My mother’s hand has always moved with special grace when pointing
or waving; she would have made a fine parade queen or even First Lady.
Not long ago, I rediscovered this technique of hers while watching a video
compilation of my family’s early super-eight home movies. She was in her
late teens, on vacation with her father and stepmother, strutting around a
varied Mexican landscape: here she overlooks a broad bay (Acapulco?
Puerto Vallarta?), pointing toward a large ship; there she stands in a
Mexico City square, drawing attention to what seems to be an Aztec
revival dance, Indians chanting and swaying; there again she stalks the
great pyramids at Teotihuacán, her broad smile and motioning hand
shadowed by the Temple of the Sun.
These images of my young mother came as something of a shock. Sure,
she had occasionally mentioned her trip to Mexico. Sure, she had worked
for several years as a bilingual teacher’s aide at an elementary school,
keeping her basic Spanish intact. And yes, a part of my father’s extended
family had lived briefly in northern Mexico—our cousins fluent in Span-
ish because of an unforeseen immigration detour. And yes, finally, I had
my own fleeting history of contact with Mexico: quick family trips to Baja
California, the somber Spanish cadences of our housecleaner’s weekly
visit, a few Mexican kids in my high school and baseball league with
whom I made passing acquaintance. I had nevertheless persisted in
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