By Abe Villarreal

It's my birthday today, and on birthdays, we celebrate life. So, here's to life—all its good and bad, all its regularity and all its surprises, all its traditions and all the newness that is to come. In my life, it's the people and the places that are worth celebrating.

Like my friend Jordana, who sells sweets and piggy banks, and whatever else she was assigned for the day. She works at the "line" on the Douglas/Agua Prieta border. You can find her there on most days after school. She greets everyone with a big smile and makes you feel like you are always appreciated to be seen. I wish more of us were more like her.

Jessie "The Racoon" is another person worth celebrating. He's in my adopted hometown of Silver City. We met years ago at the Gospel Mission when he was there with his late father. They were regulars for the Saturday lunch meal, and since then, he's been through a lot. He lost his dad and his legs due to diabetes, but he's still getting along, and I thank God he's there to remind me about what's important in life.

There's also Mike who shows up at my favorite food stand around 7 p.m. on most nights. He's there because he knows a few us other friends will be there. We're there because we know he'll show up. That's the best kind of friendship. The kind that waits for you and knows you are coming.

Guera is the owner of the food stand. I've mentioned her to you before. She's a bit on the older side, but she's there every day, rain or shine. Her menu is limited, and on some days, she's almost too tired to get up and make your order. I'm lucky to know her.

Sometimes, the most reliable of friends are ones you don't know by name. Like the lady that shows up every Friday morning to sell tamales. When I first met her, she offered me a dozen of her red beef tamales. She keeps them in a cooler in her car, and somehow they are always piping hot. I told her that I would give them a try.

Now, she offers green corn tamales. She knows I like them and that not everyone makes them the way I like them. I'm not sure she knows my name, but we know each other, and we know what to expect from each other. That's a friendship worth celebrating.

Birthdays are a reminder that time is passing, that people you knew before, you no longer know, and that people you don't know yet, you will get to know down the line. They are days of remembering but also of looking forward.

When birthdays come around, people make an effort to wish you happiness. To ask you if you have big plans and to ask you how you feel. They try to make it about you. It is about you. It's your big day.

On my birthday, how I feel is made up of how you all have made me feel. The people that I've known all my life. The closest of friends and family, and the most distant of friends. The people I know by name and the strangers who are nice enough to say hello or lend a helping hand.

It's a special birthday because of you.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at

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