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

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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Finding yourself in places you've never visited

By Abe Villarreal

I've been thinking about places I want to visit simply because I haven't been to them. Like Alburg, New York. I don't know much about it but I have a friend that grew up there, and he always smiles when he's telling stories of his youth.

He once showed me a picture of the street where he was raised. It seemed like one of those places you see on old TV shows. A place where the streets were perfectly lined up, the corner light was always lit, and the milkman showed up at the same time each day.

Recently, he moved back to that place. He said that he was closer to his "beloved" lake and his Quebec culture. He seems happier than he's ever been. Makes me want to visit that place.

I also want to visit Cumpas, Mexico. My grandmother was born there and through the years stories were shared about the good times, the ranches, and the food. The lessons learned, the barrios, and the beginnings of many things.

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Tattoos over coffee tell a story of survival

By Abe Villarreal

I met a guy named Jaime Rose this week. The second we sat down he began to tell me his life story. I didn't ask, but for some reason he felt like telling it.

I knew he had a story to tell. We all do. With him; however, he seemed to be ready to unload, like he was waiting for this moment to open up. Sometimes we are all just waiting for that moment.

Before today, I knew him as that guy that was working for a local agency that helps  people with drug habits get connected to resources. It's tough work finding people who don't recognize they need help and trying to shake them up until they break down and ask for it. That's Jaime's job.

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Hangout spots needed to create community

By Abe Villarreal

One of those things that feels like it's going away is gathering at a community hangout space. Maybe it's the pandemic, or maybe it's the continuing dominance of the digital world. We feel like we have access to everything and everyone. Hanging out is not so necessary.

When big malls that took up entire city blocks were part of our lives, teens would make them hang out spots. They didn't do much shopping, but they walked around and bumped into other teens that they kind of knew from their schools. Sometimes they would just sit at the food court or show up early just to chill before the nighttime movie began.

Before malls, there was cruising. That's something I enjoyed. Not much of the hanging out time was in a specific community spot, but you all did it together, some of your friends in the car, other friends in the cars ahead and behind you. You weren't really going anywhere, but you were all moving, and you were all together. That's the important part. Being together.

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