By Abe Villarreal

Every time I go to Mexico I feel a sense of freedom. It's hard for me to put my finger on precisely what it is that gives me that feeling.

Maybe it's the smell of food being cooked in front of you in almost every street corner. From tacos to roasted corns, someone is making something. When I go "across the line" to do some shopping or just to walk around, I almost always end up eating from a stand at the plaza or at a busy street intersection.

Restaurants are just not my thing. I like to get to know the man or woman whose daily life is very routine. He shops for what they need, he gets up early in the morning, he loads up his pushcart, and he sells until he just can't sell anymore. Knowing all of this also makes the food taste better.

Maybe that sense of freedom comes from the people who are spending their leisure time not on phones or digital gadgets but just by sitting outside on a ledge with their feet dangling in the air. I see this all the time. People young and old like to hang out like we used to do, by just hanging out.

They often play music and sing along not caring how far their voices are heard. They say buenos dias or que tal to everyone that passes by. No one is a stranger. There is freedom in knowing that.

I feel freedom when I pass by barbershops feet away from the street. All can see who is getting their hair cut and how long or short they like it. No one is worried about who will see them or stop by to chat as they get their ears lowered.

I feel freedom when I walk around the town plaza and almost everyone seems to know each other, even though they are all strangers. Something unites all people in this country. Maybe it's the similar struggle they are all experiencing or the desires, the passions, and dreams they all share.

I feel freedom being in a place where no one asks me about things that aren't that important at the end of the day. People aren't rushing to find out how many degrees I've earned or what car I drive. The conversation isn't a competition or an investigation to find out if I'm different.

Maybe I get that feeling that feels so American because I'm still in the Americas. I'm in a continent where people share a lot. We share cultures and traditions. We share language and food. We share people and families. We share many of the same values we often think are unique to one side of the border.

In the United States, we have freedoms that are written down on paper and passed down through law and order. There is a lot of power in that. In Mexico, they have freedoms because the people pass them along from person to person. They share it through meals and smiles. They share it through being who they think they should be, no matter what others think.

Not all freedom is the same. I appreciate the freedom I am given here. I love the freedom I feel there.

Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.

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