Tende: The Foundation of My Family.

Although every family is different, there is one thing that every family has in common. Whether it is a place or object, every family has something that is close to their hearts. That place or object creates an emotional response as soon as you think of it or see it. In the case of my family, it’s a place that creates that emotional response from all of us: Tende, my parents’ hometown in Michoacan, Mexico.

Tende, a town where there are no strangers, where you can walk freely through the stone paths with no care in the world, where the ruckus of the city is nowhere to be heard, where a pile of rocks separated your land from the neighbors. The homes still made of straw and adobe, not very large in size but very welcoming and comfortable. Each person with their little piece of land where they grew vegetables like maiz, and another little piece of land for the animals. This is the town that saw my parents grow up and that plays a very significant role, not only in my parents’ lives but also in the life of my younger sister and me.

I grew up hearing stories from my parents about growing up in Tende with very limited resources. For many people, it’s easy to wake up in the moming and open up the closet and pick from different colors, styles of clothing, or shoes.  But among the millions of stories my parents have shared with me, I always think about how when they grew up, they had very few clothes. For them, there was no such thing as winter or summer wardrobe; the clothes they had were used year-round, same with the shoes. Imagine waking up at five in the morning to a very cold, rainy day and only having a pair of jeans and sandals to wear, then imagine walking through the muddy paths, not made of cement or asphalt but paths that over time have formed, and consist of dirt and a bunch of rocks while wearing sandals. Nothing like going for a walk here where you put on some sneakers and have a path already built for you with not one pebble in your way.

My dad would have to wake up early to help his dad with the land then have to go feed all the animals. After that, he would to go up into the mountains, horseback riding to take all the cattle to the nearest place with water, then go volunteer at the church when there was mass, and by the time he would finish, the day was almost over. In my mom’s case, being the youngest child, she had it a little bit easier because the oldest children had it the hardest. They were forced to do everything and take care of the youngest children. This doesn’t mean my mom had it easy. Instead of working, she would occupy herself crocheting, cooking, and a lot of her time went in helping at the church.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t mention any time for eating.  While growing up, my parents didn’t go to the kitchen to eat whatever they want from the fridge. They ate whatever their moms had made with the food they planted outside their home. If there was a little bit of money then they might spend a little on meat, or they would kill a cow or pig, and eat a limited portion so that the whole family would have something to eat.

Besides the work and limited food, they were also limited to education. My dad, for example, was forced to drop out of school at very early age. When I say forced to drop out I don’t mean that my grandparents made him drop out; it was a decision he had to make to be able to help his parents with the work. Although my mom went to school longer, she was also forced to drop out because of economic reasons.

After long days of school and work my parents, sister, and I like to sit down and watch videos of when my parents were younger and lived in Tende. I love hearing them talk about what that specific day was like and what they were doing, who the people in the video are. Now I can recognize people that I haven’t even met through those videos, and I can really see what Tende was like when my parents were young. Among the various videos we own are videos of important holidays and traditions in Tende that to this day my family and I participate in. I also enjoy dinner time, not only because it involves food but because just like in Tende we (family and I) all sit down and eat dinner together and talk about our day, and hear my mom and dad tell more stories about their childhood. I find it absolutely amazing that we can sit down as a family and not only talk about something that our generation has lost interest in but enjoy the conversation.

I don’t remember my first visit to Tende because I was only a year old. I know for a fact It was December 28th because it was a trip my dad and I made to celebrate his younger sister’s quinceanera.  I’ve seen the video and you could tell I enjoyed the trip. After that visit, I went back to Tende two more times with only my dad.  It was our little bonding experience. Those trips are reason why we have such a strong relationship. After those two other visits I went almost every year, always in December, but these times my mom and sister joined us every trip.

It is so difficult to explain the emotions going on inside me when I arrive there. It’s not only happiness, excitement, and joy. It’s also pride. I am very proud of where my family comes from. I love Tende with all my heart and can’t imagine what it would be like if Tende weren’t part of my life.

One of my favorite things about being over there is waking up. We only visit once a year, and almost the entire family goes during the same time. We find ways to make sure everyone can sleep at grandma and grandpa’s house. Everyday I wake up to my grandma’s ruckus in the kitchen while she cooks up a storm for her family of seven children, five daughters and sons-in-law, her nine grandchildren who all insist on sleeping under the same roof in a house half made of adobe with only four bedrooms. When I try to get out of bed, I have to make very subtle movements so my sister and cousin who share a bed with me and my guy cousins in the bed next to ours won’t wake up at 6:00 am like myself. Then , I sneak up on grandma and see what she is doing and noticing she’s already cooked enough food to feed an army. She’s already made some tea, homemade tortillas, breakfast, lunch, and already getting dinner ready. While my grandfather has already started taking care of his animals which I will go join him in after my morning ritual. After getting my nice cup of tea and tortillas, I get my chair and place it outside in the patio where I can see the whole town, my grandfather’s horses and cows and enjoy my tea and tortillas, while watching the sunrise.

Traditions in Tende are very different from here; over there all traditions are done as a community, not every family individually. This past winter, I was honored to be part of a very important tradition in Tende. My sister and I got to represent our family at the traditional Fiestas de Enero. This isn’t like a pageant or competition or anything like that. In January, there are three days dedicated to celebrating New Years. During those three days there is a rodeo from 1:00pm to 6:00pm.  Then after the rodeo, there is a huge party from 8:00pm to 2:00am each day. FOR THREE DAYS. At these rodeos/parties, there are four girls chosen to represent the Fiestas de Enero.  Each has to wear a traditional shirt and skirt that has been worn for multiple generations. Each girl represents a citystate where people of Tende have moved to. One girl has to be from Mexico City, another from U.S., and two must be from Tende.

For this particular year, there was an exception made. Three girls represented the U.S., two represented Mexico City, and one represented Tende. My dad is very active in the community.  He helped organize the Fiestas de Enero, he was a past bull-rider in the rodeos in the town, he volunteered at the church. My grandfather, my uncles, and my dad are very well- known. My sister and I carry on this little fame. Everyone knows who we are and that we do everything together. So an exception was made. Representing  the Fiestas de Enero was the best experience of my entire life. I am very happy that I got to be part of something that is so important to Tende, and that my ancestors have participated in.

To many people, these types of stories might not mean anything, but to me they mean the world. I am proud to be from Tende. Although, I was not born there, I feel like I was. I grew up with the stories and traditions from Tende, and participate in those traditions voluntarily, not because my parents make me.  Tende has shaped not only my family, but my personality.  It has made me a person who values life, education, the clothes in my closet, having food at any hour of the day. It has made me a person who engages in conversations with the older people in the town, not only my grandfather, but with anyone, to hear more stories about their lives, and the transformation of Tende as time went on.   In the future, I hope to be able to pass on these ideas, traditions, and stories to my own children, and hope that my own family will also be shaped by the traditions of Tende.