I have lived in Mexico for almost five years and I never felt homesick in the traditional sense. In fact, I probably felt more homesick when I lived “at home.” Sick of who I was in that place and sick of the bad habits I felt helpless to kick.
Much like being “saved”, I was radicalized in my mid twenties, just a few years before law school and Mexico and meeting Roberto. Saved from myself and a path gilded with great credit and no conscience. I remember my boyfriend at the time — a staunch vegan anarchist with a subscription to Adbusters — going through my closet, looking at the tags, and calling out, “This one was made in Malaysia! This one in Honduras!” And this is how far gone I was:
I didn’t believe him.
I announced, defiantly, that I was making a list of all my favorite companies and doing my research, so I could prove to him that multinational corporations weren’t really all that bad. I made my list. But my research essentially started and ended with Ann Taylor, my favorite store at the time. Ten minutes and a cursory online search later and I was already done — I knew I would never, ever prove him wrong. I was wrong. I was clothed, head to toe, in wrongs. After clothing production and manufacturing, I moved onto food, climate change, free markets, you know where this is going…
That was the light bulb — more than a light bulb, a near religious awakening that broke my capitalism colored glasses in two.
The boyfriend was short lived, but the seeds he planted kept growing. When their flowers broke ground, I deferred law school for a year and moved to Australia to follow the next boyfriend (yes, this was a pattern). In Australia, swept up in the zeal of my newfound radicalism, I enrolled in a Unitarian seminary, convinced I was meant to be an anti-capitalist pro-environmental pastor. (See this post for how that turned out.) Australia, too, was short lived but, again, I brought the seeds with me.
What can I say? I was impatient. I wanted to see the flowers of my shifting consciousness blooming now. I wanted to know what to do with my repurposed life now. I wanted to make up for lost time now.
I was hooked on the microwave thinking that comes along with consumer culture: pop it in the little oven and ding! you’re done. Frozen problems. Hot Pocket solutions.
The funny thing is, by the time my Hot Pocket approach to life brought me to Mexico, I was sick of the microwave. Sick of consumer culture and how it affected every single thing in my life, including how I made decisions. I arrived here as part of a summer internship with no intention of staying long-term — I was done trying to “find” myself the frozen food section of decisions.
One of the first things I noticed about San Cristóbal de las Casas, México, is that microwaves aren’t all that common. (I can’t say I’ve seen a Hot Pocket.) Mom and Pop still run their corner stores, there are regular protests against Monsanto, and trueke hasn’t been forgotten. More than that, I found over my first few months here, that it’s hard to microwave your thoughts and words in a second language. Speaking in Spanish forced me to be deliberate in what I said and extra conscious of what others were saying. Existing and working in another culture forced me to throw away all my frozen, pre-cooked ideas about how things work and start from scratch.
Living in a place with a fresh market seven days a week, where I could buy my raw ingredients straight from the producer and then go home and cook them up — slowly, consciously — was such a drastic shift for a supermarket loving city girl like me, that it immediately affected how I moved through the rest of my day. I felt calmer, more human — it wasn’t México that delivered me from a Hot Pocket life like some knockoff Eat, Pray, Love. More like I happened to be in México when it all made sense and once it all made sense, I chose to stay in México.
I’ve never felt homesick here because I came home here. Home to myself, to my own blossoming flower bed. And then I met Roberto and that home grew. He was the friend that slowly turned into a boyfriend and then a partner — the one relationship I didn’t microwave. The slow cooked stuff.
But to say I never miss my original home would be a lie. It’s just not how you’d expect — the times I feel those little pangs of “Hey! That reminds me of home!” are most often in grocery stores and parking lots, as odd as that may seem. The first time it happened, I was crossing the parking lot in front of the newly built Sam’s Club, probably talking about how much it sucks, when I was hit with this wave of yearning and nostalgia. It reminded me of trips to Venture when I was five years old and still thought microwaves were really cool. Grocery stores, too, and their neatly groomed aisles and, of course, frozen foods. I will stand in front of the pizza rolls with a hazy glow around them — I don’t buy them, I just soak up the warm, fuzzy feeling they give me that I can’t explain. Other than to say, brand loyalty works because I feel patriotic when I see a Kraft logo — and that’s messed up.
Yes, I feel at home in paved parking lots, which would probably make Joni Mitchell cry.
So, today I repurposed it. In between Chedraui (the local supermarket/mall) and the parking lot, we had our 67th wedding. Roberto and I vowed to keep our consumption in check, be conscious consumers, and always try to support small businesses as much as possible. There was a heavy feeling of nostalgia, as I always feel in those places, coupled with the excitement of planting new seeds there in the concrete.
That said, we didn’t have Hot Pockets for lunch but we did have takeout, so we still have some growing to do.