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Culture Shock in Mexico
When I was in the third grade my family traveled to San Diego, California after we had earned enough frequent flier miles for five round-trip tickets. I had been looking forward to this trip for months. It was going to be the first time that I'd remember riding on an airplane.
So as spring break got closer I began a countdown. Everyday that I took off the countdown gave me a little more excitement. My dad had said we were going to go see the Pacific Ocean, visit Sea World and Disneyland, and even go to Mexico!
Finally the day came for us to leave. We woke up early to make it to the airport in time to make it through security for our morning flight.
My dad let me have the window seat on the way to San Diego. Once we made it up into the air I began yelling “Dad! Look! It's the clouds! We're above the clouds!' I did this until my dad told me I was disturbing other people on the plane.
Due to the three-hour time change between my time zone and California, we arrived at San Diego International Airport two hours after our five hour flight had departed. This also fascinated me, but to an eight year old everything was amazing.
We were going to have many family connections on this trip. Our cousins and their parents had also flown to San Diego for spring break and were going to do some sightseeing with us.
And plus, my dad's cousin lived in San Diego and was going to take all of us across the border and into Mexico.
So on the day of this adventure, we woke up early to eat a quick breakfast in our hotel and then we drove to a parking lot located close to the border.
The parking lot was for people like us because there was a short trail to the US border Control Building. My parents’ passports were checked and our birth certificates were looked over before the guard asked us questions about why we were going into Mexico. My parents told him that we were just going there for the day to walk around and that we were with someone who knew what they were doing.
The man let us through and then we went onto the Mexican Border Control. Their process was mostly the same as that of the US and they let us into the country.
The first thing I noticed about Mexico was the people. They were different than we were. Their skin was different. The way they talked was different. Even the way they dressed was different.
We got our picture taken in front of the border crossing sign and began walking into the town of Tijuana, Mexico.
The first look I got of Tijuana was not what I’d envisioned of Mexico. As a naïve third grader I hadn’t know much about Mexico but what I’d imagined was a land flowing endlessly with burritos and people doing the Mexican Hat Dance.
And that was obviously not what I saw.
I saw that you could look at Tijuana in two ways. The first way being that it was the poorest city I had ever seen and the second way being that Tijuana was the most colorful, vibrant place I’d ever been to.
A little while after we had gotten across the border we stopped at a McDonald’s to use the restroom. While we were there my parents bought us soft drinks but instructed us not to put ice in our drinks.
I wasn’t sure why, but I did what they said.
We began walking into the city again and that’s when I realized that Tijuana was beautiful in its own way. And after that there was so much to take it.
There were many shops and carts set up with beautiful handmade jewelry of every color and style.
I could smell so many different things at the same time. Burritos, something sweet with cinnamon. I wanted to try everything I could smell, it all smelt so delicious.
And the music, it was lovely. Just like the Mexican music in the movies. Musicians were set up on the sidewalks with their cases open for donations and people were gathered around them, some dancing along and some just listening.
We continued walking in the city taking in everything we could.
Small, dirty looking children began to approach us. They held used fast food restaurant cups filled with change. Some American coins and others that I didn’t recognize.
I felt horrible for these kids so I took out my change purse and put a few coins in each of the kids’ cups.
I began to understand why my parents told me I was lucky. I had a lot of things that these kids didn’t have. Like clothes, and food, a bed to sleep in, and a family that could support me. And having these things now made me feel guilty, when in the US it seemed like everyone had those things.
We found a restaurant that looked good, so we stopped for lunch. My dad’s cousin bartered with the owner until he gave us a reasonable price. The adults got some kind of drink that we weren’t allowed to have and the kids got lemonade and chips and salsa.
Tacos were the special at the restaurant that day, so that’s what everyone ordered. The tacos were delicious. They were genuine Mexican tacos, not the kind that they had at the fast food places back home.
Once everyone was done eating we decided it was time for a restroom break.
So the boys and the girls split up. We headed toward the restroom sign and went inside.
There was a woman standing right inside the door, and a sign next to her said “25¢ FEE.” Apparently you had to pay to use the bathroom. My mom gave the woman a dollar for everyone and we headed in.
To US standards this bathroom would have been considered kind of dirty, but I thought it was probably nice for Mexico.
After that the day continued with more walking around Tijuana and stopping to look at things that looked interesting. A man had a donkey that people could take their picture with, so we stopped and paid the man to take our picture.
The man had sombreros he let us wear for the picture. And he printed us out a Polaroid once he had taken the picture.
We said thank you and began walking again.
By now it was the afternoon and everyone was tired from the day of walking. So the adults decided we should start heading back to the border.
I told my mom that I wanted to buy some jewelry before we left. So during the walk back to border I was looking for a place to stop.
And soon I found the perfect place.
There were two young girls standing at a cart full of a rainbow of jewelry. I walked over to them and picked out three colorful bracelets and a small purse made of shiny pink beads. I handed one of the girls a ten dollar bill and the girl gave me the change back. I was about to put it in my purse when I stopped and gave the money back to the girls.
As we walked back into the border control building I was thinking about how lucky I was to live in America; and how lucky I was to have freedom and the oppurtunites I had.
The US guard checked our passports and our birth certificates just like they did on the way into Mexico.
There was some yelling in the room and I looked over to see two Hispanic girls being led back the way that we had came.
And so that day I learned many things.
I learned that in the United States we have a very good life and the people of Mexico just want that opportunity for themselves. But the most important thing I learned was that you should never take anything for granted.