Candida invited Jack and me to come to dinner at their home last Sunday and Jack reluctantly agreed to go. He was worried that it would be a long evening of isolation for him because neither Candida nor her husband Jose speaks English and Jack doesn’t know Spanish. “Please don’t just leave me sitting there. Translate for me so I at least know what you’re talking about.” I promised to do my best, although there is much I miss myself. But like so much of what we worry about when we anticipate an event, we needn’t have been concerned. When we arrived at Candida’s, her older son, Luis, an architect, her daughter-in-law, and her 11-year-old grandson, plus Candida’s sister were there too, all gathered waiting for us in the kitchen-dining area, the only public area of the house. Her daughter-in-law is learning English, and her sister, who lived in the California Bay area for 30 years before moving back to San Miguel speaks a great deal of English.
As Candida put the finishing touches on the bowls of pesole, son Luis served. When they sat with us at the table, Jose led us in a prayer, and everyone started talking, pitching in to translate for each other. At the end of the evening, Candida had two lovely pointsetta plants wrapped as a gift for us to take home. I was excited to give her our gift, a sterling silver Rudolfo el Reno, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, that my son Doug makes and sells. It had all the feeling of a family Christmas celebration. Without our own families here in Mexico, through our good fortune, we have been adopted into Candida’s family as part of them.
This embrace happened in spite of the fact that they are a deeply religious Catholic family. Jose attends and helps at their church several times a week, when his health permits. Candida watches only religious programs on TV. Their other son, Paco, who wasn’t there that night for dinner, has been coming to our house twice a week to practice English with me. He has a wife and child with MS, and says his life is difficult, but he puts all in God’s hands, and though he has little, he is satisfied with what he has. They all know that we are Jewish, but there is no tension, no distance created by that fact. My friend, Sara and her wife, Sheila experienced that same acceptance when they lived with Candida and Jose in a home-stay situation for the three months that they were in San Miguel, When Candida realized their relationship was a marriage, not just a friendship, she immediately moved them from two separate single rooms she had given them into a large guest bedroom with a single king-sized bed. “Oh,“ Candida said lovingly, I have a cousin who is a lesbian!” And that was all there was to it.
I wish I had known how lovely the last night of Hanukkah party given by the Jewish community here was going to be. I would have invited Candida and Jose to join us. But this was our first Hanukkah in San Miguel and we didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be an historic event, as the party was held at the Parroquia, the main Catholic church that dominates the city. It is probably the only city in Mexico where such a thing could occur.
I was flabberghasted by what the celebration turned out to be. The menorah was on church grounds, in the enclosed courtyard, the pink marble walls of the building built in 1709 glowing even brighter in the lights of the candles. Led by a sign with an arrow, and the strains of live klezmer music that night, we followed inside the church through a tunnel into the Claustra, a large square room with an open roof. I would guess when we arrived there were 150 Jewish people talking and eating food served from a large buffet table spread with latkes, fritters, falafel, salads, glazed brioche donuts, and bomboloni. Enough food to feed the Maccabeas through the whole revolt. The music was contagious, and many were up dancing Israel folk dances, or whatever steps came close. There were pale faces of ex-pats and brown faces of Mexican Nationals. About 33% of the members of the Reform Jewish community here are Mexicans who have converted from Catholicism to Judaism. And they all looked thrilled to be together. It was a heady night for The Tribe, the first public gathering for Jews in the city since the pandemic.
I am quite sure this was not what the perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition had in mind when they wielded their swords across the throats of Jews, not what they intended. Here people of all faiths, or none, intermingle as one extended Family, sharing a season of joy and love for each other.