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

Building community means lifting everyone, even the nameless

By Abe Villarreal

Every morning I see the same man pass by my house. I live across the street from a gas station/convenience store. He walks in the same direction, moving slowly, not because he can't walk quickly but probably because he knows where he is going. He knows where he will end up for the day.

He has a cup in hand and he sips. His hair is standing up in all different directions. He's tall and lean. He wears the same outfit almost daily. I'm describing him because I don't know his name.

Sometimes, on my morning walk, we cross paths. He never looks me in the eye or initiates conversation. When I'm brave enough, I share a "hello" or "good morning." Only when I'm brave enough.

I always tell myself that I'm going to stop and ask his name. Maybe shake his hand. He must be a neighbor. After all, he's usually somewhere around the corner. He doesn't seem to bother anyone, and he's never seen with anyone else.

It's always just him. A man with a cup, walking away from the gas station and towards the downtown center. I don't know his name or where he lives because I'm like most other people, afraid to get to know someone that is not like me.

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Heatwave has me thinking of cold nights and family traditions

By Abe Villarreal

This heatwave has me wanting to stay indoors wishing for cold mornings and comfort food. At work, I play Christmas music and on my computer screen the scene of snowy neighborhoods and colorfully lit homes is on display. Anything to make me forget about triple digit weather.

All this thinking of the holidays reminds me of childhood. When I was a kid, mom used to make buñuelos every New Year's Eve to celebrate the año nuevo. A buñuelo is a fried fritter of sorts. It's light and flaky, breaks into a hundred pieces as you try to eat it, and best of all is smothered in a delicious homemade syrup.

At least that's the way mom made them. In other homes with bigger families, you can walk in on a cold winter evening, during the last night of the year, and witness large bandejas, or tubs, filled with layers of buñuelos. Covered with a large towel to keep their freshness, you didn't have to know what is inside the bandeja because the smell gave it away. So did the trail of cinnamon and sugar surrounding the tub.

Latina moms are good at making anything shaped into a tortilla. Their hands are built for creating these delicacies. Their feet are strong and can take the hours of standing. They have backs of steel. Most powerful are their hearts and minds because their labor is driven with a purpose to provide for loved ones.

No matter how long it takes, and no matter how little they may have in provisions, they make enough for everyone. They must have some kind of superpowers.

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Look beyond your front porch and see the other America

By Abe Villarreal

With all the heaviness, the struggles, and the endless political battles that seemingly engulf all corners of the world, I'm always amazed at how we continue to get up and get going each day.

From viruses to violence, stock market dips, gas price ups, school sessions out, and high paying jobs hard to find, we manage to get up and get going each day.

What a wonderful statement on the resilience of regular people who find something in themselves to continue on no matter what comes at them. I hear often how hard life was during the depression and other darker periods of history. Come to think of it, life seems pretty good today, at least from where I'm sitting.

Sometimes, I look beyond my front porch and I see people really suffering. Neighbors, nearby, just south of our border, and neighbors far, far away. It's something that we don't do much of, think of people, regular people like you and me, living a life of extreme struggle.

We don't think of it because we don't have to think of it. Instead we focus on our struggles, like not being able to go on vacation or not having the luxury of buying a new T.V. this year. A friend complained to me recently that he was going to have to work overtime for a while so that he could afford to fly to Hawaii this year, and I thought to myself, life can be so tough.

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Familiar things everywhere around you will make you feel good

By Abe Villarreal

I like picking up things that feel like they've always been there. This happened recently when I ran across a new issue of National Geographic. It was the latest issue out on the newsstand. So new, the pages close back up when you try to open it with one hand. Yet, it felt as familiar as those old issues stacked up in dusty bookshelf corners.

Seeing the bright yellow border on the front cover really took me back. The pages inside were filled with amazing photographs of exotic animals you only see in the movies. Sea creatures that look like alien life forms. Scenes from galaxies far away.

It was all there as it has always been, and it made me feel good. Flipping through the pages reminded me of those other familiar things that bring a smile to my face.

Like always finding that extra battery you need when you rummage through the junk drawer in your kitchen. It's there somewhere hiding between paper clips, scissors, a few nails, and pens that barely write anymore.

