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

The burrito man and other helpers

By Abe Villarreal

On Saturday mornings, in the town I used to live in, there was a man that set up a big disco in a parking lot, under a large tree. It was early in the mornings during winter, just as the sun was coming up over the mountains at the edge of town and the steam could be seen rising from his coffee cup.

I don't remember his name but he was the burrito man. His disco, a propane tank, and a long white table were all he needed to cook up delicious breakfast burritos. Those of us that knew what he was doing would drop off tortillas or eggs, just to have a reason to say hello and to feed off of his constant enthusiasm.

I learned about him from Cheryl, one of the lunch visitors at the soup kitchen. She said that the burrito man was going to start setting up in a couple of weeks. Winter was coming and somehow or the other everyone knew the burrito man was going to be there.

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Understanding language leads to healing of community

By Abe Villarreal

In America, we say "God willing." In Mexico and other places, they say "si Dios quiere." The phrases mean the same thing but they sound different.

When you live in the borderlands, or in any community where two worlds come together, people say the same thing to each other but different words are heard, different syllables, different inflections of tone.

The same words are being said but our brains think we are hearing something different. When we hear something different, understanding becomes more challenging. Communications begin to break down.

We get confused. A simple greeting, a raised eyebrow, a questioning face, leave us going from a place of wanting to hear something, to a place of wanting to go separate ways.

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Why local news is still worth reading

By Abe Villarreal

I'm in the habit of checking my phone early in the morning and also right before bedtime just to see if I missed any important world happenings. Major conflicts are brewing in different corners of the globe. Virus infections bubble up here and there. Supply chain issues, politics, money, and other things I read about but don't fully understand.

I do that. I get up and read a little. Go to bed and read a little. It all seems so important, but as I read, it's hard to connect myself to what I'm learning and why it's important. That's why I still turn to the local newspaper.

Where I live, the daily doesn't exist anymore. Writers aren't rushing each day to meet deadlines. Printers aren't meeting the demands of the clock, at least not every night. Fingers aren't soaked in black ink. While computers and software programs do some of the major lifting, writers still write and readers still read.

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Difficulty expressing feelings, values, in difficult times

By Abe Villarreal

I don't write about politics. It's not my thing. There are enough arguments, points and counterpoints found in print, online, and on TV. Controversy is everywhere. Shouting heads and pointing fingers.

I don't write about current events either. It's too easy to go down that road and end up writing about politics. Yet, on days like today, I have to write something down. Days when the sun is not shining as bright and clouds hang low. Days when it's hard to wake up and feel good about life in general. I think it is an obligation to write something about what is happening around us and what will happen to us again.

And still, with thoughts of grief and somehow of continued surprise, words do not easily come to mind. Children are dead. Parents are lost. Teachers are living in fear. These seem like simple thoughts but they don't make sense. It's hard to write something down that doesn't make sense.

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I like my tacos pure and simple

By Abe Villarreal

When I order an iced latte no flavor each morning at the local hotel café, I usually get a question confirming my selection. "No flavor?" It's one of those questions asked in a way to ensure that I made the right choice.

In actuality, I think coffee with milk and ice has a lot of flavor. Mostly coffee flavor. That's the way I like it. Adding a dash of syrup, or a spray of whip cream feels like something is getting in the way. I like coffee to taste like coffee.

When it comes to food, the purity of the taste, or of the way it looks, always appeals to me, and in our country, our American way of life, purity is not something we want in food. We like sour cream to cover our entire taco or enchilada. We want a thick layer of cheese on top of almost anything. We use terms like smothered and it makes us feel like when something is smothered that it is blanketed with endless extra flavor.

I want to know what's underneath. Often, it's the tortilla that an older lady spent hours making. Adding salt, lard, water. Mixing, stretching, tossing. She doesn't change her ways and she doesn't measure anymore because she knows exactly what it takes to have that tortilla taste just right. She makes them every morning before the other cooks arrive.

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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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