange things happened inside the building. Things went missing, strange sounds could be heard at night, things would appear destroyed or broken …. And right at midnight, when the moonlight hit the balcony just right, you could see the shadow of a hung woman, rocking back a forth with a nonexistent wind.

I love this legend not because of the story, which is horrible and violet, or because how scary it is. I love it because it is all a lie. During the 1980´s a university professor decided to do a social experiment. Along with her students, she wrote the Zacatecana legend and they spread it throughout Querétaro. A few years later everyone knew the story and we all believed it. The only thing that is true? The two male skeletons, found under the stables. But during that time, illegal burial inside someone’s house was a common thing.

Last semester I took a course on Gothic Literature. Here I learned how ghost stories are able to explain a certain aspect or conflict of society. According to Diana Wallace, in her essay “The Haunting Idea’: Female Gothic Metaphors and Feminist Theory,” the ghost symbolizes the loss of presence before the state and/or society. It is believed that, when married, the woman becomes the property of her husband, that is why her presence disappears. She also explains that the purpose of spirits, according to the gothic theory, is to attempt to correct past mistakes and wrongdoings. Apparitions and specters haunt us until we fix what is wrong. Maybe this is why I the story of the Zacatecana resonates so much to me. Even if it isn’t true, I believe the story it tells came from somewhere and it denounces something specific. If we analyse a legend from an anthropological and historical point of view, we may be able to understand the socio-political environment of the era of the story itself.

For instance, from the Zacatecana (if it were not false) we could conclude that infidelity was considered to be a justification of a public lynching. We could also infer that the life of a woman was considered less valuable than the life of a man. The people killed the Zacatecana without proof or trial. They were influenced by public hysteria and bloodthirst. That is why I love ghosts and legends.

They provide us a window to the past. A way of understanding, in an entertaining way, the history and people. The spirits of a town are only a reflection of the living.

A Semester’s Thoughts on Cross-Cultural Instruction (Anna Maria Lineberger)

Captain America (Chris Evans) endorsing “the best milk in the world, 100% from Mexican Cows.”

This semester I have been working with Professor Thomas Hallock to construct a cross-cultural correspondence between students at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) and our home university, the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg (USFSP). Alongside the hands-on work, I have been researching cross-cultural correspondence and composition instruction, and their value as tools to prepare students for a globalized society.

These few months have been the first time that I have ve ever engaged with students from a position other than a peer. At first it was profoundly intimidating—who am I, Queen of The Comma Splices, to critique student papers? Who am I, a white woman from rural North Georgia who has only left the South a handful of times, to write on the benefits of engaging one-on-one with someone from another country?

The most daunting element of this experiment, though, was the possibility of perfect failure. Perhaps the students would see me as an imposter–an idiot in academic’s clothing. Perhaps I would find myself faced with an essay and have no idea what it needed, what the writer needed from me. Perhaps the Mexican and American students wouldn’t like each other, or refuse to correspond, or the surveys I gave them would go unanswered. Perhaps I would find absolutely no extant research to support my belief that cross-cultural engagement is just what we need to fix our society’s ills.

I felt paralyzed with fear. And then, I forced myself to take the plunge. As I read student papers, skyped in on class, held videoconferences, conducted my research, gathered survey results, outlined, re-outlined, and re-re-outlined my own research project, I began to find some clarity.

Over these few months I have spent uncountable hours mulling over the most core questions of our work with UDLAP: what makes good cross-cultural composition instruction? The research tells us that much of it is about providing students with the scaffolding, technical instruction, readings, and examples. But in my experience, those were only supporting elements.

What made the essays I read really do the work of engaging a reader from another culture was already there in the first place: it was the Here. International relationships are not a blind reach across infinite distance. They are not a scavenging for middle ground. They are something which springs up naturally from an instruction that encourages students to bring themselves to the writing and the cross-cultural relationship.

As I read student papers about their town hauntings, the changes urbanization brings to rural areas, how to identify an interloper by their dialect, and the significance of religious figures in local lore, I see myself and my own culture. From this position of what it dear to us, we connect to what is dear to others. From the local, we access the global.

This is where the magic happens. Cross-cultural composition instruction is not a formula—when has education ever been so simple? The professor’s most valuable role is to empower and support students as they hone their own voices, their own stories. Students connect in similarities and expand their worldviews by comparing differences. The magic of cross-cultural engagement takes place where our planning ends. This is where students find each other.

