Love, Loss and the Mexican Border

(From my ‘travel blog’ series, documenting by trip from Toronto, Canada to Mexico City by land.)

The bus was more full than all the other transit I had taken so far.  We were on our way from San Antonio, Texas down to Mexico.  I was feeling anxious because I felt that I didn’t have space to myself, space to think and prepare for the intimidating trek over the border.  I took a seat next to a young girl and though I resented her at first for having to share a row she ended up being a calming presence.  She’d crossed the border on her own before, something that I was now becoming nervous about.

Tania was her name, she was 16 years old and was moving back to Veracruz with her family.  She was living and going to high school in Austin, Texas, but lately her grades weren’t so good and she was getting into trouble, so her family insisted that she go back to Veracruz.  Tania was born in Texas and spent the first couple of years of her life there, but then her family moved back to Veracruz where they were originally from.  They sent her to school in Texas recently because they thought it would be better for her future.  I didn’t ask many questions, but I assume she was born in the U.S. and had dual citizenship if she was able to study there.

Though Tania was excited to go back to Veracruz, she knew she would go back to the U.S. some day, probably Austin.  She wanted to get a good job and send money home to her family.  She spoke about this in a matter-of-fact kind of way that didn’t seem to bother her.  Tania had other things on her mind.

“Are you excited to go back to Mexico?”  I asked.

“Oh yes, I’m excited to see my family again. It was hard in Austin not being with my family,” she said.

“Did you like Austin?  Will you go back do you think?”

“Yes, Austin is nice.  But it was very hard without my family there.”

“Yeah I can understand that.  Was it hard to leave your friends in Austin?”

“Yes, very hard, especially because I had to leave my boyfriend there.  I am very sad about that.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, it was very sad. But I know I love him and I know he loves me, so it will be OK.”

“Well that’s nice.  You guys can keep in touch and maybe you’ll see him again someday, right?  You never know what will happen.”

“Yes, we love each other, so I’m not too worried.  It’s very sad though, you know, I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

“That’s horrible.  Why didn’t you get to say goodbye?”

“Because I didn’t see him at school this last week, so I just never had the chance to say goodbye.”

Really?  Love?  Sometimes I feel like this word is overused.  I wanted to tell her that she’s still young, that she’ll meet other people, that her heart may even get broken many times but she’ll always recover.   I wanted to tell her that she can’t always depend on other people and she needs to go her own way.  I wanted to tell her to be strong and follow her gut, not her heart.  But I didn’t.  These words mean nothing when you can’t get someone out of your mind, no matter how old you are.  The feeling is much too addictive to listen to my version of rationality.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher says that the main sources of “Romantic Love” are threefold: deep cravings, motivation and obsession.  She studies brain patterns and found that when people experience “Romantic Love” it activates the same part of the brain as when you take a hit of cocaine.  It’s not a sedentary emotion, or a series of emotions, but a drive.  “It comes from the motor of the mind,” she says, “the wanting and craving part of the mind.”  This is one reason why rejection, or separation, can be crushing; the motor of the mind can’t just stop but cravings and motivations continue to be propelled forward but in the new negative ways.  This feeling also makes you feel alive, and is addictive.  My rationality clearly wasn’t going to contribute anything to Tanya’s state of mind.  I’m also starting to think that rationality too often gets in the way of drive, motivation and also passion.

Tania taught me some swear words in Spanish and we tried to talk about music, but our tastes were coming from two different and irreconcilable worlds.  We arrived in Laredo and found that we both had to connect to the same bus.  Though we were confused and dismayed we found it together.  The bus was not like the comfortable Greyhound we had on our way into Laredo.  It was more like an old tin can with hard seats and horrible fluorescent lighting.

“Sure, just because we’re going into Mexico they have to give us the shittiest bus,” said another Mexican passenger.

I found out later that the Mexican man works in Texas and goes into Nuevo Laredo every now and then to see his family.  He’s been working in the U.S. for over 15 years.  He started doing manual labour, a lot of construction and grunt work, but worked his way up and now has an office job and travels often to Chicago on business.  He doesn’t love the U.S.  His family isn’t there, for one.  He does like his job though, and makes more money than he would in Mexico.

As we pulled up to the border our bus did not get the green light to go straight through and we were forced to go into the station and through the metal detectors.

“Did they check your bag?”  asked the Mexican man when we boarded the bus again.

“No, not mine,” I said.

“Good.  If they ever do, watch the police and your stuff like a hawk.  They’ll steel anything they can get their hands on,” he told me.

I was told to fear cartels in Northern Mexico, and somehow I forgot all about the stories of police corruption as we were going through the border.  I needed to think I could trust these blue suits that surrounded me in order to feel safer.  It’s a strange feeling when you know you can’t trust the authority figures that are paid to protect you, but don’t. The same people who still enforce laws onto you.  Who can you trust then?  What is trust?  People here must grow up with such a different concept and experience of that word.

Tania and the friendly Mexican man left me in Nuevo Laredo and I continued on through Northern Mexico on my own.  We passed the picturesque mountainside near Monterrey and I thought about everything that could be happening within those beautiful hills right at that moment that I couldn’t see, that I couldn’t even imagine.  By 5:15am I was once again surrounded by city as we pulled into Mexico’s capital.

One Reply to “Love, Loss and the Mexican Border”

  1. Awesome writing Kim. “My rationality wasn’t going to contribute anything to her state of mind. I’m also starting to think that rationality too often gets in the way of drive, motivation and also passion.” This, though not directly related, made me think of Martha Nussbaum and the section on Aristotle and Virtue Ethics in “Love’s Knowledge”. Highly recommended, if you can pick it up. Maybe I mentioned it before. Deals with the role of the emotions / imagination in making judgments in concrete situations, which cannot be reduced to abstractions or dealt with by formulas or instrumental reasoning. A process literature is well-equipped to show us; hence (part of) its value.

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