Cultura, Mexico

Hometown roots

My roots are showing right now. This is typical. Since I first started dying my hair five years ago, I’ve never gotten the recommended touch up six weeks later. I typically wait 3-4 months to get rid of the grays after a little prompting from my mom.

This time around, I couldn’t pass up my mom’s offer to set up an appointment with her yoga buddy, Sylvia.

Mom picked up her cell phone, made the call and made an appointment for the following morning while Sylvia’s children would be at school.

The next morning, I made the 5-minute drive from my mom’s to Sylvia’s house. She greeted me warmly and invited me in. Her home looked as I remembered it, sans children and with a young woman, let’s call her Alicia, sitting at the dining table examining various items of gold jewelry.

At first, I thought Alicia was a family member or close friend because she and Sylvia were talking about mutual friends. I didn’t realize they had just met moments earlier when Alicia had knocked on her door asking if she had any gold to sell. Sylvia found some broken bracelets, lone earrings and other items to sell. While Alicia inspected and weighed the jewelry, Sylvia started dying my hair.

After getting the pesky gray roots and dying the rest, Sylvia put up the wet hair on top of my head. She removed her gloves and for the next half hour while the dye set she made calls to friends and neighbors. Earlier, Sylvia had promised to help Alicia find some more people willing to sell gold.

In quick Spanish, Sylvia explained why she had so much confianza (trust) in a stranger whose named she didn’t even know. Shortly after meeting Alicia, Sylvia discovered that she was from Jalisco. Not only that, she was from a neighboring rancho to Sylvia’s hometown. The people they were talking about when I arrived turned out to be mutual contacts. It was a coincidence that made a big difference for Alicia. Without the hometown connection, she likely would have not had much success going door to door.

I marveled at Sylvia’s instant trust and desire to help out Alicia, someone almost from her hometown. As a 2.5 generation kid, I’m slightly removed from the immigrant experience. I know my grandparents, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni, temporarily hosted recent arrivals from El Cargadero in their Boyle Heights home. My mom told me she sometimes had to give up her room for the newcomers. I’ve never had such an experience. I’ve been to El Cargadero a handful of times, but I still feel a connection to other Cargaderenses like Gustavo Arellano.

On a more macro sense, I know hometown connections are key in settlement patterns thanks to chain migration. I’m also well aware, thanks to my neighbors, about the role hometown associations play in raising money for public works and recreation projects back in Mexico. Two years ago, the little girl I used to babysit was named the Señorita Zacatecas for the Federación Zacatecana (an organization of all the hometown associations). Her parents had been leaders of the association from Jalpa for several years.

As the dye seeped in and covered up my roots, Sylvia focused on helping a woman who shared hers. Pretty cool.


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