When Maria first stepped on campus at the MIX Academy, there was something familiar, almost nostalgic to her. How could that be? She had never been here before. But as she walked hand in hand with her kids, she felt a rush of memories from her childhood…
The square in Maria’s village looked like one of stories and dreams. Although the days were mostly laborious, the afternoons were like a tender deep embrace, and the square painted the scenery. The whole town gathered there, as was the custom for generations. Each person claimed their space or corner, and many walked around hand in hand. All frequented the square, some for work but most for pleasure. It was in the center of the town, so they called it “Corazoncito” meaning “little heart.”
As a child, Maria would anxiously await her father’s arrival from work just as the day reached sunset. Together with her younger sister they stood at the entrance of the door counting the seconds. On Wednesday afternoons they would walk to el Corazoncito. Dinner was corn on the cob, and dessert was a spleen full of rice pudding. With their food in hand, they walked to their bench. They always tried to get to their little corner early, because if they didn’t they would run into Mrs. Martha. She always told the same story of how her children left the village for the United States and that she had grandchildren who could only speak English. Most afternoons their bench was empty waiting for them with open arms. Maria was always the first to finish her meal, because she didn’t want to give her parents any reason not to let her go play with her best friend Isabel. Isabel always came to the square with her older sister and her fiancé that accompanied her. Isabel told Maria that once she saw them kiss. Her sister’s fiancé always gave them 1 peso to buy an ice cream. Not that he was good-hearted, but he just wanted time alone with his ray of sunshine as he called his bride-to-be. In the corner of the square, Don Xavier always sat to tell scary tales and legends that Maria and Isabel were already too old to believe. Yet, his way of painting images and creating suspense captured their attention every time. But one day there were no stories for his audience. He had grown old and sickly, so Maria’s parents would stop on the way home to bring him some food.
Today, as an adult, Maria remembers those moments in the village square, and carries them in her heart. Arriving in this country of dreams, she never expected how difficult it would be to find such spaces. Although there are parks and corners for them to connect, they are too dangerous to let her children wander free. She desires for them to have the same experiences that she had as a child and the fullness that her community gave her. The Mix Academy has become that place for her family. Although the physical space is different, the people make her feel the same as when she was a child. Friends walk hand in hand together, and families find their special corner every week. Grandmothers can tell their stories, and the community learns to care for each other. Perhaps this is the start of another corazoncito, where the people are at the heart.
-Ben Juárez, Local and Global Initiatives