Tag Archives: Mexican family

Just a gringa

Well, I’m sad to say that I’ve discovered no matter how much Spanish I speak or books I read about Mexican culture, in the end I’ll still be a gringa. Now I’ll say up front that those are not my husband’s words because if they were, he would be on the couch indefinitely. He has always asked me why I married a Mexican and if I ever wish I married an American. He usually brings up the question after a bad cultural experience, like when his boss for a day at Gastof’s harassed him about our relationship, or when there is an immigration raid somewhere in the country. I take his questions as more of a reflection on his self-esteem when it comes to being a Mexican and it saddens me greatly.

It’s a hard line to walk from my side. I knew where he was from and his situation before our first date so I had already made a conscious decision not to let any of that be a factor in our relationship. I DO care that he is Mexican though, in the way that I want to learn his culture and language and history so I can appreciate where he is from and where his family still lives. I want our future kids to love their Mexican heritage and look forward to visits south of the border. I’ve spent hours studying Spanish and taking classes. I have read many books on Mexican history or on Mexican’s in the US. I really do try to be patient with the cultural differences such as time (that’s the most different).

My disappointing discovery last weekend was that despite all this effort, his family will always consider me a gringa. They would never tell me this but my husband was talking with his brother Gigio about some things and told him I would like to help him and the family. His brother told him that he likes me but he would never let me help because “I can’t understand because I’m an American.” Of course, he said it in Spanish but that was the translation that Mex told me later. The topic in question was something that I pride myself very much on knowing a lot about (as it is my career). My initial reaction was anger which Mex experienced the entire car ride home. Then I was sad. So sad and disappointed. I know it isn’t how Mex feels and I know our relationship is as “race free” as any biracial couple can truly be but I thought I was making more progress with his family. How can they like me if they don’t think I understand them? Even after Mex’s intense immigration process last year.

A week later I’m still sad. Now I’m also confused and worried, not about us but about children. I want them to feel comfortable everywhere and his brother’s comment scares me and makes me feel like they are going to feel like they don’t fit in anywhere. They’re American but not white like their mom. They are Mexican but not really Mexican like their dad. Where do they fit? Will they resent me or him or both of us? Whew…. a lot to worry about when there aren’t even any kids on the horizon. Maybe I should stop for the evening and just enjoy the time at the lake while summer still lasts! Good night from the Gringa.


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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Family, Marital Issues, Mexican culture, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture

Election experience

Wow…. So much has happened that I should have put on here but I have had a hard time logging on. I don’t know why. As March and April went by we both reminisced about being in Mexico and talked about how lucky we were to have the opportunity to spend two months travelling and how sad it was that we were both so nervous most of the time.

We spent July 4th weekend in Mexico. It was a short trip and very disappointing. We didn’t really get to visit with his family at all because the local elections were held on July 5th and his sister Sofia was running for on office. Politicians very well-paid down in Mexico which is why it is a very sought after job and elections are a huge deal. There were over a dozen people running for the same position. Apparently a lot of the campaigning takes place right beforehand. Well, not the campaigning so much as the sabotage of opponents. Mex’s nephews and nieces were all running over the town like a bunch of spies taking photos of “secret” meetings with other candidates and trying to make sure no one was planning a negative attack on Sofia. I don’t know. I didn’t understand because it is so different from here. Here politicians don’t sneak around attacking their opponents, they pay millions of dollars to prance about commercials on TV proclaiming bad things. All I know is we flew down there and spent four of the five days with each other.

 Mex did get to spend some time alone with his dad and that was good. His father’s health is failing and he can no longer walk. That is very sad to see and even I can see that his father is getting very depressed. I am afraid he will just refuse to eat one of these days. From what I saw and the description of what happened to his dad I am convinced that he must have recently had a stroke.

It breaks my heart to see the conditions in Mexico and to think that if he was here, the care would be different and he may have a better chance of recovery. Mex’s sisters care for their dad very, very well but there are some major cultural differences that concern me. For example, Mex offered to carry his dad to the shower (it is about 300 feet from his room) because he hadn’t been able to shower in 10 days and it is so hot down there during the day. His dad told him the doctor said he couldn’t shower because of his medicine.

