DURANGO, Mexico - It was my godmother, Josefina, who pointed it out. “That’s your house. Do you recognize it?” she asked as we drove up.
I nodded. “Yes, that’s the one.”
A wave of emotions took over me as I walked up to the little two-bedroom house that my parents built in Durango, Mexico, and where I spent the first years of my life. More than 20 years had passed since I had last set foot inside the house.
It was easy to see no one had been there in years. The red, white, pink and yellow roses that once adorned the entrance were now dead shrubs. Some of the glass windows were broken and the blue paint was peeling off. But, for the most part, the house was still in good shape.
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When I stepped inside, memories of when my family and I used to live there started coming back. It’s as if I had been transported back in time – back to before my parents, brothers and I left to Arizona in search of a better life and greater opportunities. I was 6 when we left. My brothers were 8 and 9.
“This is where we used to put up our Christmas tree,” I said, pointing to a spot next to the front door. “And that’s where my mom had her vitrina (glass cabinet) full of her finest china.”
The inside was almost exactly the same as I remember it - blue walls, blue floors, blue doors, blue everywhere. Except that now, the floors were covered in thick dust, there were spider webs on the ceilings and all that we had left behind – our furniture, clothes, toys and family photos – was stored in what used to be my parent’s bedroom.
I stepped inside that cramped, dark room and instantly noticed the toy karaoke machine my dad had bought me before we moved to Arizona. It was still hanging on my parent’s bedroom wall, right where I left it. Underneath it was a bag full of Barbie dolls wearing the clothes I had sewed for them.
I then stumbled upon my brothers’ toy trucks, their backpacks filled with books from school, and their matching gray suits that they wore for their First Communion. As I kept digging, I found a Mother’s Day card that Dad had gotten for Mom. “With all my heart, I hope you have a great day,” the card read.
What surprised me the most was finding my mother’s white wedding dress and seeing that it was still in perfect condition despite all these years. It had long sleeves made out of tulle and a cathedral train decorated with tulle appliqué. It was the same dress I had only seen in photos.
“I can’t believe we found it,” I said, as I handed my godmother the dress. “My mom is going to be so happy when she sees it.”
She put the wedding dress next to a pile of things that I wanted to bring with me back to Arizona. In that pile was also my karaoke machine, my brothers’ matching gray suits, my dad’s white guayabera shirt, and a framed Last Supper photo we once had in the dining room – and that I now wanted for my house.
For me, these were more than just things. They represented memories of the past and reminded me of a time in my childhood that I hadn’t revisited in so long.
Most importantly, this was not just an abandoned house. It was the house my parents built so that our family could have a place to call our own.
They started building it three years after they got married and had enough money saved to buy the supplies. Every evening after work, my dad would go straight to working on the house along with my mom. It took them a year to build it. They completed it in 1989, a few months after I was born.
This little blue house that I hadn’t revisited in more than 20 years is where my parents planned to put down their roots. But then the wood factory where my dad worked closed down, and he was left without a job. His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and he began selling fruits and vegetables from his truck. For a while he was doing well, but then competition emerged and he wasn’t making enough money to support us.
So he did what many immigrants in his position do. He came to the United States to look for work. About a year later, once he had a steady job and an apartment, my mom, brothers and I moved to Arizona so we could be together, leaving behind the house my parents had worked so hard to build.
As I stared at the house one last time, I found myself struggling to say goodbye. Being there had brought back so many memories, and I didn’t want to let go.
But then I saw something that made me feel hopeful that my beloved house would be there next time I return.
It was the wall plaque that read “Fam. Nevarez Diaz” (Nevarez Diaz Family), still hanging next to the front door.
I left my little blue house with a smile.