abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Dean of Student Success at Cochise College. He enjoys writing about people, pastimes, and the small things in life. 

Traditions small and large we are losing each day

By Abe Villarreal

I like it when I learn of old tricks-of-the-trade that where once commonly used by people who needed a shortcut or something to hide.

Like a flask of liquor in a Bible. I've always wondered when this tradition began and how it might have become one of those open secrets. Maybe it was a fiery fundamentalist preacher with one hand waving in the air and the other hand holding a Bible made up of a front cover, a back cover, and six ounces of gin in between.

I'm sure it takes a lot to condemn your fellow brethren for all the sins of the world while also ignoring your own. A good shot of spirits will make you forget the true evils of the world.

I'm not sure the flask in the Bible tradition is much in favor these days. It may have left with the tradition of hiding jewelry in the flour jar. I watched an episode of The Golden Girls once where Blanche, the southern belle, was covered in flour after searching for her precious lost jewels that had been taken by robbers during a home invasion.

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Calling something old is a sign of respect

By Abe Villarreal

There is something about old things that make me happy. Some call these old things vintage or classic. I like to call them old.

Saying the word old is, well old. It's not considered a nice word anymore but it provides for a better description to something. It tells you its age. It can describe its condition. When you say it, you are sharing perspective and the fact that what you are talking about is something that existed before you did.

Old things like uneven brick walls, rotary phones, and interesting shaped wooden chairs; it's nice to call them old rather than using a trendy phrase like retro. Old-fashioned candy and old-style desk lamps all sound better when using the world old.

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The same skies above

By Abe Villarreal

On Saturday afternoons, I have the blessing of volunteering at a migrant center in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. The center is a place for people who are seeking asylum or who have recently been deported. They can have a temporary stay, food, and shelter.

While they are there, they find relief, but also moments of wonder, second-guessing, changing thoughts, and decision making. Most of them will be sent money by a family member, enough to take the bus all the way to Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador. Some of them will become wanderers. Not sure what to do next. It’s not a good feeling.

From time to time, there are kids. Some as young as babies, others in their teenage years. They don’t experience the range of emotions as their parents, but they often express, through their facial expressions, their moments of daydreaming, that they are also hoping, and wishing for a new beginning.

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Weekly visits to the panaderia remind me of grandpa

By Abe Villarreal

When I go to the panaderia (bakery) on Thursday evenings to get my pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), I think about my maternal grandfather who once owned and operated a panaderia in Agua Prieta. It was called Letty's, named after my mother.

I never went to it and never have seen it in pictures. I wish I did, and I do think about it when I go into La Mejor, each Thursday evening. It's my favorite panaderia in Agua Prieta. Small, and quaint looking. It's on a little block right off the main entrance from the port of entry.

There isn't much left on the block. The rest of the buildings are abandoned, discolored, and somewhat falling apart. In between them, La Mejor stands out because of its nicely painted business name, right on the wall, over the door and window.

That's about all you see. In the United States, we have high expectations for our dining and food establishments. They should be spotless. The windows, crystal clean. The floors washed, the cashier a machine to run our cards through before we write our names with an index finger.

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Everyday things I like to see and experience

By Abe Villarreal

There are some things that I like to experience when I go to restaurants, visit new places, or simply make my way through the workday. We all have our favorite things to see and do. Without them, we feel like life is just passing by us without feeling, without those moments that make us smile.

I like to read menus that tell the history of the establishment on the back page. Sometimes the story is heartwarming, other times hard to believe. I read one recently on a visit to Chicago that told the story of a family of immigrants who arrived in America with not much in their pockets but a heart full of courage and a head filled with ideas. Before they knew it, a restaurant was born. The rest is history.

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What Gerardo taught me while waiting in line

By Abe Villarreal

Gerardo is a window washer. He works the line of cars each night at the "garita" as commuters make their way back into the United States from Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. I cross about three times a week and expect to see him there, rain or shine.

When the line is long and cars are moving at a snail's pace, Gerardo shines. He directs traffic with his loud voice, long arms, and piercing whistle. He's got one of those whistles that I wish I had. One of those where he folds his bottom lip with his hand and blows.

Gerardo always takes time to talk to me. He tells me about his kids and why he chooses to come out each night. He shows me how much he's made. He takes out the foil-wrapped burrito in his pocket telling me that it's dinner someone gave him earlier. I ask him what kind it is and he says it's bistek ranchero con salsa roja. Sounds delicious.

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Meeting Marianne from Little Italy

By Abe Villarreal

In a small, corner pizzeria, on a regular looking street, surrounded by row houses in the Little Italy section of Baltimore, I met a lady named Marianne Campanelli.

Three of us, in town for a work conference, walked in to have a bite. We expected to walk into a trendy pizza place. There was a bar and only a few tables all along big windows looking over the narrow streets of a neighborhood where Italian pride was very evident.

Flags of green, white, and red everywhere. Catholic churches had names of Italians who for generations had made this corner of Baltimore their own. And on the night before we left town, when a slice of authentic pizza was calling our name, we met Marianne.

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Learning about life by listening to others

By Abe Villarreal

My birthday is coming up in a couple of months and at this time each year I become a little reflective. I think about what I know today that I didn't know last year, or a few years ago.

A lot of what I now know came to me through decisions made in tough moments and accidents that were not expected. Other revelations arrived through subtle moments. Reading a book. Watching the news.

Then there are things that I know, and that I know you know, that have come to us in specific moments of time that are hard to pin down. Our minds are powerful machines but not perfect and we often trick ourselves into thinking that we know everything. We don't. What we understand will never be greater than what we don't understand.

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