On the road for the holidays

Did you travel during the holiday season?

I bet you did, looking at this infographic of holiday travels within the United States. It seems like everyone was out and about!

Travel in the United States during the holiday season of 2013

Travel in the United States during the holiday season of 2013

You were not the only one on the road; I traveled as well! And even though I got a cold, I still had a great time checking out central and western Mexico.

I stopped in the town of Tequila to learn about the manufacturing process from the plant to the bottle:

Then I met up with my dad out west. He had been hanging out with some sea life on a sailboat!

This island is one of the Peace Corps' Volunteer sites here in Mexico...only a little jealous!

This island is one of the Peace Corps’ Volunteer sites here in Mexico…I am only a little jealous of her!

Letting the wind take us back to the harbor

Letting the wind take us back to the harbor

Right to left: Pacific whitesided Dolphin, Humpback whale spouting, Humpback whale diving

Right to left: Common dolphin, Humpback whale spouting, Humpback whale diving

One of many Pacific sunsets with my dad

It’ is our tradition: watching the sun cross the Pacific horizon

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One thing caught my eye during my travels: it seemed like the whole country was on the road with me!

In some ways, this was surprising; Mexico has some of the world’s lowest levels of internal migration. People tend to settle in the region where they were born. Compare that with the United States in the following map; US Americans certainly get around!

Internal migration by country, worldwide

Internal migration by country, worldwide – International Organization for Migration

So why were the buses completely filled, and why was there so much traffic on the highways if everyone already lives close to their family?

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If I have learned anything about Mexico, it is that the love of fiesta falls second only to family as the most important thing in life. You can imagine how important the holidays are to the Mexican people; they combine the two most important things!

Last year, I learned first-hand what it means to party throughout the fiestas de diciembre. I learned to take issue with the term since the parties stretch well-past December and into January!

These fiestas simply cannot be missed by family members. And there are a lot of family members living in the United States. Suddenly, all of the traffic started making sense. After all, with 12.9 million emigrants, Mexico is the country with the largest number of citizens living outside of their native country. 

World map, weighted by number of immigrants living out of their native country. Mexico is by far the country with the most immigrants.

World map, weighted by number of immigrants living out of their native country. Mexico is by far the country with the most immigrants.

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When I was in school, each December I would jealously watch many of my classmates ask permission from the teacher to miss several weeks of school. They were traveling to Mexico for six or seven weeks every year.

Years later, I find myself on the other side. This year, I watched my adopted country swell with Mexican-Americans. Some are as foreign as I am, culturally speaking. I wondered to what level they experienced culture shock.

When looking at my 30+ hour cross-country trip, I could hardly feel tired in comparison. Many travelers rode buses for upwards of 80 hours!

I did not snap many photos along the road because it felt a little intrusive, but the Chicago Tribune did a nice photo-journalism piece. Here are a couple of their photos:

"In a joyous reunion played out many times during the holidays throughout bus stops in Mexico, Indiana resident Adela Cortes Muñoz gets off her bus in Queretaro, Mexico, into the welcoming arms of her grandchildren." -Chicago Tribune

“In a joyous reunion played out many times during the holidays throughout bus stops in Mexico, Indiana resident Adela Cortes Muñoz gets off her bus in Queretaro, Mexico, into the welcoming arms of her grandchildren.” -Chicago Tribune

"Chaos ensues as bags are emptied from one bus to another, at a stop in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico." -Chicago Tribune

“Chaos ensues as bags are emptied from one bus to another, at a stop in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.” -Chicago Tribune

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Not all were able to return to Mexico for the holidays though. Those unable to come undoubtedly sent money and/or gifts. Who knows if or when those packages will arrive. I am still waiting on my Christmas package, six weeks later. The money undoubtedly arrived though; evidence of remittance money has been changing Mexico’s countryside for years now.

Annual remittance money earned in the United States and sent to Mexico

Annual remittance money: earned in the United States and sent to Mexico

There is also an increase in cross-border telephone communications during the holiday season. Verizon did a survey about these calls; that they are frequent and usually full of te quieros and lots of chismesI am undoubtedly included in the demographic. But instead, my conversations are in English and are consequently full of I love yous and lots of gossip.

Telephone data from Verizon about calls between Mexico and the United States. The vast majority tell their families that they love them once a week, while they exchange chisme: gossip

Telephone data: calls between Mexico and the United States. The vast majority call to say “I love you” once a week while they exchange chisme: gossip

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I had the good fortune to be traveling with a visitor. However on January 7th, I had to drop him off at the airport. The bus to the airport, which normally serves 5-10 passengers per ride, was completely full. At the airport, the lines to check-in stretched out the doors and down the hallways. People stressed about making their flights in time. Passports were checked and tears were shed.

We were all returning back to daily life, back to an economic system that separates loved ones. How wonderful to reunite. How hard to say goodbye again.

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 Making me smile

  • I taught my visitor how to say bread, bolillo (bo-LEE-yo) in case he needed to go to the bakery on his own. About a week later, he told me that he would like to eat a bolero (bo-LAIR-o) with avocado and tomato on top…I told him through my giggles that I did not think that a man who shines shoes for his job would appreciate being topped with vegetables.
  • Being able to help my dad find the creature comforts in Mexico like yogurt without sugar
  • Allowing my dad to treat me to luxury imported foods like cheddar cheese and Trader Joe’s goodies
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