When I was a little girl, my parents would put my brother, sister and I in our minivan with swimsuits and sunblock, and drive across the US border. During these Summer and Spring breaks we would go to different little fishing villages on the Mexican Coast, each time laughing more in the Mexican sun than the times before. There was something about those pounding hot summers that made me fall in love with travel, despite these trips being far from Spas in Cabo and lounge chairs in Cancun.
Once we would pass Tucson, the desert on the other side was somewhat desolate. On our way to oyster-filled shores and restaurants with only one option on the menu, we would pass by shacks made of the same boxes my brothers diapers came from and children my age making a living from washing our car’s windows. Though every house and every child we passed was upsetting, passing through these little towns on the “frontera” was always my favorite part. We would go to ice cream stores where I could get my own bowl of “vainilla y chocolate helado” for only a quarter and a smile, and we would go to carnivals where people would not pass me without saying hi. This is why I fell in love with travel. I fell in love with it because, despite the destruction, the poverty, and the lonely landscape, there was a kindness in people. I could sense it even as an elementary-schooler, a humanity stronger than anything I had seen or felt before. Even in my own beautiful and developed city, I was never treated with so much openness or happiness. I longed not only for friendliness, but also to see the new and experience the undiscovered.
The first time I saw the dilapidated houses I was afraid. I was frightened, not only of the poverty that I realized could have been mine if I was born only hours away from a hospital in Albuquerque, but also because I realized how, even with all the differences in the world, there is a fundamental humanity unwilling to be disrupted even with the most oppressive regime or the bloodiest war. This fact disturbed me because I also realized that I was human just like the girls who lived in the fishing villages I went to, invited me to their classrooms and made me little paper fans so that I would stop sweating in the heat waves. We were all human, why had I never made paper fans to swat the flies and cool myself down? Why was this classroom at least 10 times larger than mine? Why were they doing math I had learned three years prior? I was afraid of my privilege because I didn’t know what to do with it.
When I was a child, I knew my world. I knew my house, my friends, my family, my local grocery store, and I thought I knew it all. Then I would see something so profoundly different that it would take me out of my comfort zone, and still to this day, no matter how many times this has happened, I can never quite get used to seeing something new. That’s the beauty of exploring people, places, and feelings: it is infinite. As long as we are human on this earth, there is no limit to what we can know or learn. All I can hope for now, is to keep traveling and hopefully use my privilege for good so that I am proud to be human in a world that I love more and more every day.
by Luna Olavarria Gallegos