Given the number of entry and exit stamps in the pages of my well-worn passport, one would think that there would be nothing more for me to learn from yet another trip to Mexico.
However, out of all the times I’ve traveled south of the border, this one might have been the most inspirational.
As has been the case each year since my grandmother passed away in 2016, my grandfather, Roy, and I made the trip to Bahía Kino, Mexico, to continue a family Christmas tradition. When he and my grandmother, Jan, lived in Mexico after retiring, they spent each Christmas with their housekeeper, Yolanda, and her family: husband Antonio and children Viridiana, Ramón and José. They’ve since become family to us.
Each time I have made the trip with my grandfather, I have felt more comfortable. Part of it comes from being more familiar with the language. I spent three semesters at the University of Utah working on finishing my degree in Spanish before taking a year off, but for some reason, I was able to speak and understand more this time than ever before.
I was also inspired by my 86-year-old grandfather’s plans for his return trip later this month.
Since my grandmother died, he has taken up pottery as a hobby to keep himself occupied. And, it’s not just a matter of taking commercial clay and putting it on a wheel. He goes into the backcountry around Moab and digs his own clay, processes it and makes his pottery completely by hand.
The Seris — the native tribe indigenous to the area around Bahía Kino — used to make beautiful pottery, but that part of their culture has faded into near-oblivion in recent generations. Some still make small pots to sell as decorations, but they no longer make large pots for carrying water or cooking as they once did. My grandfather, along with those who taught him to make his own pottery, are attempting to bring that part of the Seri culture back by giving pottery lessons to a group of Seri women — from digging clay all the way to firing their own pots.
If you know my grandfather, such a thing doesn’t come as a surprise. He and my grandmother used to do all sorts of charity work in that community, distributing food, medicine, clothing and school supplies to those in need — for no other reason than the fact they wanted to give back in any way they could.
That got me to thinking as I prepared to make my return to the U this semester: what can I do to continue that legacy?
Fortunately, this is where my academic pursuits and my own desire to give back to the Spanish-speaking community collide. I am at the point in my studies where I need to complete a capstone project in order to graduate. One option involves doing 65 hours of community service over the course of a semester, in an environment that allows me to put my language skills to use.
There are several opportunities out there that will allow me to give back, including working in the food pantry at Salt Lake City’s Highland High School that serves homeless and impoverished students and their families. Another involves working at the university’s pro bono physical therapy clinic with members of the Spanish-speaking community.
When I heard about these options, I knew I’d found exactly what I wanted to do. It will be the ultimate way to finish my degree.
Given the legacy my grandmother left behind, it just feels right.
Darren Vaughan is the sports editor for the Transcript Bulletin and (still) a senior Spanish major at the University of Utah. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.