Now maybe I’m wrong but I have heard of no medicine to treat high blood pressure or diabetes (his dad’s conditions) that say you can’t shower. Mex’s sisters won’t argue with him though because he’s the dad. They don’t even sponge bathe him because he doesn’t want to. It is wonderful in Mexico that they have so much respect for their parents and the parents authority (I’m sure I’ll appreciate trying to teach my kids that some day) but there is a point where I would force my own parents to listen to me if I knew it was for their benefit. Even if it meant hiring a nurse to come wash them if I thought they’d hate me for doing it myself. I don’t know.

It just makes me sad to see it and so sad for Mex. He’s already lost his mother and I could tell his heart was breaking every time he looked at his dad, realizing that it was very possibly the last time he would see him. I can’t imagine being in his shoes. He is constantly forced to choose between his family in Mexico and his family here. It makes me feel guilty to admit that I am glad every time that he chooses me and comes home to Minnesota again. I would have a hard time doing that if it was my mom or dad suffering. At least now he has the gift of being able to visit whenever he can get vacation and doesn’t have to go a dozen years without seeing them. I don’t know how soon we will go back but I’m glad we saw his father another time.

As we pulled away in the taxi Mex started crying and said “I feel like this is the last time I will see my dad.” I hope with all my heart that he is wrong.

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Filed under Family, Tetelilla, Morelos

Warning: long entry ahead

Ok. Strap your reading glasses on. After talking about my writing class I figured I should publish one of my writing exercises. Keep in mind I’m terrible at apostrophes (as is my sister apparently, according to an article published at her 40th birthday party… must be in the genes). I also have not proofread this completely so I do expect my mother to comment on my misuse of desert vs. dessert or where vs. wear at least once. However, it is about 7:15 and I have been at Panera mooching free internet for about 3 hours so I figure I better publish this and get home. I never wrote very much about the day we left Tetelilla. It was a very emotional day and was very hard for both of us. Here is what I’ve written so far about it…. I welcome any and all comments and feedback, even grammatical ones (if you must).

Mex and I awoke slowly that day. The warmth of morning hugged the fruit trees and seeped into our room, stroking our faces and arms, causing us to groan with the realization it will be yet another steamy day. With a loud whinny, the scrawny horse announced it was her time to be fed. She seemed to know the instant the sun broke above the horizon, and immediately begged to be led down the road to her feeding ground. I was never sure why she was so anxious because the dry, brittle grass of the field seemed as if it wouldn’t satisfy a pocket gopher, let alone a full-grown horse.

Mex reluctantly lifted himself out of bed, kissing me lazily on the nose. I grunted and rolled on my side, sounding like one of the twin pigs his sister was raising in the backyard pen. Something darted quickly down my arm. I sure hope that is sweat, I thought worriedly. Keeping my eyes closed a moment longer, I tried to remain calm. Slowly, I rose to check the mounds of mouse “food” Mex had put out three days before. His attempt to get rid of the unwelcome visitors. Sighing with relief, I realized some had disappeared. Wait. Was it actually moving? Squinting down at the blue tiles I saw the small, poisonous fuchsia pellets marching under the refrigerator. I looked on the other side and saw a little pile of our defense system surrounded by ants. Damn, we lost again, I muttered. I guess Mexican mice are smarter than Minnesotan ones and Mexican ants will eat anything.

Mex’s father had told him that mice had only been around town for the last few years. My theory on the situation was the large packs of dogs roaming the streets had created a complete scarcity of cats, causing the mice population to flourish. Thankfully, due to the meticulous cleaning of his sisters, there were never any mice in the kitchen. Chuy and I were so used to our pest-free American lives that, upon arrival, we did not think twice about bringing a pile of snacks into the room, including granola bars and mini bags of chips. However, after noticing holes in multiple granola bars and the corner of four bags of Harvest Cheddar Sunchips (a surprising mouse favorite over the Cheetos and Cheese Doritos) our error in judgment was discovered. The remaining time in Tetelilla was spent battling the rodents, realizing our repeated losses when we would daily find new mouse droppings on the bed which the food had previously sat on.

