por Tiffany Nguyen
Tiffany is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Texas at Dallas, and she is studying public and nonprofit management. She interned with En Vía this summer, and she fell in love with Oaxaca! She hopes to come back soon to visit all the great people she met while in Mexico.
After returning to the United States, I meditated a lot on why Angélica had such a profound impact on me. Before my 10-week stay in Oaxaca, I hoped for a deeper connection with humanity or with Mexican culture. I had romanticized traveling to a remote pueblo in Mexico to discover my life’s passions. But I didn’t find myself. Instead, I found a woman who was kind to me and whose maternal love transcended physical distances and language barriers.
En Vía asked me to write about the women of En Vía whom I met, their traditions, their businesses – anything. During my first week interning at the foundation, I set out to Tomaltepec by myself to find Angélica, carrying a vague idea of the things she and I might talk about. I sensed she would give me a lot to think over; but far beyond what I anticipated, she and I spoke for hours. She let me stay in her home, introduced me to her sobrinos y primos (her nieces, nephews, and cousins), and called me her daughter. Angélica offered me a fresh and distinct perspective on life in Mexico—in spite of, and perhaps because of her humble upbringing. But the conversations that resonated most with me are those Angélica and I had about love and resilience in life because that’s when I got to hear her uplifting optimism persist despite the hurt she’s been through.
The second time I met Angélica, we sat at the counter top of her taller where she bakes cookies for her business. My body was in Tomaltepec sitting in the cool kitchen air, trying to listen to her story and ask her perfunctory questions. However, my mind was elsewhere: the night before, I had been crying because of a rough breakup a few months prior. I was still processing my feelings about my former relationship, and I think my demeanor revealed something of my troubles to Angélica. She could hear my sadness about love. With her motherly intuition kicking in, I think our conversation shifted away from her selling galletas. Instead of talking about the difficulty of businesses administration or buying a new oven with another microloan, Angélica surprised me with un dicho (a saying).
Cuando es para ti aunque te quites y cuando no, ni aunque te pongas. If something or someone is for you, even if you try to run away from them, they will still be for you, she explained. But when someone isn’t for you, no matter how much you force yourself into their life and hope for their love, that person will still not be for you. Like if we stood under the sky, hoping for something to fall on our heads, us running around and adjusting our position as we stare skyward calculating its trajectory such that it lands on us—it just won’t work, Angélica told me.
And sometimes when we love, she said, the life of whom we love becomes more important to us than our own.
During my En Vía tour with my university, Angélica mentioned that she had a husband. Yet her language and her sense of removal from him gave me the sense that they were separated. In Mexico, it’s unlikely that a couple would be legally divorced but common for people to be informally separate. Still, I was left wondering what had transpired in Angélica’s life. This was part of why I sought out Angélica to interview in the first place—curiosity.
Angélica was more than willing to answer my questions. She opened up to me about her relationship with her spouse: they were together for 20 years, and he cheated on her. Her esposo anduvo con otra mujer, went out with another woman, and in a pueblo of 3000 residents, everyone knew, she said. Gossip runs quickly around there. She would see the other woman walking through town and feel the urge to punch the other woman. Angélica might walk past the Municipio, through the courtyard of la iglesia and spot the woman who stole her husband. Such is a reality of a pueblo like Tomaltepec.
However, she circled back to a lesson she learned from a book she recommended me called El Esclavo. No somos dueños, she said. No es tuyo. We are not owners of others; and they are not ours. We cannot expect people to remain ours or even be ours.
Instead, you have to follow life and keep going, she said. Déjalo que pasa tiempo, she consoled me. Let the pain pass with time. She pointed to the wires clinging to the ceiling above our heads and above the doorframe, the electricity. Even if there is a positive charge, if there’s no negative, there won’t be any light. No hay luz.
Again, she offered me another saying that stayed with me.
¿Por qué lloras por un pez cuando vives en un océano? Why do you cry for a fish when you live in an ocean? There are so many people out there who could love you, she said to me. And love is worth waiting for, according to Angélica. Wait for those who love you rather than pursue them, she said. If someone is meant for you, they’ll find you, she reassured.
I had heard this idea of fate and destiny determining my future before. But in Mexico, it seemed culturally ubiquitous, this notion that things will eventually work out if they are meant to be. And for Angélica, things did work out. She got through her separation from her husband with the love of her children. Her eldest, a son named Germán, no dejó de abrazarme, never stopped hugging her, giving her besitos, or talking to her. Her 22-year-old son now attends school in Pachuca Hidalgo, and Angélica admitted to me she cried often when he left. But her daughter Alejandra took up Germán’s place in cheering up Angélica. Because of the love from her children, Angélica salió de allá, she told me. They were who helped her out of “that dark place” of bitterness and resentment. Because of her kids and their infinite amor, Angélica no longer felt the pain of her relationship with her marido. Her kids were all she needed, she told me.
I felt a sense of kinship with Angélica’s struggle and shared how my parents were separated as well. And harkening back to my first encounter with the gentleman who walked me to her meeting, Angélica surprised me by mentioning Alcoholics Anonymous. Bring your mother to doble A, she told me. Bring your mother to a meeting to process her feelings about the relationship and about the pain.
