Ramblings: Ex-Pats in La Paz

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Ana Hall

The first time I saw Ana Hall she was shopping – for a house. My house. Or the house next door. Or any house on the block. I was in front of my property when we saw each other. She and her husband, Steve, were slowly driving down the street. They stopped and asked if I knew of an available house for sale. I didn’t. They drove away but we were destined to become friends.

We met again at a dinner party. She was an average ex-pat: somewhere between 55 and 65, gray hair, and maybe a little shorter than normal, and like many ex-pats in La Paz, they owned a sailboat. Then, one evening, I realized she wasn’t a typical ex-pat.

We were in a restaurant. The waiter was struggling to understand an order; I tried to help, but wasn’t successful. Then Ana spoke. I said, “My god, your Spanish is great. Where’d you learn?” She laughed and said, “I’m Mexican”.

Ana Hall is a first generation Mexican/American who left the United States and moved to La Paz seven years ago. This is her story.

Ana’s parents, Amador and Estela grew up in Bacobampo, a tiny agriculture town in Sonora Mexico. They went to school together, married and had their first child, Mireya, there. When Mireya was almost a year something happened that changed their future. This beautiful, little baby was stung by a scorpion and almost died. This terrified Ana’s mother. She had a brother living in L.A. and she decided to raise her family there. She wanted to provide her children with more opportunities: economic, scholastic, and social. “My mother wanted us to know more than their small town.” Ana’s father was hesitant. How could he leave his widowed mother? He didn’t speak English and had no transferrable skills. Estela was determined. She packed her suitcases, got on a bus with her baby, and went to the U.S. Without her husband. In 1945.

“My Mom was brilliant. She didn’t pack all of Mireya’s things; she scattered a stuffed toy here, a baby sweater there. She was sure of his love and knew that these reminders would break his heart. It only took a few months and he joined us in the States”. Three years later, Ana Maria was born. Amador was smart and loyal. He found a job and worked for the same company until he retired.

Spanish was Ana Maria’s first language; however, when she started school she began to learn English. Ana remembers kindergarten. She watched the other kids, but played alone because she didn’t speak English. But it didn’t take long; she listened and learned.

Amador and Estela never let their children forgot Mexico. They returned to Mexico yearly – at Christmas. Both of Ana’s grandmothers, paternal and maternal, lived in the same town, on the same block. But they lived very different lives. The paternal grandmother didn’t have electricity. “She had an iron that she’d put hot coals in. I can still remember how her house smelled of kerosene. She had a well in the backyard. And an outhouse. She might not have had modern conveniences, but she had a playful and loving heart”. Their maternal grandmother, on the other hand, was reserved. “We loved to play at my paternal grandmother’s house, but if we had to go to the bathroom, we’d dash to my other grandmother’s house to use her indoor toilet.”

In time, her parents purchased a house in an “American” neighborhood in L.A. Her mother learned English, and read English newspapers and the Encyclopedia they’d purchased for the girls. She wanted her daughters to fit in: the girls, there were four, spoke perfect English, dressed like typical American girls, and later had American boyfriends. But like most first- generation Americans Ana’s family had challenges. For example, her sister, Mireya, wasn’t allowed to date without a chaperon. Ana was that chaperon. Typically, their parents softened with each consecutive daughter. Ana brought home, and later married, Steve Hall; a tall, fair-skinned, redhead American boy.

Ana has known joy, but also pain and loss. “When my mother was fifty-six years old, she was diagnosed with cancer and died within five years. My father was desperate and distraught; he didn’t know how to be alone. My mother had been his life. We were all worried about him. He took a trip back to Mexico. He met Maria, a friend of friends, there. They married but because Maria was very close to her family, my Dad moved back to Mexico.”

Meanwhile back in the States, Steve’s uncle, Tom, owned a sailboat. Steve loved to sail but Ana was afraid – she couldn’t swim. They say, “Timing is everything” and Steve had excellent timing. Steve asked Ana to go out on the boat for a couple of hours. It was a glorious day in San Francisco. Warm and windless. They motored to Sausalito and had lunch on the boat. Tom turned to Ana and asked, “Well, what do you think? Do you think you could do this for a couple of years?” Ana asked, “Is it always this beautiful?” Tom and Steve looked at each other and both replied, “Yes.”

That began their sailing days. It was 1988. They sailed down the Baja and anchored in front of Los Arcos. “I thought La Paz was so beautiful.”

But, it would take years before they’d return to La Paz, drive down my street, and ask if I knew of any houses for sale on my block.

They soon found and bought a house, made friends, and enjoyed living in La Paz. But life can be cruel. Four years ago, while Ana was visiting her father in Obregon, Steve suddenly passed away.

Ana is her mother’s daughter: she’s smart, loving, and generous. Her friends and family surrounded and tried to support her, but, like her father, Ana understood loneliness. Recently, she found a loving companion.

I asked Ana what it feels like to be a first-generation American born of Mexican parents who now lives in La Paz. Ana said, “I feel like I’m on vacation every day. I love La Paz. There’s nowhere else I want to live.”

La Paz is like that. It’s sparks growth. Possibly it’s the color of the sky or sea, but La Paz encourages creativity. Ana Hall is no exception. Her beautifully multi-layered greeting cards make both the giver and the received smile.

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