Growing Up with Halloween (Stephanie Stott)

UDLAP Note: In this essay, Stephanie Stott shows how Halloween celebrations change through time. She explains how it is as a child, then as a young adult. She reflects upon the changes of childhood traditions to not-so-common parties, and how the feeling of the whole festivity transforms through different stages of life. Here in Mexico we share the same Halloween vibe, although it is mostly during our childhood. Even though it has the same name, it is not the same. This holiday is not as organized as in the US. Everyone celebrates it as they want (or understand). You can see little kids on the streets of Mexico going trick-or-treating–or as we called it, pedir calaverita–for more than three days! Halloween here is not just a one-day holiday, it can transform into a weekend or a whole week celebration. As kids, we like to go trick-or-treating and later, eating candy. We also love Halloween decorations and all things spooky. But as an adult it is less about the candies and more about the parties. Halloween parties in Mexico are dress-up parties as well, but they don’t have the same meaning, as most of us don’t take the effort to make an elaborate costume. It is just a perfect excuse to party. You could call it cliché, but Mexicans never lose a chance to party.


Author Stephanie Stott–or here, Wednesday Addams (photo courtesy the author).

There’s only one day in America when it’s socially acceptable to dress up as a banana and beg for candy—October 31st.

Though I never dressed up as a piece of fruit (and always opted for a princess, witch, or queen of hearts), I was prepared to knock on strangers’ doors and demand they fork over a Kit-Kat. For most kids growing up in the United States, Halloween is a cherished holiday laden with sugar, face-paint, and fairy wings. As a 21-year-old, the excitement from this particular festivity has evaporated substantially. But, considering I’ve celebrated this event since I was a baby, I have plenty of memories to reminisce about.

In order to have a successful Halloween, you have to acquire the essentials: a show-stopping costume, heart-pounding decorations, and delicious candy. Weeks before Halloween descended on our town, my mother and I would hop in the car and cruise to Walmart, heading for the discount costumes. Being the third child in a set of triplets, I’ve endured some rather ridiculous ensembles (my first Halloween, my mother dressed my siblings and I as three peas in a pod). But Halloween is a form of expressing oneself, and as most American kids do, I demanded to dress up however I wished. I was Cinderella one year, a zombie princess the next. That’s the heart of Halloween, the fun of it—concocting your own costumes, no matter how strange or unsightly. 

Not wanting to spend too much on candy, my mother normally went to Dollar Tree—where all items retail at $1.00. She always returned with M&Ms and Hershey’s kisses—and tucked them away in a cupboard, so my father couldn’t snack on them before the big day.

Next, our front yard got a makeover…a rather ghoulish one. My mother and I threaded cobwebs in the trees as my father strung spiders from the branches. We staked foam tombstones in the ground and placed a plastic skeleton over the front door. One year, we assembled a fake scarecrow, stuffing his legs with newspaper and hay and using my father’s old clothing for his costume. At first, my father wasn’t impressed, but as we sat the prop on our front porch, he eventually warmed up to the idea. 

Our front yard seemed rather mish-mashed during the day. But at night, under the glow of artificial lighting, it looked quite terrifying—which, of course, was the goal. 

At last, October 31st rolled around. My siblings and I ate a quick dinner, saving room for as much candy as we could. Then, we raced out the front door, pumpkin-shaped baskets in hand. Though we were excited, we were guided by two rules: always remain with a parent, and never eat unwrapped candy. 

But rules are the furthest thing from a kid’s mind on Halloween. My siblings and I bravely marched up to our neighbors, some old friends, some practically strangers. We knocked on their doors and said the magic words that will get any adult, no matter how grumpy, to deposit a goodie in your bag: “trick or treat?”

And though parading around town in witch hats and frilly costumes was amazing, the true fun came once it was time to go home. We flooded the kitchen counter with our riches, shaking out our baskets until every last piece was accounted for. We sorted our treasure into sections: Hershey’s, Dove, and Twix dominated the “keep” pile, while our father gladly ate whatever we shoved into the “toss” pile (Twizzlers, Smarties, and Tootsie Rolls). 

As an adult, I look upon those memories fondly. Though most Halloweens were hot and muggy—and would have been more enjoyable with a breeze or two—they were always a success. 

Now that I’m 21, well past the age of Cinderella slippers and cowgirl costumes, I’ve moved on. I’ve traded trick or treating for more age-appropriate activities. Last year marked my first official Halloween party—a hallmark for all young adults. Dressed as Wednesday Addams, I pulled a cap over my hair, braided a black wig, and hit St. Petersburg’s streets with my best friend. 