My casual attitude throughout this war surprised me, since I would not tolerate rodents, insects or any animal in my own home, placing traps or calling an exterminator at the first buzz heard or black pellet found. However, here in Mexico, in the heart of this impoverished country, the problems of drought, heat, and hunger, of poverty, unemployment, and lack of education seemed to drown out the sounds of those scurrying feet.

The metal gate clanked as horse and husband started their morning procession for the last time, snapping me out of my daze. Feeling slightly defeated and very annoyed by my ant discovery, I grabbed a towel, slipped on flip-flops and made my way across the yard to the shower. “Buenos días,” I said to Chuy’s father as I walked past. His teal plastic chair was already sitting on the uneven stones outside his bedroom door. “Sí,” he replied and chuckled, not so quietly. I know I didn’t pronounce that wrong, I thought. After three weeks, I no longer took his laughter personally though, knowing he spoke little and laughed a lot. Sitting in his chair with gray polyester pants and plaid snap-buttoned shirt, a white cowboy hat throwing shade on his wrinkled, warm brown face, I could not see his crippled hand and leg.

Giving him another smile, I continued down the dirt path towards the bathroom. I pushed the curtain aside and took a hurried shower, trying to conserve as much water as possible because I didn’t know how much was left in the tank today. It was only 7am and the water needed to last, through all the day’s functions: showers, dishes, hand washing, toilet flushing, and plant watering, until 1 in the afternoon. Like in any U.S. city, Tetelilla has a main city well that pumps the water from underground, pushing it through pipes that run under the city’s cement and gravel streets. The difference in Mexico is that each street only has water coming down the pipes for an hour every day. Each family is allowed one private pump to bring the water for all the day’s chores into large holding tanks and barrels hoping it would be enough for the next 24 hours. It never is.

When Mex was young, his family who lives on the north side of town, had the ability to pump more water throughout the day if it was needed and his family’s yard was full of fruit trees and flowers. However, people on the south side of town did not even have enough water for cooking, due to poor pumping systems and pipes. Since this process of water rationing was started in recent years, as an effort to provide water equality throughout town, most of the trees have shriveled in his dad’s yard. In fact, if a person in town has actually has healthy trees or a lot of green plants and flowering bushes, a neighbor will likely report them to the water authority who will inspect the yard, making sure the household is not using any extra water pumps.

Walking back to our cement house after my quick shower, I noticed my father-in-law was preparing to leave. Each day, he took a taxi to the neighboring town to sit in the plaza, people-watching with his friends. I was surprised when the first morning we woke up in Tetelilla, his father was already gone.

“Doesn’t he want to stay here and talk to you,” I had said, slightly indignant. After all, Mex had not been back here in over 13 years, wouldn’t his family want to spend every moment possible with him?

“That’s what he does,” Mex had said, not seeming to be bothered in the least. “He likes to talk to his friends.”

Hmph, I had thought, seeing my imagined scenes of this visit burst and pop like fireworks in my head.

”Felipe,” I whispered now. “Does your dad know we are leaving today?”

“I don’t know,” he said, taking out his shorts for the third time and refolding them, nervous about leaving.

“Maybe you should tell him,” I said. “He would want to know.”

Looking out the wrought iron window bars at his dad, I saw Mex’s eyes start to water. Blinking rapidly, he folded his shorts a final time, laid them in the suitcase, and zipped it closed. He crossed the dirt yard to his father and spoke to him. My stomach knotted, hoping his father would not leave, knowing that this time Mex would be saddened greatly. He did not leave. In fact, for the first time since our arrival he joined us in the kitchen for breakfast, though he sat against the wall and not at the table, listening and not eating. Only Mex’s oldest sister, Filogonia (Filo for short) was home today, since his youngest sister, Eli, had gone to work early this morning. We sat around the table in silence picking at our scrambled eggs mixed with green beans, folding and unfolding the warm corn tortillas, afraid any words would bring tears. I mixed a spoonful of instant NesCafe into my mug of hot water, sniffing the faint aroma of coffee.

“¿Quieres papaya?” Filo asked me. “No,” I said. “¿Sandia?” she insisted, pushing the watermelon towards me. Unsure how to explain that sadness had killed my hunger, I smiled and took a plate full of fruit. Abelina, Mex’s second oldest sister who lives a five minute walk across town, suddenly appeared and we were glad. She had come to say goodbye, but everyone pretended otherwise.

