La Frontera

This week I was invited by friends to join a larger group – members of the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – at a Thanksgiving dinner in the lovely open courtyard at La Frontera restaurant here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The food, laid out in a grand buffet, was delicious, bountiful, and totally traditional — everything you’d expect on this most traditional of American holidays: juicy sliced roast turkey with gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pureed sweet potatoes, polenta, green beans with mushrooms, brussel sprouts with carrots, mixed greens salad with two types of dressing, rolls and butter, plus (of course) pumpkin pie and pecan pie with whipped cream.

I was thankful to be there.

If I had worn my journalist’s hat and gone from table to table to table interviewing the dozens of mostly white-haired attendees, asking their names, ages, nationality and family stories, I suspect I would have learned that most there, were, like me, over the age of seventy, born and raised in the United States, and now far from their nuclear families. If I had probed deeper, I might have heard some sad stories about personal loss and family estrangement.

I would have empathized.

But this was not a time for sadness. It was a time for happiness, thankfulness, feasting and fellowship. It was a time to share the Pilgrim story (perhaps more myth than history), which we older Americans had learned long ago in grammar school, with those guests for whom this Thanksgiving was a first. It was a time to stretch the definition of family beyond the boundaries of blood and embrace the whole human family, at least in our hearts.

Quite a few of the faces in the UU group at La Frontera were familiar to me because so many of the Fellowship’s members are active in charitable, nonprofit work in the San Miguel community – especially now, aiding the migrant caravans traveling through Mexico seeking asylum in the U.S. Those of us Americans who now live south of the border (la frontera) and are grateful to be here have, I believe, a particular sensitivity to the issues of immigration and  displacement.

My friend Toni from New York, who has lived in San Miguel for close to fourteen years, for example, has dedicated herself to helping the migrants, especially those who pass through San Miguel on top of freight trains. This group, the Train Tracks Migrant Relief Project, is one of Toni’s many humanitarian endeavors. (Please see my WOW archive for several previous posts about Toni’s work.)

Toni, sitting across from me at our Thanksgiving table

Laura, originally from Mexico City, who lived in Canada for many years, also volunteers her time to help the migrants, in particular the ones who stop at ABBA, the safe house in nearby Celaya, to restore their bodies and souls before continuing on their journey to the U.S. border. For Edith, my saintly Spanish maestra, who is like family to me, this was a first Thanksgiving fiesta.

Laura (left) and Edith were also at our table

Always, though, at this time of year, when these freighted “family” holidays roll around again, I ask myself questions for which I’ve yet to find satisfying answers: What is family? Why have nationalities? Where, if anywhere, do las fronteras belong?