TIJUANA, April 28, 2014 — “The trip, already, is not going as I planned,” Sebina exclaimed with a genial smile. Her shoulders hunched over, affirming herself vulnerable to the experience. The Blue Line south fixed her attention, “The variety of the people and the smells makes me think of growing up in Italy. Even the trolley, rocking back and forth, makes me think of my childhood.”
There is comfort to feel you know a place before you even really touch it, but the unsettling feeling is still not really knowing.
He replied to Sebina, “We often fool ourselves in thinking we know what will happen, but it rarely works out that way.”
“Even the Mexican government’s website intimidated me when I read anything about going into Tijuana. I am having trouble thinking in English right now. I have not had this issue for 12 years. It almost felt like they were saying, ‘Lasciate ogni speranza o voi che entrate.’”
“Exactly, ‘Beware all those who enter. Leave every wish who enter.’ That pretty much says it all, when someone travels,” he replied.
It is normal to be in a new country, not being able to speak the language, but it is something else to be helpless, not be able to explain what you are feeling. Sebina, helpless in that moment, stated, “It is a very uncomfortable not knowing,” she paused to look around, sighing with a loss of words. “Correct,” she adamantly said as she gripped her hands in a fist! “But,” she stopped as they got off the Blue Line. “Is this ora di punta? Everyone is going somewhere quickly.”
“Rush hour is an always sort-of-thing at any border, not just the San Diego-Tijuana-Border-thing. Stand over to the side. I want to show you something,” he immediately said.
The southern California morning fog began to rise, moving across the ground like, swiftly, like the locals moving towards the border. The fog, the people, in a moment, evaporated and the area became soundless, until the next Blue Line, San Ysidro/Tijuana trolley arrived. Even busy borders have moments of calming silence.
The Customs and Border Protection officers walk by, catching a glimpse of people walking by before they leave the United States to enter Mexico. The near by mall and market was still America, but the people there were all Mexican.
Sebina began emptying her thoughts of what she thought Tijuana would be like. “It feels like,” she opened up to say something, then stopped as she looked around to observe the area. “Replace,” she began with a genuinely warm honest smile, yet, with a smirk of sarcasm, “Mexicans with Africans and a few gypsies, quindi, you have Southern Italy, from Naples down to Brindisi, of course.”
He smiled, “Yes, therefore you have Southern Italy.”
It is artless to see the forefront of any border city. She began to look beyond the seemingly prison façade of fences, lines of people wanting leave, the barbwire, the razor wire on top of every fence. Sebina exchanged her helpless feeling to a walk without a worry of what Tijuana would be like. She was viewing the background of the city and, ultimately, the country.
She continued, “The morning warmth of the sun, the unique smell of food being cooked, the horns sounding in the close distance, people weaving through the cars, the blocked streets for some random cause, and the sidewalks jammed with people selling trinkets spread over large plastic bags is the life I grew up to in Catania.”
“In less developed parts of the world,” he added, pointing to a young child, “kids look at the ground, not because they are shy, but they look for coins and bills.”
He could see the strength drop out of her shoulders, almost like weights pulling down at her wrists. She did not drop with hopelessness, but rather, “Years of waiting,” she began, “so many years of not coming here due to my fears. I did not want people to see me as Mexican, since I am Italian, not knowing the language, and only to find out I am closer to these people than I am to Americans.”
“First of all,” he said in a stern voice, “you are Sebina first, not Italian. Too many people speak of themselves as being some ethnic background when the individual matters more. If you want, I could call you Italian since you say, ‘I am Italian.’ Also, twelve years is a long time to feel comfortable,” he said smiling. “The people spot you right away, familiar with the setting, but unfamiliar with how to react with what is going on around you.”
She touched his shoulder, pointing at a young lady, “The girls look like girls in Catania, wearing high heels and tight jeans.”
Along Avenue Benito Juarez, just down from the church, Nuestra Senora de Loreto, between the stores, World Shoes and Casa de Empeno is Restaurant La Pasadita. They serve everything: from tortillas, made by hand, quesadillas, tongue and cow head tacos, and pizza. The restaurant has five picnic-size tables and they seat eight people. It has six tables that seat four comfortably, but who needs comfort in Tijuana so most of them have five or six people sitting there. Each table has communal radishes, lime, and salt in a Gerber baby jar. Outside, on a makeshift stage, musicians play, bringing together the people and the values of Mexico, a country misunderstood by Sebina, along with countless others.
Sebina declared, “Sono nata in Italia, ma non ho dimenticato l’America.”
She was born in Italy, but has not forgotten America. She had almost forgotten, entirely, how close another beautiful country was to her.
“I should not guard against anything, except the memories I create when I go into a new experience.”
In the end, it is about going for an experience, discovering something new, and realizing life is a step away. Put the idea away, about how dangerous a new area of the world may be. No matter how far or how close, simply, enjoy a visit. Traveling permits us to learn about ourselves. It may not be a bad idea to leave what we know, to what we thought we knew.
“Today,” Sebina started saying, “I lived for something new, and by accident, I discovered something new about myself.”
Henry Biernacki- Traveler to over 120 countries
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