Wind funneled around the corners, buffeting our dresses, pinwheeling my braids. Still, we arrived, clutching our purses to our sides and laughing as we took in the scene. We expected the party to be inside with a strobe light dance floor. Instead, the celebration was happening outside the building. 

Four DJs were hard at work around the venue, bobbing about to…silence. In fact, everyone was dancing in the quiet. A few people passed by us on the sidewalk, watching Freddy Krueger, the Kool-Aid Man, and a few Ghostbusters break it down without a beat. From the confused looks on their faces, they had no clue what to make of the display.

It took me a moment to realize the clunky 90s-looking headphones strapped to their skulls produced music—for their ears alone. With a touch of a dial on the left side, the partygoers switched between four different music stations: rap, old school rock, 80s classics, current favorites. The party’s name—Silent Disco—suddenly made a lot more sense.

Five hours later, the music faded away. The DJs packed up their spinning records, we took off our headsets, and made the trek back to the parking lot. I couldn’t help but dissect this Halloween and compare it to the other specimens of years past. I went from knocking on doors and scarfing down candy to attending the city’s most unique All Hallow’s Eve party. 

That last experience was certainly…different. One to look upon with joy. But there’s something about the true Halloween. The one with the eerie decor, the chocolate—the one from my childhood, that I will always appreciate the most.

The Other Side of Coco (Michelle Campos López)

Altar in Pátzcuaro, setting for the film Coco (courtesy, Drones Michoacán)

We have all seen the movie. Coco tells the story of Miguelito and his family. They live in a picturesque Mexican town, with its tile roofs and street stalls. Every November 2nd, this shoemaker family makes an altar de muertos, or altar of the dead, full of marigold flowers, candles, food and other things, just like many of the villagers do in their homes and in the public spaces.  Miguel, in search of his past, travels to the world of the dead along with his dog Dante, where they reunite the family.

Through this film, Pixar showed the world what Día de Muertos means and how Mexicans celebrate it.

Well. Let me tell you. it is not that simple. I am Mexican, and obviously, so is my whole family. I live in the city of Morelia, Michoacán (where the famous avocado is produced). We love the music and the typical food, but we do not make shoes nor put an altar in our house for the Day of the Dead. Actually, no one of my family, friends or acquaintances puts one up.

I have only made altars in my school, because these are the ones that generally teach us about Mexican traditions, as is the Day of the Dead. The dynamics are similar in most of them. Each class must make an altar to a deceased character, involving all the elements, such as flowers and candles. We have to buy everything (or rather, our parents). My mom never liked the idea of having to buy marigold flowers—they smell pretty bad. She says the house and the car will stink of medicine for the whole week, even if we have only had them for ten minutes. But anyway, in addition to making this altar, we must explain it and give a short biography of the dead. The school organizes a contest to which the family goes to see the altars and we enjoy a delicious hot chocolate and pan de muerto or dead man’s bread.

But what we also do with my family for November 2nd is to go to the Pueblos Mágicos, or Magic Towns, in our state. A Magic Town is a locality that maintains the history and culture of the region, so that the country can preserve its cultural diversity and promote tourism. All of these towns are very beautiful, like Cholula, Tzintzuntzan and Pátzcuaro. The latter two are two of the little towns where Coco is based, and that is where we go with my family, since both of them are less than an hour away.

Pátzcuaro is a big town where you can appreciate some traditions and customs, like the Danza de los Viejitos or the Day of the Dead. I must say that it is not that similar to the film, because tourism has been transforming it (unlike Tzintzuntzan, which I think has its roots more present). However, in both places, the Day of the Dead is manifested in every corner, filling the plazas and public squares with marigold, candles and catrinas.

I remember two years ago. I went with my family and some friends to Tzintzuntzan. Orange was all over the place, and I could see whole families sitting around their graves, adorned with typical food and alcoholic beverages, even bicycles. I was very surprised that there were relatives of all ages, from babies to the elderly, many of them with the intention of spending the night watching over their dead. A 13-year-old boy gave us a tour of the place, and I was amazed at how involved he was in this tradition.

It has always been a great experience to visit these towns at this time of year, and that is what many people do for this holiday, because it is something you do not see in bigger cities. From my point of view, the celebration of the Día de Muertos is like going to a play, where some are the actors and others are the audience. The theater is known by everyone and will always be there, but it is up to everyone to decide whether to attend the play, to interact with the actors, or to be part of the show.

« Older posts Newer posts »