During this conversation about doble A, we began talking about God. Mi jefa at En Vía told me that the prevalence of the notion of destiny I’d recognized before is interwined with the Catholic faith of many Mexicans. And it’s true. At the core of Angélica’s view of life is her strong faith. Not only did she suggest I bring my mother to doble A, she asked me if my mother and I went to church.
The answer ultimately didn’t matter because Angélica said we didn’t need to go to church to talk with God. God is like the wind, she told me: you can’t see it, but the wind touches your face and you feel it when you breathe. The Lord would hear us, Angélica said, even if we simply entered our rooms at night and kneeled at the side of our beds.
And in that moment, I was left in awe by her words. The poetry of her expressions, from the electricity to the ocean to the wind blowing on my face, Angélica once again exemplified that espousing wisdom is not restricted by where or how one grew up.
While your parents may argue and have issues with one another, you should still love your father, she told me. Don’t meterte, insert yourself in the problems of your parents, she advised. A bad husband can still be a good father. Your father is pendiente a ti, she told me, he’s attentive to you. If he didn’t care about your future, if he didn’t concern himself with your well-being, he wouldn’t be a good father. But he does all of those things, she observed.
She and her marido no longer get into each other’s problems. She doesn’t feel anything when she sees the “other woman” walking through the pueblo. She knew that things were okay, that she moved past the hurt when she could chat with her former love without pain.
Angélica showed me exactly what she meant one weekend when I stayed over at her home. I awoke at 9 a.m. on a Saturday in her guest room only to find I had to hurry to eat breakfast so we could arrive on time to that morning’s round of soccer games. It was a sweltering drive in the car as her son Germán drove me, baby Matilda, and Angélica to el campo to watch Tomaltepec’s annual torneo de fútbol. We pulled up to a grand green field, and I was in awe of the lush mountains that hugged the edges of el campo. Life here was naturally beautiful, as Angélica had told me.
Matilda’s father greeted us as we sat in some of the folding chairs under the shady awnings at the side of the field. Matilda had just minutes ago been rummaging through my knapsack, investigating my compact mirror and the way the lid clicked shut. Her father picked her up and cradled his baby daughter in his arms. And I saw what Angélica had recounted: there was no tension between him and Angélica, no animosity. They were friends, she said, and talked normally.
So Angélica is happy being alone. She realized she couldn’t be mad at the woman her husband had courted. Rather, they were both victims of his actions. Rather than rely on a spouse or mourn for her past relationship, Angélica looks forward to her future and feels grateful for her life as it is.
During our first interview in July, Angélica grinned as she told me how she looked forward to hugging her son and receiving many hugs from him when he came back in early August. The night he arrived back to Tomaltepec, I had the privilege of sitting with them in their kitchen as they chatted and witnessed a familial affection I miss dearly about Oaxaca.
El amor de los hijos: ese vale, es puro, natural. Angélica asserted that the love between a couple might fade, she said the love between child and parent is not so. It’s a great love, she said, where the parent worries and feels concern for the child. Pure and natural, she said. Angélica exudes pure joy when she speaks of her own children.
Although she and her husband separated four years ago, she had a child with him a year ago. Neither side of their family understands, she said. But her reasoning for wanting a child was clear to me: children accompany you through life, she said. She wanted someone by her side even after her 18-year-old daughter left for university; she wanted a companion for the coming years.
Angélica knew for a fact that it’s not easy being a kid: there’s ample stress. While parents might assume their children are away at college, merely goofing off and barely studying, that’s not true, she said. She knows the reality of being a young student is much more difficult. Away from home, students are often suffering, stressing, not eating, not taking care of themselves as they trudge through university classes. And so she warned against presuming that kids are not trying their best, against dismissing the workload that kids often bear because she’s so often seen other parents do just that.
Forcing one’s children to study something they don’t want to study consumes not just money but effort and time. She knew a father who had a chemistry lab and longed for his son to follow in his footsteps. However, the son wanted to be a chef. She grinned as she said chef, as if it were an amusing irony. It doesn’t pay to pressure one’s kids to follow in one’s footsteps.
But parents make mistakes, she admitted. However, we, as her children, need to help our mom, Angélica asked of me. Tell her that you care for her, she asked of me.
Especially as a parent, one has to keep moving forward with life in spite of the pain life inflicts on us. They must keep in mind the herencia, the inheritance of values, of culture, of education, that they leave behind through us children. She smiled as she told me she imagined that many people have told my mom to be proud of her children and how they’ve grown up. For that moment of deep pride, we should not give up. Déjalo que pasa tiempo, she said. Let time pass. We should rather strive to be there for our children – to support them and to love them.
When I first came to México, I was struck by how kindly my Oaxacan host mother had cared for me when I was sick. She tucked me into bed and placed a cold rag on my forehead. Angélica, to me, represented another mamá whom I’d met in Oaxaca. She even smiled as she introduced me to Germán as her new hijita.
I’ve been back from Mexico for a month now and can easily say I would return to Oaxaca in a heartbeat. The slower pace of life and the love of family were parts of the culture I feel blessed to have witnessed and experienced during my two months there. Although Angélica had stressed the love between parent and child, I realized it’s not only the love between blood but for those we choose to love that makes a difference.
This is the final part of the four–part saga of Angélica, where Tiffany shares some of the conversations she had with a wonderful woman receiving a business loan from En Vía. Please click the previous links to read the rest of the series!