“Corré corré!” Run, run! Soldiers, dressed in black dusty uniforms, yelled into the hot desert air. The only colour they donned on themselves were the colours of the Mexican flag. People were running left and right, not knowing where to go. Shouts of fear blanketed the air and shook the hearts of all who heard them. My mother's voice broke the shouts of men and women , “Zoe, hold on to-“ Gunshots cut her off as quick as they were fired. My father grabbed my brothers and my mother grabbed me. They weren't gentle. My father shouted something unintelligible at a nearby soldier. Thankfully he heard us and ushered us toward a wall of sandbags. We all hunkered down before another bout of gunfire grazed the air. The shots reverberated in my ears like bells in a church chapel. The constant ringing made it hard to hear instruction. Suddenly the ground shook violently and my mother covered my tiny body with hers. When she removed herself from me, I could hear nothing. My father stood up, waving away as much dust and dirt as he could, coughing he yelled, ¨Que demonios fue eso?¨ What the hell was that? A soldier ducking behind another a barricade of sandbags stood and replied, ¨Están lanzando granadas!¨ They’re throwing grenades! I watched my mother’s eyes fill with pure fear. She slowly shook her head in disbelief. I could only think to myself: who were they? The dust started to settle and the surrounding area fell silent. My older brother whimpered and the only thing I could think to do was to hold him. Despite us fighting all the time, in this moment, it was as if we never had a day in our lives. What went wrong? We were so happy. Why would my loving parents put us in this position? We didn’t know. No one did. The silence ceased imminently and more gunfire exploded into the air. I shut my eyes tightly, trying to shut it all out. When I reopened them I found myself staring at the corner of a tall brick building. Old in style, Pueblan to be exact. It loomed over us as if it were watching our every move. But I noticed, hanging by what looked barely to be a thread left, the Mexican flag. I was taught to respect it. To pledge my allegiance to that very flag that represented my heritage, my very being. But in that moment, I did nothing but despise it. Those three colours: red, white, and green. That damn eagle right in the middle, carrying a snake in its mouth, perched on a cactus -it mocked us. We were that snake. That very flag that I was taught to love, made us feel so small and minute. I hated that flag. I hated this place. I hated my heritage. I hated Mexico.
“Vas a encantar Mexíco!” You're going to love Mexíco! my father had exclaimed. His eyes lit up like fireworks at the very subject. He was born there, right in the middle of Mexico City. He always spoke Spanish with me. It's the first language I learned. It wasn’t until age 5 that I started learning English. Before then, I attended bilingual schools. “Si papí, yo sé eso.” Yes daddy, I know that. But little did I know back then that this happiness wasn’t long term. We packed up our house in under two days. Packing was always a chore. You’d think I’d had been used to it by now, as this was the fourth time we were moving. But in reality, I felt it taking a toll on me. Toys, books, furniture, pictures, you name it, and I can guarantee we packed it! The only thing I wished I could pack were my friends and the relationships I created with them.
I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there we moved to Garden City, Michigan, then to Phoenix, Arizona, and now we were off to Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexíco. My father worked in the automotive industry. He constantly switched positions all over the USA. If it wasn’t for my mother, we’d most likely be living in China right now. But that would have been too much for us then. Being only 7 years old at this time, with 2 years of learning the English language under my belt, and moving so often, one may think I’d have gone crazy by now. But surprisingly I hadn’t, and I loved every bit of my wild life.
After packing up all of our belongings, saying goodbye to my most recent made friends, and preparing myself to switch my brain back to Spanish, we made our way to the airport. I loved to fly. My brothers? Not so much. “We’re going to die!” my older brother would say. “Callate bebé!” Be quiet you baby! This was my favourite thing to say to him. It made me feel like I was the oldest sibling! My younger brother however, disliked flying due to his motion sickness. If you put that child in any sort of vehicle, expect his most recent meal to make an appearance.
The airport was probably the most crowded I had ever seen. People were bustling left and right. Cultures and countries mixing all at once; Africa, Brazil, Russia, China, Japan, France, Chilé, etc. The airport is where we all meet and become one.
Our gate was in a completely different terminal. We checked our bags, smoothly glided through security, and rushed our way to the gate. When we arrived I looked around for other families. Other children my age. But all I saw were burly, tan, men and women who looked as if they’d seen hell. My excitement suddenly diminished and I hid behind my father’s leg. The men and women eyed my family as if we were a fresh buffet, ready to be devoured. My father didn’t seem to notice anything wrong. There most likely wasn’t anything wrong here at the gate. But little did I know that this very gate would lead me straight to a desert hell I would soon call home.
The plane ride wasn’t too long. It was a straight trip to Hermosillo. The city was in the northwest region of Mexico, one more heavily populated. My older brother was given a few melatonin to sleep so his fears wouldn’t get the best of him and my younger brother made it by with only one nauseating episode. This was a good trip.
The first step off of the plane was one I’ll never forget. This being because I tripped on a mat and fell face first into the floor. Welcome to Mexico Zoë.
The air was hot and dry. If someone told me I was in the Sahara, I’d had believed them. My brothers jeered at me, regardless of the fact that I was the only one fearless of planes. My parents stepped off after me and we followed the tunnel gate into the airport. Mexico. I had made it. The architecture of the building was odd to me. After living in the states for the first portion of my life, everything seemed almost exotic. Instead of staying to admire the workings of the building, my father ushered us all to the baggage claim. From there we hailed a taxi and made our way into town.
