In the land of dreams, each country’s passport stamp surely has its own color and scent. It is never a generic, odorless black. Instead, the blueness, greenness, even orangeness, would fill up my nostrils in a celebration of travel – instantly reminding me from where I have just come. I imagine the hand of an unknown customs agent holding the stamp’s handle, then pounding the base into the small rectangular box of ink for a refill, then finally sailing down onto the pale blue piece of booklet paper where it gently twists, and twists, to ensure a proper stamp.
What would the stamps of Latin America be in dreams? I know the colors of their flags in reality. I know red and green is Mexico – a colorful burst of hot peppers, the unofficial emblems of their land. I know Chile is a solid-looking blue and red, adorned with a prominent white star – the dignified flag a seemingly fitting representation of its country’s recent economic stability and social prosperity.
I know the reality of Latin America in so many ways. I have traveled there countless times in my twenties and thirties. I have done both humanitarian and professional work there – seeming to cross countries off my bucket-list like I was leaving this earth tomorrow. But what I have never known, what has pleasantly puzzled me since I was a young non-Latin girl growing up watching the Spanish channel on TV in Connecticut (not understanding a single word of Spanish), was why I have felt such a cosmic connection to this land. Like invisible, forgotten stamps on a passport, the forgotten memories of my past lives seem to surround me whenever I travel to Latin America.
I wonder who I was back then. Maybe I was a professional tango dancer in Argentina, or a wise basket-weaving grandmother in Guatemala, or a laborer hollowing out the Panama Canal at the turn of the twentieth century – modern humankind disconnecting the approximately 50-mile tropical isthmus that lies between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, that was put into place millions of years ago by maybe the mythical, restless super-continents of Rodinia or Pangaea. All those potential titles of me seem plausible, even beautifully expected and mythical in their own way. Whichever the case, I’ve always known that I was in those countries before I lived this life. I was there before my present-self first set foot on Latin American soil in May 1996.
My first flight to Latin America in 1996 was like a long pleasant flight into the sun – the journey felt hot, ancient, dry upon impact (a.k.a. touchdown). At the time, Mexico City was ranked as the world’s most populous city by various agencies. Rumors were that mammoth fans existed at the mountain peaks of the city to circulate the hot air and decrease pollution. Rumors were your car could only be used on certain days, so as not to overcrowd the city streets, but to also not worsen the already thick and dangerous carbon emissions. Couple the climatic duress of this bulging city with its painful drug and kidnapping issues, it was hard to believe the city's inhabitants could even survive. Nonetheless, Mexico City was also known for its huge green, flowered parks, its refreshing fountains, and its impressive Angel of Independence statue – whose sparkling golden wings would one day pierce my hazel eyes with loveliness when I looked up at her, and whose arms would seem to wave and motion to me encouragingly from every angle whenever I walked beneath her.
That day, the immense Mexico City suburbs seen from my airplane window during descent seemed to last for thousands of miles – the colors of the red, orange, and blue tin-looking triangle houses below are forever burned in my brain as colors that could only exist on the face of my own science fiction sun. I was on a humanitarian mission with my university to build houses in rural Mexico. My final destination would not be the exciting, though dangerous, Mexico City – with its cab-clogged streets (green and yellow Volkswagen Bugs sputtering around in a perpetual song of low-pitched pops), with its upscale restaurant and nightclub neighborhood of Zona Rosa (the Pink Zone) that nestled itself into the chaotic city like a beautiful tropical oasis wrapped in a palm tree-bow. No - I, along with my fellow volunteers, was heading south – further south.
The next two weeks outside Mexico City, instead in a small town called Alpuyeca situated about three hours south of the behemoth capital, I transformed into a cozy wearer of dingy blue jeans who was building houses in a nearby village by day. My beautiful village was called Xoxocotla – its indigenous name still a sweet reminder to my own homeland’s indigenous name of Connecticut. I learned that the ‘X’s’ were to be pronounced as ‘Z’s’ – just as I once learned long ago that the original pronunciation of Connecticut was ‘Quinnehtukqut.’