Long ago, I drove to Tijuana with my high school church group to do some volunteering. On the way home, at the border, our van sat parked in a long line waiting to enter the US. A couple of us could no longer ignore that we needed to pee, bad. Through desperate persistence, we convinced our van driver to let us loose through the mercado next to the border exit line to find a bathroom. My friend Katie and I weaved through gift stalls full of brightly colored piñatas and pottery, asking anyone “baño, baño, por favor.” We finally found one with a sign outside charging 50 cents. Despite the language barrier and our lack of coins, the man could see the universal potty dance and let us in.
It’s easy to forget that Mexico is only an hour from home. When we discussed our summer trip, we didn’t want to drive far, but were sick of the same old Southern California we’ve seen so much of. A light bulb moment and some googling led us to reserve an inexpensive hotel in Rosarito, a little beach town 20 minutes south of the border. It was a needed getaway. We rarely stay in hotels and almost always camp and cook on the road, so not having to do any prep other than a swimsuit was refreshing.
For 2 days we ate lobster, seafood tacos, and the best handmade flour tortillas I’ve ever had. We drank beer and pina coladas. We went into town taking in every sight of local life. We left our patio door open to the ocean all night and sat by the pool all day. We went to bed early and slept in late. And over us, just in front of the hotel, Catholic Jesus watched it all. I gave him an air high-five every time we walked by. The best part of the trip was reading our books. We laid in bed all morning and read, pausing for tacos, before reading by the pool, where we drifted into naps book in hand. The resort wasn’t fancy. The tile patterns were hobbled together, changing abruptly presumably when inventory ran out. One afternoon our water was off for a while and the railings over the ocean were not to be leaned on. But rough around the edges never bothers me, in fact I prefer it.
The first night, a wedding was set up on the property. We drank margaritas at the bar and watched the wedding guests pour in, dressed up and speaking Spanish. The bride walked on the grass, waving over her bridesmaids. I sensed annoyance in her face, a expression all brides possess when trying to get everyone to stand still for a few pictures. Small flower girls in orange dresses twirled and families scrambled to their tables beyond our sight line. The music played late into the night, a mix of American and Mexican pop music. With our patio door open to the wedding below, I heard the DJ call out “¡mujeres!” and all the women shouted, then “¡y los hombres!” and all the men echoed back. I couldn’t stop grinning as we drifted asleep and N*Sync sung us lullabies from below. The next morning at breakfast, I turned my ear to the tables nearby straining to understand their recollections of the night before and only picking up every twelfth word punctuated by laughter.
Now that we’ve done it once, I want to do it again and again. I want to explore Tijuana, camp on the beaches, and get back into learning Spanish. International travel is not something I’ve done a lot of yet, but I’ve craved it in my bones since I was little and I hope to do much more. It’s intoxicating. People lead entirely different lives, a different language, laws, foods, celebrities, music, advertising, etc. To observe it all is a gift.
As we sat in line at the border, crawling by the mercado I ran through all those years ago, locals walked between the cars selling items piled on their shoulders like pottery, children’s toys, churros, and gold gilded Catholic art. I took in every person’s face, questioning the luxury of our vacation. I bought a pack of Chiclets from a woman with a disabled daughter burying her head into her mother’s hip. We crossed the border and headed home, a lump deep in my throat.
Coming from San Diego there is no denying the importance of the immigrant population woven into the fabric of our community. Many of our neighbors, classmates, and, yes, low paid workers were born in another country. Most of my Latino peers are American, born or naturalized, yet are nervous in these volatile times. To make the abhorrent assumption that being Hispanic in America means they’re illegal or unworthy is sickening. Fear mongering and racism is disgusting and should not be tolerated, recent events have proven that.
There is something incredible about listening and opening up to a new perspective. Through quiet observation and reading we can understand the intimate details of other people’s lives. What they struggle with, how they celebrate, who they love and respect, what they eat for breakfast, what games their children play, and so on. I feel only empathy for immigrants and sadness for the ignorance that surrounds a very complicated issue. One thing was clear from our trip, we’re all just people. With families we value, food we need, love we crave, and laughter to distract us.