Thursday, October 7, 2010

Past Lives

Do you believe in past lives? I am not sure one way or another but every now and then an experience or situation rings so true, so comfortable, so right that I feel perhaps I have lived it before in another time or another place.

One such wave of emotion swam over me today as we were sitting at Nuevo Leon, a restaurant in the Pilsen area, a Mexican neighborhood of Chicago. I think I was one of the few Norte Americanos in the place but I was so at home ordering our dinner in fluent Spanish, answering questions from the wait person, and requesting extra napkins. "Necesito más servietas por favor."

When ordering the Guacamole appetizer and on being asked if I wanted it "¿En el estilo Mexicano?" I replied, "Si. Si. Si. ¿Como no?" just like anyone else in the room would have done. Mexicans never say "Yes." They always say, "Yes, yes, yes." "¿Como no?" means why not or of course.

Gregory and I had spent the afternoon at The National Museum of Mexican Art, also in PIlsen. We visit the museum every year at this time to go through their Día de Los Muertos exhibit, The Day of the Dead." This is a holiday that parallels the Catholic All Saints Day and the North American Halloween.

Mexican families honor their dead ancestors by creating an alter, "Oferenda," that is decorated with marigolds, candles, holy pictures and objects, and all of the favorite foods and drinks of the departed. When I was standing in front of an Oferenda, studying the pictures and objects that were dear to the person whom it celebrates, I felt awe, thought, "Here is someone's life." and decided that this year I would build an Oferenda for my mom who died last March.

The holiday is a celebration of life and of death as part of the cycle of living and dying. It is believed that the departed come to visit, enjoy the sights and sounds and smells (although they cannot eat the food or drink the beverages they can enjoy them anyway.) The grave plots are also decorated and the family will picnic with their family and their departed loved ones.

When I am surrounded by the Mexican culture, it is as if I have arrived home. I am so overjoyed at being able to speak Spanish, tell a joke to a native Spanish speaking person and get a laugh, and even dream in Spanish. I will never forget the day at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana, in an advanced Spanish class with Professor Kronik (who brought the language to life for me) when I realized that I was no longer translating from Spanish to English, I was thinking in Spanish.

Perhaps in a past life I lived in Mexico and dreams on day of being able to speak English. Dream come true?

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