I’ve always been curious about my dad’s hometown – La Cañada de Caracheo in Guanajuato, Mexico. The closest I’ve come is Guanajuato City when I was nine years old during a detour from our family’s periodical trip to Guadalajara, Jalisco. My mom grew up in Guadalajara and most of her family still lives there, but Dad and his family migrated to Guadalajara from La Cañada. That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve never been. There aren’t any close relatives left in that town to go visit. Most people migrate out from this rural town to cities as close as 52 miles out to Cortazar, Guanajuato, or as far 1,780 miles out to Los Angeles, California as my dad did.
I’ve always wanted to visit, even if there’s no one left to see. I’m still not sure when I’ll be able to go in person but as an attempt to temporarily feed my curiosity, I decided to embark on a virtual tour via Google maps.
Entry or exit
I started my stroll in the middle of the town but made my way to the outskirts until I finally hit what seems like an entry point to La Cañada – the Salvatierra highway. This road introduces newcomers like myself, welcomes back any familiar visitors, and shows the exit to anyone leaving, whether they were here for a few hours or for a lifetime.
I showed this road to Dad and he didn’t recognize it. He and his father, Santos Salinas de León, used to travel in and out of La Cañada to work in the nearby fincas (or ranches) to chase the next harvest. But they never used this road, it just didn’t exist back then.
They would travel on a horse. Dad would ride with his father, holding on tight to his waist so he wouldn’t fall. He was only around eight years old.
Migrating toward the harvest
Dad loved working the land with his father, even if it wasn’t their own, but the income was low and unstable. Santos Salinas de León had a large family to feed, so in an effort to earn more money, he chased the harvest all the way to the U.S. as part of the Bracero Program. This program was a series of laws and agreements between Mexico and the U.S. that allowed men to temporarily work in the States as contracted laborers. My dad’s father ended up working in Salinas, California – a town to match his surname. I always wanted to go to Salinas, not only because it’s my last name, but also because my grandpa worked there. I never met him, so I feel that a visit to La Cañada and Salinas will somehow bring me closer to him.
My grandpa eventually returned, but he set the precedence for his sons, as many other fathers in La Cañada did for their sons. First, the Salinas men began to migrate out, hunting better-paying job opportunities in the cities, and eventually, the entire family relocated. Some, within Mexico, others to the U.S.
I proceeded along the Salvatierra highway, and paused when I came across the plaza de toros 2 Caminos, a rodeo plaza.
It felt surreal. I knew this was important to Dad, he had mentioned this rodeo to me before. To be honest, I never paid much attention. It just didn’t interest me enough. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him watch, over and over again, the same old VHS cassettes of rodeos, or jaripeos, as they call them in Mexico. Then when he got a touchscreen phone with data, he started watching rodeos on Youtube. Basically, jaripeos are to Dad what novelas, or soap operas, are to Mom – everything. When I saw the plaza on Google Maps, all those sideline memories rushed to the forefront.
I showed the image of the plaza to Dad and he was impressed. He said it’s a lot bigger than what he remembers. It’s evident that jaripeos have and continue to be a major part of growing up in La Cañada. I even found a corrido dedicated to this plaza de toros.
I made my way back into the depths of La Cañada and came across a church. I knew to stop and explore that area because churches tend to serve as community meeting points and I was bound to see more people. On a sidewalk near the front of the church, stood a few men selling plants. I paused and gazed at the one in the center, the one wearing the hat and resting his hand on his hip – he resembled my dad. I almost broke into tears. Same posture, same working wardrobe, and similar hustle. This man sells plants, my dad is a gardener. I imagined my own father’s face over the unknown man’s blurred out one. I imagined him selling his plants outside that church back in his hometown, wondering what his life would’ve been if he would’ve just stayed home. Wondering if it was worth leaving it all.
Faith in La Cañada
As I continued my stroll along, I repeatedly ran into variations of the same image painted on different walls – a man wearing glasses and clerical clothing. It was as if he was following me. Every time I came across a new image of him, I grew more and more eager to find out who he was. I even ran into a large, golden, statue of him in the center of a roundabout.
After persistent navigation, I found a mural that revealed this person’s name – Fray Elías del Socorro Nieves. First thing I noticed was the Socorro in his name, same as my dad’s middle name. He was a Catholic priest that served in La Cañada de Caracheo and was assassinated during la guerra de los cristeros, a time when the government was persecuting the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. I remember my maternal grandfather telling me about how he was secretly baptized in a someone’s home during this time to avoid prosecution.
When I showed Dad the mural, his face brightened and he shouted, “El padre Nieves!”
Retracing my steps
Although this was a virtual tour, it felt very real. I wasn’t just exploring a place I’ve never been, I was exploring the streets my father walked. Pictured above is his house and the woman outside is Tía Teresa. Dad doesn’t know who that boy in the picture is, but I always pretend that it’s him. It makes it easier for me to connect to his home, to his roots, to my roots.
What started as a fun, curious exploration, became an overwhelming, yet addictive, research spiral. I want to go back, but next time, in person – possibly with my dad, possibly alone. I’m still unsure what memories Dad holds of his home and I’m unsure if he even wants to revisit them. I just know that I always yearn to learn more about where someone comes from to better understand where they are now – especially if it’s my family. Learning my family history keeps me grounded, reminds me who I am, where I come from, and reaffirms the power I’ve inherited, to go where I want to go.