These last few thoughts are for you, mi paisano (one from the same country).
I still remember the night before my flight to India. Mi mami (my mom) was watching me pack my last things as the telenovela (soap opera) hummed in the background. “Dani, y si vas aguantar tanto tiempo? No te falta nada? Por qué te tienes que ir tan lejos.” (Dani, will you last that long? Are you missing anything? Why do you have to go so far away?) I reassured her, answering positively, knowing she wouldn’t sleep if I revealed all of my worries. I was terrified, but I couldn’t show it. It was 1:30 in the morning and she needed sleep. My dad was already in bed because one, his work in construction took a toll, and two, I had an early plane to catch. Reluctantly, she headed to her room to rest. I quietly finished packing, and prepared for my semester in Hyderabad.
Looking back now, I realize I shouldn’t have been afraid. This semester has been so many things for me‚ amazing, transformative, emotional, magical, challenging, inspiring, and enlightening. Yes, la lucha (the struggle) was real. Within a matter of days, I was longing for the smell of frijoles (beans) slowly cooking on the stove, the soulful voice of Juan Gabriel on Saturday morning telling us it was time to do chores, and my father’s ridiculous sayings. My favorite is “Algo es algo, dijo un calvo cuando un pelo le salio-accent on o-.” In English, a rough translation is “At least it’s something, said a bald man when one hair on his head finally grew.” He uses the phrase to remind us to be grateful, even for the small things. And though it took me time to find comfort in my new setting, I did find it. The food was still spicy, the roti resembled tortillas, and the colors were as vibrant as the ones that line the plazas of Mexico. Many things would transport me to Loreto, Río Grande, Zacatecas (my parents' birthplace), making me less homesick. Maybe you’ll feel it too. It could happen when you hang your clothes on a line to dry. Or maybe when you learn that tu in Hindi is also the informal version of the second person, you. If you’re lucky, maybe Madhuri will give you some candy that’s basically the Indian version of dulce de leche. Oh! And though it’s missing mayo, salsa, and cheese, the corn, covered with lime and a Tajín-like powder, sold on campus will surely remind you of our good old fashioned elotes.
The similarities between India and Mexico are beyond belief‚ more so because they are countries on opposite sides of the world. I’m glad I was able to discover them. However, it was the differences that furthered my appreciation of my own culture. Though I liked blending in and being mistaken for an Indian, I loved telling people I was actually Mexican American. Whether it was an Uber driver, a fellow classmate, a professor, or even a date, their reaction/responses always made me smile. “Your Spanish is so cool!” “Mexican women are among the most beautiful in the world.” “Mexicans are a very strong people.” I would speak in Spanish to prove I really knew it, answer questions about our culture, especially about food and music, and was even able to present on machismo in Latin America to my Sociology of Gender class. I have never been this proud: proud of mi piel morena (my brown skin), proud of my ‘r’ rolling abilities, proud of el nopal en mi frente (the cacti on my forehead, phrase used to express Mexican heritage), and proud to be the daughter of immigrants.
I discovered my pride and so much more.
I write all this as I sit on one of the many cozy couches of our homestay in Rumtek. (This is our, Hannah and I’s, last trip in India; she wanted to see the mountains, and I was convinced by the promise of paragliding). There’s a group of boys kicking a soccer ball around in the most gorgeous setting. The birds are chirping, the insects are buzzing, the small waterfall soothingly runs its course, and off in the distance lies the pinks, the yellows, and the greens of the city of Gangtok, all framed by the hazy blue mountainous landscape
of the Himalayas.
My time here in India has emphasized the importance of enjoying life in the present. Beauty and happiness lie all around, disguised as landscapes, relationships, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This is hard to realize, especially in the competitive environment so common throughout the United States. I know. I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am, and plan to continue my efforts. Internships, graduate school, and becoming a biomedical engineer require an immense amount of work, as I am sure your goals do too. I just hope that you’ll be able to let go every now and then, living life happily, whatever that may look like for you. Enjoy your time here, make the most of your opportunities, and share who you are with pride. This experience is yours to keep and yours alone. I have shared a bit of my study abroad, take from it what you will. My last words to you are this: sigue echándole ganas, sueña en grande, porque tú puedes (Keep putting in effort, dream big, because you can).
Lo mejor siempre (the best always),