To be honest, I haven’t felt comfortable about visiting Mexico for a very long time. Family and friends would always invite us. We were invited to Mexico City, Monterrey, Cancun and we always said no. They asked again and we said, “no.” For so long, we heard about people getting killed and robbed and terrible events on the news. There was zero desire to put myself or my now pregnant wife in a situation where that could happen. It wasn’t going to happen. But soon a desire for Mexico grew in my heart. It was a secret that I couldn’t exactly share with some family because they believed it was foolish.
Then it came to us. The call. My wife and I were invited to speak at a conference for youth in a small town. Our job was to speak to an audience of young people who want to develop their business and leadership skills. The mayor’s wife is the one in charge of community events like this and allowed us to use the theatre at the town square. For this reason, I believed it was time for us to create a bridge in our lives to give ourselves access to our neighboring country. Mexico was calling. We had to respond.
I received my new passport just in time. I was so excited because my previous passport had been issued 10 years ago and I took a very terrible photo. It caused me problems regularly when I was traveling. I always got pulled over in the airports and border crossings because I looked like a bad dude with my hair messy, my beard unkempt and my eyes sleepy. For ten years, I had to put up with “extra” security precautions. I got it right this time. In this new photo, I got a clean shave and I was smiling. I was ready for international travel again.
We were driven across the border by our church leadership across Anzalduas International Bridge with very little problems. The last time I crossed the US/Mexican border it was filled with cars and didn’t seem very friendly. It seemed busy and full of traffic with vendors selling at your car window and beggars sticking cups in your face for money. Kids were jumping on the chrome steps of the truck next to us trying to sell random items to the man inside. These kids didn’t give up. They were invasive. It was either, they made money or they didn’t eat very well. This time was so much different. The infrastructure was so much better then when I saw it as a youth. This crossing was so much more organized and clean. I was beginning to see a different Mexico than the one we were lead to believe in. It was still foreign to me even though it is our neighbor. Even though it is my heritage.
We crossed into Mexico no problem. I would like to attribute this to my new and clean passport but I’m just not sure about that. I got my first stamp and visa for 7 days. Yes! I was now in the country of my ancestors. I hadn’t been here in over a decade. Beautiful Mexico had been filled with rumors of kidnappers, drug trafficking, human smuggling and violence. We were always warned by the adults never to cross into Mexico. I’d be lying if I said there was no apprehension.
It took deliberate effort to be here.
We drove around two hours on very empty highways. Men were doing construction at various points on the highway and conducting traffic. The scenery and nature began to change a little bit. The land wasn’t flat anymore and filled with mesquite trees. We started seeing taller trees and mountain ranges in the distance. It was pecan season too. We were not in Texas anymore that’s for sure. It’s a different type of rancho then I’m used to here even the birds sing differently here.
We passed by Monterrey but didn’t go through it. We did pass by a city named China then we proceeded to use terrible puns using the name China.
After an uneventful ride over, we reached the streets of General Terán, Nuevo León, our destination city. It is a quiet town. It seems like everyone knows everyone. The people are very friendly. Kids are out in the streets hanging out. This is a good sign that it is safe. Just some traveler’s advice, if you go somewhere and there are no kids outside playing it probably is not safe. If there are kids outside playing, you’ll be alright. This is an outdoor culture. Many of the local eateries have their doors and windows open. We were showed statues of Mexican artists like “Los Alegres de Terán.” Different people shared with us their pride in Norteño cultural music. Life is flowing here and the young people filled the plaza playing soccer, eating ice cream or flirting with one another.
It’s so great because people mingle and enjoy one another’s company. It doesn’t always seem like that back home. I think that is why when people come from Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley they want to bring this part of the Mexican culture with them. It just seems natural. We saw the remnants of a large celebration 16 de Septiembre here. Two weeks ago, the whole town was invited by the Mayor for the traditional “Grito.” The people gathered at the town square to celebrate with Mexican flags draped over houses and public buildings and decorations of green, white, and red that covered stores and streets throughout the city. Green for hope. White for peace. Red for the blood spilled by the patriots. Mexico was celebrating its identity and freedom. There is so much pride. Ten years of growing up have given me a more accurate perspective. Mexico is filled with beauty, culture, skill and the best part about Mexico is that it is filled with people. Not just any people. It’s filled the beautiful and wonderful Mexican people! People who are hard working. People who have a fierce love for families and leadership who are actively working to change the culture for the betterment of their children. The leadership is moving and using the resources available to them to work actively in the community to help change the mentality of many young minds and help them pursue wonderful opportunities. It’s true not all the restaurants or homes have air condition and some of the amenities are very different but the excellence of Mexico is in the edification of their people. This is where their focus is now.
We were allowed to speak to children from various schools about developing leadership in themselves and investing in themselves. We want them to see the incredible influence they can have on society.
The children in Terán are no different from our students back home. They love being on their phones, they don’t always make the best choices, they love being with others their own age but most importantly they need to be trained. They need leaders to teach them how to lead. These are the kids, I know. I know how to work with these kids. We can do this. They deserve the best we can offer them. So we shared with them. We spoke about self-control and finding a mentor. We spoke about the stages of a man’s life. We poured into those kids and young adults. I saw a young girl with a notepad ready. In my mind I thought, man she is serious. She was only like 11 years old. This is their own free time. They come to these conferences voluntarily. Most of the time, the parents do not come with them. We got to meet some of the local teachers at the conferences as well. The students were excited about participating and some of the kids were comfortable using the microphone when we asked them to come to the front to participate. I told the conference leader, “My dream is that one day you won’t need conference speakers from somewhere else. You can get conference speakers right here in Terán.” Those weren’t the exact words but you get the idea. It got an applause to my surprise! Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the whole point of training these young people.
We were invited to eat with the mayor and some of the leadership at a small taco restaurant near the plaza after speaking the first night of the conference. We took some pictures with the big word “TERÀN” at the plaza then walked to go eat. I sat next to the mayor and we talked about dual citizenship, leadership, and our connections to the Rio Grande Valley. We spoke about many things. It was insightful. I thought to myself “how could a culture so different be so close to home?”
The leadership of this city really cares. They are the organizers of these events. One of the organizers of the event literally walks around the town square and speaks to the young people who are outside hanging out. She did it like it is easy. It was natural to her. It was inspirational to me. They all knew her or her husband or about them. This was the first time for this city to have this youth conference/leadership event. Yes, there are adjustments to be made but everything is in place for something beautiful to happen.
This city has so much to be proud of. Approximately 15,000 people living here choose to call this place home. The center plazas at night are romantic. The architecture of the historic buildings is elegant. You can find a bench just about anywhere near one of the gazebos in the town plazas or take a picture by the street lamps that are decorated with flowers. Grand murals are painted on the walls of many buildings by local artists. Fresh fruit is a staple here and is always within arm’s length. Of course, if you get a chance, go visit the 1,000 year old nationally famous tree, “Sabino Gordo!” It really is gordo. Can you tell me if this is a dangerous place? The only danger is you wishing you spent more time here.
If you ask a Colombian about Colombia, they will say “Colombia es Pasión.” Ask an American about the USA and they will say “We’re the home of the brave.” But ask a Mexican about Mexico…there is no question about it...they will say, “México Lindo y Querido” and now I know why.