Monthly Archives: September 2013

What a Birthday!

Jamie and Heidi join grandparents Natividad and Eva and mother and father for worship at Julien Carrillo

Jamie and Heidi join grandparents Natividad and Eva and mother and father for worship at Julien Carrillo


In both Disciples churches we attend in San Luis Potosi, there are a few bilingual English-Spanish speakers, most of whom have spent time in the U.S. At the Julien Carrrillo church, Natividad Tovar Torres spent over thirty years as a railroad employee, and a proud union member, after working in the fields of California. Nati and wife Eva Beltran Castro now live on a couple of acres of land in one of the housing developments that have mushroomed on the outskirts of the old town center.

When their pastor Rogelio Espino Lopez invited us to accompany him and his family to lunch in Nati and Eva’s home we gladly accepted. While Pastor Rogelio and Eva talked about the details for the upcoming worship service for his granddaughters’ quincenara birthday party at age 15, Nati proudly gave us a tour of his marigold fields, livestock and rooster (for cock fighting) pens. Drip irrigation keeps over an acre of marigolds flourishing before they are harvested for sale during the Day of the Dead fiesta on October 31. “Cempasuchiles”/marigolds have adorned graves before the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards and are a principal feature of the altars created to honor and remember those departed from Catholic households across Mexico.

We hope the marigold crop is profitable this year because the quincenara (literally “the female at age 15”) last Saturday was a lavish event. A large tent was set up next to the house to accommodate over one hundred fifty guests. Family and church members and friends of Heidi and Jamie participated in the opening worship where numerous gifts were presented to accompany the cousins into adulthood. The significance of each gift was mentioned by Pastor Rogelio or the

Marisol of Julien Carrillo Church gives Heidi a Bible

Marisol of Julien Carrillo Church gives Heidi a Bible

friend making the presentation. Following the gift of a Bible, three roses, a ring, a watch, an umbrella, and a pillow led up to their crowning with a tiara. The roses represented the three ages of childhood, innocence and adulthood achieved by Heidi and Jamie. The authority granted all who recognize and accept responsibility as a “child of God” is symbolized by the ring with the pillows serving both practical and symbolic functions for those who regularly go to God in prayer.

The meal began with a delicious cup of “charro” beans (a broth of pinto beans, meat, onions and cilantro), followed by barbecue beef and lamb with rice, fresh tortillas, limes, onion and cilantro and heaps of green or red salsa. The cake was served while many were huddled in groups around the tables under the two tents or defying the soft rain that fell most of the afternoon.

The pillows ("cojines") are presented by a family member and a church member

The pillows (“cojines”) are presented by a family member and a church member

We all celebrated mindful that the father of each young woman would soon be returning to work in the U.S. Heidi’s father Freddy works for a company that has just relocated him from Texas to Mississippi and Gustavo, Jamie’s father, has worked in Houston for much of his daughter’s life. The girls live with their mothers in separate houses in their grandparents’ compound and have become active recently in the youth group at Julien Carrillo Church. During the fathers’ absence, the Church family provides critical emotional support and assistance for the entire family.

That both fathers did return for their daughters’ quincenaras can be seen as powerful testimony to the durability and importance of the ties of family in the Mexican culture. Transfers of earnings from the States to family members back in Mexico represent further evidence of the strength of those ties. After oil exports, those transfers are the leading source of foreign exchange for Mexico. During the long period of separation of father and mother and father and children, Church friends affirm and bless those family ties as the work of the Creator whose love is always with the family.

We close with an early nineteenth century commentary on the power of family ties within the Mexican cultures. Written by Fanny Calderon de la Barca (Scottish wife of the Spanish ambassador), we find it as true today as when she wrote the letters that make up her renowned 1843 book, Life in Mexico .