I listened to the rapid Spanish as I looked around the kitchen I would not see for awhile. Terracotta cooking pots of all sizes lined the wall and they glowed softly in the morning sun. The hot breeze was starting to gust through the glassless window openings cut in the cement block walls. After finishing my plate of fruit, I fingered the curvy, delicate edge of the small plate and stared at the pale pink flowers trying to decide what I should do next. Breathing in, I pushed back the white plastic chair, the scraping against the concrete floor making goosebumps rise on my arms. I left Mex talking to his sisters and father and went back to our room. Carefully, I finished copying the Thank you letters I had worked on for the past three days from my notebook onto cards. Years of being shy in Spanish class had left me with terrible speaking skills, but I could write almost perfectly and was hoping to express my deep gratitude and joy to his family in a way I hadn’t yet been able to say.

It was 9:30 when I finished and I went back to the kitchen. “We should go see Sofia,” I suggest quietly to Mex. “Where is she?” Mex asked his sisters in Spanish. “At her house making tortas for a party at the school,” they replied. Abelina decided to come with us and we went out onto the rough cement street and three houses down, entering his sister Sofia’s gated yard. She did not look up when we walked in to the kitchen. Understanding, and not eager to start the process of farewells either, we each took a station, Sofia cutting the perfect bread rolls, Abelina scooping the tinga – chicken with red chile and garlic, Mex slicing avocados, our niece Deysi putting on lettuce and tomato, me wrapping the finished sandwiches in tinfoil. Unfortunately, we finished quickly that way and paused not knowing what to do next.

Mex and I went in to the next room where our niece Gabi was changing her baby cousin’s diaper. Mex gave her a hug, saying we were leaving. I handed her the card I had written and felt my throat clench. I hugged her tight and left the room unable to speak. Mex and I stood in the hallway for a minute, sobbing from somewhere deep inside and clinging to each other tightly, trying to squeeze the pain from our bodies. Mex’s face reflected a deep despair I had not seen before and feelings of sorrow pierced my heart. With my arms around him I whispered in my broken voice that we would return soon. This time leaving was different. Whatever the outcome of that interview in Juarez, he would be back soon to see his sisters and his father. It would not be 13 years. Don’t be afraid sweetheart. We will come back together.

Breathing deeply, Mex and I returned to the kitchen red-eyed and sniffling, causing his two sisters to burst in to tears. After more long goodbyes, words of thanks and promises to return soon, we walked out of Sofia’s house and back to his dad’s. There the process of farewell was repeated with his dad and oldest sister. Filo clasped me to her chest repeating words of love and well wishes which I understood perfectly. Holding her tightly to me, I knew that my lack of language skills would never hinder my relationship with my husband’s family.

The feeling of love that surged as I put my arms around each sister told me our introduction had been successful. My heart ached at leaving them as much as it had when we left my own parents in El Paso, Texas. After six years together, constantly fearing the judgment of my husband’s family in Mexico, three short weeks had truly made me a part of them. Even through the language differences, they were able to see my deep love and respect for Mex and his culture. That was my test I realized. Not how rapidly I could answer questions or how well I could conjugate verbs. It did not matter that I was American. I wasn’t too pale or too plump, my hair wasn’t too thin nor my mannerisms offensive. My worries and insecurities were gone in that instant, pushed out of me by the warm embraces of my sister-in-law. Mi cuñada. All that mattered was my love for their younger brother and his love for me. Reluctantly I released Filo, handing her the card I had made. “Regrasamos muy pronto,” I said. We will return very soon. And I meant it.

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Filed under Family, Mexico

8-8-08, New beginnings

Someone told me that 8-8-08 is considered a lucky date by the Chinese, a symbol of new beginnings. It is one of the reasons why the opening of the Olympics was chosen to be today. I wouldn’t say this week was full of new beginnings but it was definitely interesting.

To just add one more thing about the previously mentioned horrible one-day boss of Mex’s… He went to get his check for one day’s work since the guy wouldn’t give it to him the day he went to quit. Once he was there the boss argued with Mex and said “I already paid you, why are you here?” Mex said, “You didn’t pay me you told me to come back.” After a few more minutes of arguing with the “boss” Mex said “Do you think I’m an idiot?” and the guy finally gave him a check for the day. The one day Mex had worked he was told by co-workers that Latinos usually only last a week at the restaurant. I found that surprising since, in my experience, Latinos are hard workers and would rarely quit a job with good pay (which it was). I guess I now understand why they don’t stay! Did I mention the owner himself is an immigrant from Europe?

