On Bringing Mexico Home with Me

I went to a book club last night for the first time. I met a whole bunch of new people, which always makes me nervous—I'm introverted and shy by nature, and I always feel super awkward around new people. Especially groups of other women. (Anybody else?) I don't have the best track record at fitting in, and it's hard to shake that feeling when trying to navigate a new group of people. Am I going to say something stupid? Will they like me?

Living in Mexico changed so much about me, or helped me unlock so much about myself—I'm more confident now. I'm more at home in my own body, in my own being. But last night, I struggled to find my footing among this new group of people. I found it all too easy to slip back into my old patterns—trying to figure out how to present myself, instinctively diminishing myself, skipping over my accomplishments or downplaying them.

Today, while working on the guidebook, I came across this picture. It was taken at La Condesa, a rooftop bar I went to with my friend Nallely to get photography for the book. Looking at this picture, I marvel. This was my life. Rooftop bars with friends, overlooking one the most stunning cities anywhere, a city no one knows about, except the people who do. I remember big, fancy dinners with Laurie and Greg; it was nothing to go to the nicest restaurants in town and order whatever we wanted. The bill was never too much.

One of Greg’s last nights in Guanajuato, we ate a big celebratory dinner at a posh restaurant in La Presa, and then went out to sing karaoke in a place around the corner from the theater—just because. Just because we could.

I remember riding the bus from La Presa to Centro, the sun setting outside, the city growing dark. Harper on my lap, Jesse and Greg in the seat in front of us. The man standing at the door of the bus, taking fare from passengers as they got on the bus. The casual way he stood even as the bus bounced along the uneven streets, barreling toward the historic center. That was the moment, for me, the way you could own something, the way you could balance as the bus rocked to a stop to collect more people along its way.

And when traffic got heavy, we tumbled out of the bus, laughing, and walked the rest of the way to karaoke, where we met new friends and old ones, and it all felt so easy.

In the karaoke bar, we were the only ones speaking English. We were a group of Americans and Mexicans and a woman from Canada (I think?) and we chatted while waiting for our turn at the mic. And I’ll never forget the moment Greg took the mic and absolutely crushed Macy Gray’s “I Try,” and even the big macho Mexican guy at the table next to us was cheering. (If I had a video of Greg’s performance, it would have broken the Internet, and I’m very sorry I don’t.)

I screamed as Greg sang, and so did everyone else. And it felt so inevitable, that moment, when everything was perfect, and we were so happy. Almost everyone in that room was a stranger, but at that moment it didn’t matter.  

That was the person I was in Mexico, in Guanajuato. There was an undeniable cool factor to our lives in Guanajuato, an element we’d never had before and probably will never have again. And while I’ll never be one of those people with actual swagger, there was a confidence and a reckless joy about the person I was in Mexico.  

I have no idea how to tell the new people in my life about my old life. I don't know how to integrate my Mexico self into my new life in the United States. There are some people who are genuinely interested in our lives in Mexico, and they give me the space to talk about what a beautiful country it was, how rich our lives were there. And there are other people who find it entirely uninteresting. And that’s fine—I don’t need everyone to subscribe to my YouTube channel. (ha.)  

But I want to keep alive those parts of myself, that confidence, that self-possession. I became harder to intimidate in Mexico. I knew who I was and what I was doing. And I still do. The trick is not forgetting.

Driving home from book club, I thought about that night in Guanajuato, the dinner and karaoke. I wanted, strongly and inexplicably, to buy a ticket to San Francisco or Oaxaca or Montevideo.

I will, someday. Once the boxes are all unpacked and I’m ready again. I’ll be back in Mexico. I’ll be in China, in Argentina, in Bali. Because the box I opened in Mexico isn’t going to ever close. And while I am so very much loving my US life right now (more on that, later), I also know that I’m still the person I was in Mexico, the girl who sat on that rooftop at La Condesa while the wind blew and the tourists on the street below us snapped pictures of the basilica, the yellow church all lit up against the midnight blue sky.