Revelation in Reynosa

By Julia J., Age 15

The one hundred thirteen degree weather was especially harsh in the barren town of Reynosa, where there wasn’t shade in sight. However, the motivation to provide shelter for my new friends compensated for any discomfort caused by the Mexican climate. As Ramón Lopez came towards me I immediately noticed his brown calloused feet walking on the rocky dirt road. He smiled and called out “trabaja!” while handing me his cement-mixing shovel, and then sat down to rest with his two younger brothers. I watched them, marveling at how well they got along, and wondering at what time in American society it had become unacceptable for teenagers to enjoy the company of their younger siblings. I then regained my focus and began the arduous task of mixing cement manually in order to lay the floor for the Lopez’s first legitimate house.

Upon returning to the Iglesia around which the town of Reynosa was oriented, I was hurried into the church where the song Dame La Mano resounded throughout the room. I rushed to connect myself to the long chain of men, women, and children holding hands. Together we sang the lyrics the Mexicans had written on the projector screen at the front of the church for the convenience of their American guests. The old woman next to me squeezed my left hand tightly, and I responded with an amiable smile. I then suddenly grew worried as I saw a tear follow a wrinkle down her suntanned cheek. Thoughts rushed through my head as to what could be wrong. Is she starving? Does she need clothes? Is she homeless? Unfortunately, these speculations were the result of the naiveté my past 15 years in upper-middle class Ridgewood, New Jersey had instilled in me. In American society we’re bombarded with tears of sadness, images of disaster, and complaints of dissatisfaction. Rarely do we see tears of joy. The woman was la Abuela Lopez; she had seen me working on her house earlier that morning. Her tears were those of gratitude. Although she spoke no English, the kiss on the cheek and the choked up “gracias” spoke volumes. Following the service, I turned to wave goodbye, when la Abuela Lopez’s 4-year-old grandson, Pedro, embraced me and whispered “I love you” in my ear -- the only three English words he knew. I will never cease to be amazed at how in a place of such adversity, everyone seemed so happy.

The goodbye ceremony, during which we presented the Lopez family with their new cinderblock home, was heart wrenching, yet indefinably gratifying. That night I lay in my sleeping bag on the concrete balcony of the church feeling bittersweet about the next day‘s journey home. As I watched a cockroach struggle to find its way out through the barred bathroom window, I wondered whether or not I would ever have the privilege of visiting Reynosa again. To my friends back in Ridgewood, and even to myself two weeks before, the idea would have seemed preposterous. However, I had discovered that a life embellished by family, friends, songs, and faith was far more valuable than one embellished by luxurious homes and Manolo Blahniks.