Anyway, enough about that guy. Shameful that an immigrant would treat a fellow immigrant so poorly but Mex will hopefully never have to see him again and we CERTAINLY will never go to the restaurant to eat.

This past Sunday, one of my Mexican nieces turned 6. To celebrate the day Mex and I went with some of his family to Prescott, Wisconsin to a park near the river. I must say his family always has the most amazing food! Even at a picnic they bring guacamole (which never seems to turn brown like mine), tomato and cilantro salad, Mexican rice… we grilled corn and cecina, which is thinly sliced, salted flank steak. Absolutely delicious! Very lean and sooooo good. They also put the tortillas on the grill to warm them up, because one would never be able to eat with a cold tortilla!! =)

We were celebrating and eating at one picnic table and there were many other tables of Americans around (pale ones like me =). After lunch Mex and his family were playing beach volleyball. I was sitting at the picnic table with his niece Eugenia’s neighbor chatting and I saw the group of American’s start tossing around a volleyball and look over at the net. One of the guys, in his 40’s or so, volunteered to go over to the Mexicans and see if they could use the net. As he went over and started talking to Mex and Chencho (his nephew-in-law), the people at the picnic table exclaimed “he’s talking to them!” like it was some sort of miracle. They repeated it a few times until I looked at them and said “they do speak English and they don’t bite very hard.” The Americans laughed and actually challenged Mex’s family to a volleyball match.

They played three games against each other and everyone on both teams had a great time. Then after they all shook hands and congratulated the winners (the Mexicans!) we each went back to our picnic tables. It turns out they were also celebrating a birthday and sang the Happy Birthday song almost at the same time we did. Each table cheered for the other after they sang.

It was a moment I needed to see after the sourness of Mex’s work experience. A moment of Americans, though skeptical at first, becoming open to the Mexicans. Not afraid. Enjoying their company, even experiencing some comraderee (not sure how to spell that). The American’s fear and hesitation disappeared once they opened themselves up to my Mexican family. I hope more people will do this. Truly open their minds and hearts to another culture. Put aside their preconceived notions and play together. It seems very possible as I sit here watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. Dozens of countries joining together for 17 days, putting aside most political disagreements and just enjoying the event, striving to do their best.

Are my ideas of America’s subcultures truly joining together idealistic? Maybe. Impossible? I hope not.

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Filed under Family, Food, Immigration, Minnesota vs. Mexico


As I was driving to work this morning I decided to turn the radio off and just let my thoughts run. An interesting experience since I usually try to drown everything out with music cranked up just a little too much. My mind drifted back to the time in Tetelilla. I wondered what they were having for lunch today… how they were handling the heat… if the mouse was finally out of our room… how Gaby is doing in school… if Sofia’s granddaughter is smiling yet…

As thoughts swirled in my head, I started to become more analytical. I have always noticed the different dynamics of Latino family life vs. American family life. For instance, Mex is appalled at the idea of putting anyone in a place such as a nursing home, especially your parents. The idea of caring for your parents is so ingrained in Mexican children that there is no other option in their mind.

That leads me to my next thoughts… the idea of pride. It is evident in the way his sisters interact with Mex and Mex’s dad looks at him. You can see how proud they are of him. You can see how much his sisters love each other and are proud of each other’s accomplishments. As we would sit on the beds at night talking (there are no couches in the house they sleep in) his sisters would always be close and leaning on each other and acting like the best of friends. It was so fun to watch and I wished I could understand their jokes and stories more completely.

When we came back to Minneapolis and went to visit Mex’s brother Gigio for the first time, he was talking to me about the trip and telling me stories about his dad. His face beamed as he told me how, in his 20’s his father had been a matador in the bull fighting ring. Then he told me how, even though his father has been so unhealthy for many years, he still owns all of his fields where younger and stronger men in his town had lost theirs long ago. It made me smile to see how proud he was of his dad. It also made me wonder if he ever has told his dad that. Possibly… I know it is hard for Mexican men to express feelings to each other. They are very romantic and caring in their words to a carina or “sweetheart” but have a hard time voicing much sentiment to each other. I suppose that is true of men from any country but I just notice it more now with Mex’s family.