Palm trees and sunshine filled my eyes. My pale skin glowed like fluorescent lighting. I was what my family called a gringa, otherwise known as a white mexican. This was respectively due to the fact that I was snow white in palor but when opened my mouth to speak, I sounded more Mexican than those who were born here.
Everywhere I looked there was something interesting to see: taquerias, billboards, supermercados, etc. What surprised me the most however, was the number of sandbag walls there were on every corner. Construction? Probably.
It took about 45 minutes to drive out to our new home. But once we arrived, I was in awe. The house was nothing short of what I considered a castle. A vast black iron gate greeted us. A few moments at a pinpad and we were granted entry. We had to drive a quarter of a mile just to reach our front door. The front lawn stretched all the way to the gate, of course, adorned with palm trees, flowers, and other beautiful plants I had never seen before. The house was even more breathtaking. Exiting the car, I gasped in excitement as I eyed the home, my home, over and over. The outer stone was a sort of tannish khaki colour. The texture was rough looking but made it appear stronger than steel. Wood accents surrounded the windows and cobblestone was laid perfectly at the base of the home. It stood three stories high with a matching three-car garage just for good measure. It was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. And I lived here.
Moving in was easy. At least on my part. I didn’t have much furniture. Just my twin sized bed, two-drawer dresser, and a small shelving unit. My bedroom was huge, complete with a walk-in closet, and a bathroom fit for a princess. My brothers rooms were just like mine, ones fit for some mischievous princes.
My father picked this particular neighborhood for the school system and local activities. For example: a resort for neighborhood residents only, a mini waterpark, two movie theaters, “fancy” restaurants, and kids camps. Everything seemed too good to be true. But sadly in 3 years time, it’d all come crashing down.
Ten years old, top of my class at the private academy, Harmon Hall. It was a bilingual school that catered to children of cultures all over the world. Life in Hermosillo was wonderful. My mother attended the resort, Los Lagos, while my father did what he did best: work and make a name for the family. My brothers and I attended the resort as well, but of course in the “kids” wing of the vicinity. There we were taught archery, painting, swimming, etc. Everything was perfect. I had made so many friends, ones I never want to forget. I didn’t want to ever leave Hermosillo! Not ever.
Over time however, things seemed to change. My parents had a worried looks upon their faces almost always. When I would ask to play with my friends outdoors, I would be sternly told, “No mijita, tiene mucho calor afuera.” No sweety, it’s too hot outside. This however made no sense whatsoever, as there were always plenty of children playing out in the sunshine. I never argued. I would retreat to my bedroom and play all by myself. Yet nothing could block out the yelling I’d hear from the next room over. My parents would argue. One statement always arose the highest, “Tenemos que ir.” We need to leave. This would be spoken by my mother almost daily. I never understood why. We were happy here. Why would we go back?
My mother stopped letting my brothers and I go to school. She hired a nanny named Tanya, who only spoke spanish, to help around the house while my father went to work during the long hot days. I missed my friends at school.
It was a Tuesday afternoon. My father had the day off. We had plans to go to the waterpark, La Ciudad de Agua, and then grill some food at Los Lagos to celebrate its 12th anniversary since opening. Our plan was to go to El Mercado Sól, to buy the meat for grilling. I was so excited to finally do something again. We hadn’t left the house as a family in so long. My father piled us all into our car and made our way into town, I now wish we’d had turned back.
My favourite song was playing in the car, Mariposa by Maná. My brothers laughed at me because I was singing so loud, “¡Callaté loba!” Be quiet, she-wolf! I howled the lyrics at the top of my lungs. I was happy again; my father cut it short. My mother turned around in her seat and set her finger over her lips, shushing us immediately. Cars in front of us were honking at those in front of them. Yells started to emit from outside of the car. I looked around curiously. I had thought it were a parade because those were so common. I was never more wrong in my life.
A sharp, loud noise pierced the air. It sounded as if a mini bomb had gone off. My father reacted fast and put the car into reverse. He swiveled us around the mass of cars only to be stopped once more. Men, all dressed in black, roared at us from the outside of our car windows, like lions. We were told to unlock the doors and seek cover immediately. My father tried to argue but they were imminent. They ushered us out of the vehicle, not gently either. Suddenly all hell broke loose and I knew something was wrong. A mass of people came straight towards us, all from the stopped cars that we tried to avoid. They gestured toward us to join and run with them but my father held his ground. They all screamed. I remember watching my father’s eyes widen with fear. Before we all had time to process what was going on, gunfire erupted into the crowd. I watched innocent men and women drop to their knees and die right before my own eyes. “¡Corré, corré!” the men dressed in black, the Mexican army, shouted. I couldn’t move. I was frozen in fear. It felt like I stood there for hours before my father grabbed me by my arm, almost tearing it off. We ran.
Looking back now at 17, I still don’t know who attacked us or why they did it. My parents never spoke of it. When I would ask about that chapter in our lives, they’d fall silent and ask me to forget about it. I wish I knew what happened.
After that day, growing up, I began to form a sort of hatred for Mexico. It’s funny how a place I once loved, my own heritage, became something I am now ashamed of. Mexico can be beautiful. But even now it is still one of the most dangerous places to live.
Regardless of the hardships, I miss my friends. I hope they’re happy now, safe. I loved them. I loved Mexico. But I had to say goodbye and forget it.
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. My former home. Now a place I still fear. I can still hear the shouts of men and women, “¡Corré, corré!” Run, run.