“I have seen no country where families are so knit together as in Mexico, where the affections are so concentrated, or where such devoted respect and obedience are shown by the married sons and daughters to their parents….I know many families of which the married branches continue to live in their father’s house, forming a sort of small colony, and living in the most perfect harmony. They cannot bear the idea of being separated and nothing but dire necessity ever forces them to leave their fatherland.”

Dire necessity and the work opportunities in the U.S. during the last one hundred years do not seem to have diminished the bonds of family in Mexico.

Pastor Rogelio speaks to the young women

Pastor Rogelio speaks to the young women


Hearty thanks to Heidi Sifuentes Lopez (wife of Pastor Rogelio) for the photos and indispensable help with this post.

Border Walls

With immigration law reform such a hotly debated topic in the U.S. these days, we want to describe our path to legal residence on this side of the border. On May 2 this year we were granted “Temporary Resident” status in Mexico. In approving our application for residency for the period of two years, the Office of Immigration wrote us the following:
“As a country valuing hospitality……Mexico is pleased to send you the enclosed card (green!) in approval of your stay as a temporary resident thereby signaling permission…..for unrestricted movement within the national territory, access to education and health services and to the justice system.”
We had applied to the Immigration Office in San Luis Potosi shortly before the six month tourist visa we entered with had expired. While waiting for the application to be processed, we received a “Departure and Reentry Permit”, valid for a 60 day period, and then left for a month’s vacation in the States.
On our return to San Luis Potosi, we celebrated our new legal status and the green card, bearing a hideous photo, now in our billfolds. The whole process cost us about $400 U.S. each with no lawyer involved. As what our Disciples/UCC Global Ministries Office terms “Service Volunteers”, we did not apply for a work permit. The Office of Immigration did note on the application that we were in Mexico to serve Disciples of Christ and Congregational Churches of the Mexican Roundtable, “Mesa Conjunta”.
Throughout the process of establishing legal residence, we were of course mindful of the contrasting procedures for establishing residence in the neighboring countries of Mexico and the U.S. There any so many barriers now in place, almost entirely on the U.S. side of the border, which impede or prevent relationships between people of our two countries. The current application process makes even a short visit to the States a formidable challenge that is out of reach of most Mexican citizens.
While in Mazatlan recently, we enthusiastically talked with church leaders there about organizing cross border visits, particularly for youth, in the two countries. Youth from the U.S. have been hosted by the Congregational Church in Mazatlan but it’s not so simple for Mexican youth to return the visit. While a tourist card at the Mexican border costs a U.S. cit
izen around $22 U.S. now, a U.S. tourist visa for a Mexican will involve a processing fee of $160 plus around $40 for DHL delivery of the visa. A Mexican youth will have to be interviewed at the nearest U.S. Consulate and in the case of a Mazatlan youth that would be in Hermosillo, a $3000 Mexican pesos round trip. All this in addition to the cost of a Mexican passport of $955 Mexican pesos or around $73 U.S. make an almost insurmountable barrier for an exchange visit by Mexican youth.
But it isn’t only prohibitive costs and lengthy processing of applications for Mexican visitors;

Child scaling the U.S. -Mexico border wall at Brownsville, TX

Child scaling the U.S. -Mexico border wall at Brownsville, TX

there are other walls that need to be scaled for closer relationships to exist between nationals of the U.S. and Mexico. While most migrants from the south are no longer from Mexico, the talk about illegal immigration from Mexico continues to infect the attitudes and views of many U.S. citizens toward our southern neighbor.
We hope this blog contributes not only to “erasing borders” but also to breaking down some walls of separation between communities of faith in the two countries. Disciples and UCC churches in the U.S. have a history of more than one hundred years of service in Mexico. As more and more Spanish speaking communities of faith affiliate with our two denominations, our relationships with Congregational and Disciples church members in Mexico represent a great asset and resource for a more inclusive Church in the U.S.
An excellent article on the real reasons, internal security is not among them, for the U.S. government constructing a wall on the Mexican border can be found at https://nacla.org/article/why-build-border-wall