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The best wisdom is learned when you least expect it

By Abe Villarreal

Every chance I get, I walk over to the city park, right in the middle of town, just to sit. Sometimes I take my shoes off to feel the grass in between my toes. A few minutes turns into an hour, and before I know it, I spent part of an afternoon just sitting, listening, and watching.

What I see and hear are the kinds of things that you read about in books of poems written by great authors. The kinds of things that people used to focus on before social media and the invention of small computers that fit in your pocket.

From time to time, someone comes and sits nearby. It's usually someone older who looks like he has experienced life for a lot longer than I have. I love it when this happens because these become the times that I learn the most about life.

When I'm at work, I also have to sit, listen, and watch. People tell me what to do and I tell people what to do. Some of us wear ties, others professional-looking blouses and dress shirts. As the days and weeks go by, I am reminded that my generation is different from the people that come and sit by me at the park.

We have busy lives. When we talk, we are usually walking away from each other. Sometimes as we engage in conversation we are at the same time looking down at our phones. By the end of the week, we said things to each other, exchanged pleasantries, maybe shared a few laughs, but mostly, we don't know each other any better.

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Getting up and getting out again in a new society

By Abe Villarreal

Every day, during my fifty-minute drive to work and my fifty-minute drive back home, I see the movement, the rumblings of what looks like a society stretching its arms and wanting to get back up again.

People are walking dogs. The same lady in the reflective yellow vest is running around the same corner each day. As the sun rises so does steam off the rooftops of small businesses who are warming up neighborhoods with their baked goods and coffee.

School parking lots look a little fuller. Lanyards with name tags bumping up and down on chests are seen as administrators and counselors file their way onto campuses to do their work no matter where students are learning.

On early evenings, kids can be seen running barefoot at city parks. Teens walking in groups, mostly looking down on their phones, but still walking, outside, together.

The morning street sweepers are slowly and noisily doing their cleaning of streets that are starting to get dirty again. Restaurants are looking for workers. The city visitor center has a We're Open sign even if it's just for a few hours a day, and a few days a week.

Bulletin boards are getting filled up with flyers announcing events and happenings. Authors are signing books at small coffee shops. Only a few can come in at a time, but they can come in. Mainstreet movie theaters are not just selling popcorn to passersby, some of them are showing movies. They might be older movies and the seating is spaced out, but going to the movies is a thing again.

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The importance of remembering lost loved ones

By Abe Villarreal

Each time I visit my great-grandfather's grave, I think of the lesson taught in the animated movie Coco. The lesson of remembering and the tradition of respect to family.

I see his grave like it's out in a forgotten island. It's one of those simple graves with his name, Elias Villarreal, stenciled into a block of cement that frames the borders of the plot. There is no picture or fancy designs. No religious symbols or verses. It simply reads Elias Villarreal 1886-1939.

Most of the other plots in this older section of the cemetery are the same. Surrounded by dirt, some of those buried are already lost to time. Their plots are cracked. Names hard to read. Unvisited for generations.

All my other family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, are buried next to each other in a newer section of the cemetery, surrounded by grass, trees, and benches. The landscaping and flowers honor those that lie there. There is love for the dead who are still in the minds of those that visit.

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Foreign cultures, food, and traditions make us better

By Abe Villarreal

There is a popular YouTube series called Tribal People Eat. In each episode, villagers from Punjab, located in the north of India bordering Pakistan, try American-based food items they consider interesting and sometimes just plain weird.

The Punjab villagers, mostly men, wear traditional dress, often kurtas which are long, loose, collarless shirts made out of silk or cotton, as well as turban headpieces. Their colorful attire is only second to the entertaining ways that they describe their food-eating experiences.

I love watching Tribal People Eat because the modest and humble Punjab people are honest in their interpretations of what Americans must be thinking when they come up with ideas such as fast-food hamburgers, mashed potatoes, Jello, and Little Debbie snacks.

To us, these everyday comfort foods are reminders of corporate America and the geniuses of yesteryear who created food for the working man and woman. To the villagers, they are something else.

In one episode, the villagers try whipped cream from a bottle. They marvel at how such a texture can come out of a long and narrow metal container. Once they learn how to spray out the whipped confection, they become just like we do when we were kids. They are all smiles and have fun enjoying their new experience.

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