On a recent spring break trip to Cancun, Mexico, I rediscovered the thrill of traveling and how seeing a different culture can bring so much wonder, as well as perspective to your own life. Traveling is unpredictable, and we make unexpected connections with people that makes traveling so much fun and rewarding.
An Unexpected Connection
“I am your cousin,” the tan, smiling tour guide said with a soothing Spanish accent, staring at my Asian face. My family and I were traveling in a tour van with some friends to the ancient Mayan ruin of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. Jerry, the guide, noted our family relationship while expertly explaining the history of Mayan civilization over a microphone.
“Muy bien. Look at my eyes,” he chuckled good-naturedly, pointing his index finger at his small, almond-shaped eyes. “You know, we Mexicans are originally from Asia,” Jerry said matter-of-factly, as if that was common knowledge.
I couldn’t help but warm up to this jovial, middle-aged man, who wanted to make a connection with us. I too was curious to learn more about him. “My last name is Ham and my father is Chinese, “ he said proudly. “Are you Chinese?” he asked me, as the rest of the group dozed off in the early morning sun. “No, I’m Korean,” but it really didn’t matter to him what Asian country I was from.
Jerry told us that his grandfather came over from China to California and then later to Mexico City in search of a job. He opened a laundry, married an Aztec woman, and had three boys. He was the oldest of the three, and was the “black sheep” of the family because he was adventurous. He moved to a commune in San Luis Obispo for a few months, found his way to New York City, and even brought an American woman home to Mexico to get married. That relationship didn’t work out, and she ended up returning to the States. In the meantime, Jerry decided to settle in Cancun, where he could use the English he learned in the U.S. to meet the demands of a flourishing tourist business. That was 28 years ago.
The Value of Travel
Stories like Jerry’s inspire me. I love to travel because I am always amazed at how the world is interconnected. In California, Spanish is spoken everywhere and you can find Mexican food on almost every street corner. My daughter is taking Spanish in high school and wants to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. We don’t have to go far to feel Mexican culture all around us here.
My name is “Rosa” after all, pronounced in Spanish with the trill of the “R.” My parents accidentally named me this when they looked at a baby name book upon arriving in California and thought it was the same as “Rose.”
I do feel part Spanish, thanks to my name, and my new friend Jerry. Claiming he is my “cousin” made me feel we are all related. It confirmed my belief that connection with others is the key to living a full life. When we open ourselves up to new experiences and travel, whether it’s within our own country or abroad, we are enriched.
My father dreamed of traveling, and that dream brought him permanently to the United States. I inherited his spirit of adventure, and I spent my Junior year abroad in college in Kyoto, Japan. There I explored my family’s history with my Korean-Japanese relatives. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have studied Japanese at Middlebury College in Vermont, and met my husband.
Traveling Changes Lives
Traveling changed the course of my life, and it changed Jerry’s too. I married a Caucasian man and have biracial children. Jerry has a daughter who is of mixed Mexican and Chinese descent. There are so many more stories like this that demonstrate our diversity, but also show our common humanity. My book is one of those stories, and I hope one day to get it published so I can share it with you.
Traveling also inspires me to write. It helps me to pay attention and stay curious. If I can capture these memories, and make sense of them in writing, I am happier.
Where have you traveled to recently? What did you learn about yourself and others?
PS – Thinking of going to the Yucatan? Contact Jerry for a terrific tour.