My thoughts were forced to wrap up as I neared the office but I vowed to myself to be more open with my emotions and tell people how I feel about them when I have the chance. Life is short. Enjoy every minute and help others enjoy theirs!

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Filed under Family, Minnesota vs. Mexico

Week in Tetelilla

So my battery is about to die but I thought I needed to publish something so everyone knew we were alive and kicking (and sweating buckets!). The place we are in has wireless internet so hopefully I’ll be able to totally update everything from this past week including pictures by the end of the day tomorrow.

Here is a summary of our activities which I will expand on tomorrow when I have a fully charged battery.

Friday the 14th
– Miserable day of driving in big cities and topes (speed bumps bigger than elephants laying in the road). We arrived in Tetelilla after dark, much to our dismay, and Mex was a little lost because the buildings had changed, but his dad was sitting outside the house waiting for him. It was very emotional for Mex after 13 years to see his town and dad and sisters. He was struck by how much everyone had aged, especially his dad.

Charred Poblano chiles on the grill

Saturday the 15th– We spent the day at his sister Sofia’s house learning how to make chiles rellenos (and they were delicious!) and visited his brother Alejandro’s wife, Rosa.

Sunday the 16th– Tried to get money again which didn’t work. Went to a market in a nearby town – Jonacatepec

Market in Jonacatepec

Monday the 17th– trip to Tlaxcala – a city about 2 hours away, to visit Sofia’s in-laws.

Tuesday the 18th – Feria (big street market) in a town about 20 minutes away. We bought some cute things and my purse got slashed (nothing stolen except a tampon and pen… that’ll teach ’em). We visited his sister Andrea in the afternoon.

Wednesday the 19th – Lunch with his sister-in-law Rosa, did laundry for the first time

Thursday the 20th – We went to Las Estacas which is a totally awesome natural water park. All spring fed with huge palm trees.

Friday the 21st – Participated in a Good Friday procession.

Saturday the 22nd – Mex had a nasty stomach bug so we rested the whole day. Very odd since we ate exactly the same

Doing laundry the Mexican way

thing and I wasn’t sick at all.

Sunday the 23rd – We took a long sequence of buses from his town to Mexico City airport to pick up our friend, Maren.

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Filed under Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos, Travel

Family photos

Gaby and Deysi

Ernesto (Neto)

This is Ernesto, who is Filogonia’s son. He is 19 and going to college studying plant biology (from what I can gather from the Spanish). He lives in the house where we are staying and has gone with us to the Feria (street market) and to Tlaxcala. He’s very quiet most of the time but has a great laugh.

Gaby is Filogonia’s daughter and she is 16 or 17, I can’t remember. She lives in the house we are staying in too. Deysi is on the right and she is our niece who came to Minnesota for our wedding. She is the daugher of  Macrena who died of cancer this past December.

Parents when they were around 20. Constancia and Hilario

This is a picture of my mother and father-in-law that I had refinished.  Constancia, died of a heart problem when my husband was 14. It was a life changing event for his whole family and was the turning point for his own future.

Andrea (Abelina) and Santos

My sister-in-law, Andrea (Abelina is her nickname) and her husband Santos. This picture is taken in front of the house of their son, Jorge (which is right next door to their house). There are 4 homes on their lot… theirs and one that each of their 3 sons has built. We call it a hotelria.

My husband with his dad, Hilario, who has been smiling for the last month since hearing his son was coming home (the last time he saw one of his sons was over seven years ago). He was waiting outside the gate of the house when we showed up at 8 at night. He doesn’t speak much but he always laughs and smiles and you can see how happy he is to have one of his sons home (all of the four live in MN).

Ely, Sofia, Abelina, Filo with their dad, Hilario

These are the four sisters that live in Tetelilla – The has three other sisters; one lives in a town an hour away, one passed away four months ago, and one died in childhood. Elizabeth (Ely) and Filogonia (Filo) live with his dad.

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Filed under Family, Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos