The year 2014 will always be a memorable one. I came to the United States, alone, to study at Georgetown University. I was learning how to commute in DC, getting lost various times in the process. Above everything, I was going to Mexico for the first time to spend Christmas with my roommate Andrea, who was born and raised in that country.
Truth be told, I did not have any preconceived notions about Mexico; travelling there seemed like a far-fetched idea at the time. People around me thought of the country as “a drug cartel giant”, and its people “adorned in costumes like sombreros and ponchos”. Studying Diversity and Inclusion taught me to be careful of these prejudices and, thus, I went to Mexico with an open mind and heart, learning the names of my Mexican roommate’s family and basic Spanish while on route.
I got my first surprise when we went to the Immigration Counter and the officer asked me whether I was Mexican. Delighted, I answered no.
“Are your parents Mexican?” He asked.
“Did your forefathers move from any Spanish Country to Pakistan?”
“The only link between me and Mexicans is that my roommate is from Mexico” I replied.
“You could really pass as a Mexican.”
Revered in this revelation, I said “Gracias” and we proceed towards the exit.
My roommate’s family was waiting for us and they were as excited to see us as we were to see them. Despite the apparent language barrier (they spoke broken English and I very little Spanish), our smiles indicated our happiness. We got our second surprise when we entered their home and saw a banner, exclaiming “Welcome to Mexico” with the flags of Pakistan, India, United States and China, painted by her father at the four corners of the banner. The banner was a warm welcome to the four nationalities who were coming to celebrate Christmas with the family.
I still remember their home, small but architecturally beautiful. Andrea’s family had music in their veins as every room had a music player, playing melodious Spanish songs at breakfast and dinner. I could not recognize the words but, somehow, they touched my heart.
We had many lost in translation conversations with Andrea’s mother using sign language back and forth. Her mom could only speak a few words in English, so one time we could not communicate properly and just laughed. We tried to act what we wanted to say but in the end, she called Andrea’s cousin, asking him to translate what she wanted to say to me. It was comical.
I remember the crowd in Mexico and thinking “This feels so much like home!” Cars honking, the graffiti on the walls, and people even looked like people from my country. I visited Metepec, Teotihuacan and climbed atop the Moon Pyramid. I went to Mexico City, saw Lucha Libre (a professional wrestling competition), tried and failed to light lanterns aboard the Trajinera boats in Xochimilco and learnt history about the indigenous people of the country. I fell in love with the local food, especially Tacos, Tostadas, Empanadas, breads, spices, and Churros and felt that people lived to eat; food was the heart of Mexican Culture.
Christmas was simple and spent with family, listening to Chinese and Spanish versions of “Let It Go”, enjoying fruit punch, cooking together, breaking a piñata, and exchanging gifts plus translating a speech dedicated to the family with help from Andrea. I gave them a novel written by a Pakistani writer, a poem from Rumi, and a book about Islamic Architecture in hopes of sharing my culture and heritage as much as possible.
My one week trip came to an end and, with sad heart, I went back to United States. I learnt that Pakistan and Mexico are two countries that have many things in common. For example, they place more value on relationships as they are collectivist cultures, they have the same love for food and music, a similar sense of humor and sometimes we even look alike. I know there are economic, political, and social problems in Mexico, just like there are problems in Pakistan, but these problems do not encompass everything there is to know about a certain country. Unfortunately, media focuses more on the “bad and ugly” instead on the “good and beautiful”. Mexico is a country where strangers can easily become friends, its people ever ready to tell tales about their home. Mexico has architectural beauty such as Palacio de Bellas Artes, scenic beauty such as Nevado de Toluca, and cultural beauty encompassing street food and dances.
For bestowing on me love and kindness, the following poem is dedicated to them: the Mexican family and the country:
How could I have ever known?
That I left my heart in Mexico
Unexpected love, unexpected friendships
Unexpected warmth, unexpected mischiefs
How can a strange place be so familiar?
That your heart bleeds for it
How can strangers become family in an instant?
I wish I had more time to see
I wish I had more time to be me
How can strangers love you so much that you feel at home?
How can there be a home, far away from home?
People say all good things must come to an end
But not this, not ever
Because we will never forget
Sehr Jamil Aslam, an International Student from Pakistan, is completing Human Resource Management Program at Georgetown University, with focus on Diversity and Inclusion.