An old Mexican love ballad, the smell of mangos or a sip of an icy limeade. Any of these things can quickly send me back to another time, another place. And, now I’ll have to add Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros to that list of things that conjure up the past.
Reading her book has made me feel like she had somehow crept into my childhood home and gotten a hold of my old diaries and set her characters into my past life.
For Celaya Reyes, Cisnero’s main character, summer means a long car drive from Chicago to visit her relatives in Mexico City. A long road trip punctuated by arguments with her boisterous brothers, the impending doom of a summer under the Awful Grandmother’s watchful eye and listening to the many storytellers in her family.
Luckily for me, my family was not as colorful as hers, although my husband may have some thoughts about that. But just like Celaya, every summer on the last day of school I’d run home in time to help my parents pack up the car. That same night we’d be off to Monterrey, taking Highway 35 from Dallas straight through only stopping at a couple of gas stations to fill up, use the restrooms and buy candy for me and coffee for dad.
Even though our road trips were long, and I was all but sucking in my breath to take up as little space as possible to make room for all the gifts, I remember how much fun it was to sit next to my dad and hear him singing along with his cassette tapes. When he put in his tape of Norteno music I was riveted by the tales sung of betrayal, love and revenge. His singing occasionally interrupted by my mom calling out, “slow down,” or “watch out for those loco drivers.”
I remember so many adventures we had on our trips, a flat tire in Dilley, which is basically the middle of nowhere, spending hours in Laredo while waiting for the border guards to let us into Mexico. Meanwhile my mom muttering under her breath, “we are Mexicans. why can’t we go into our country as we please.”
It’s time for summer vacations so for those of you who have long road trips ahead enjoy the miles. Thank you Ms. Cisneros for taking me back to my childhood days spent in Monterrey.