My Mexican Passport

When I was a boy, my mother took us all the way to Mexico City by train from Chicago in 1965. We took one train to St. Louis where we spent the night sleeping on wooden benches until our next train departed for Laredo, Texas. In Laredo, we boarded a train toward Mexico City.

What I remember most about this visit to Mexico was my uncle’s fascination with American culture, particularly how important brushing one’s teeth was. He wanted to know what kind of toothpaste I used, what kind of toothbrush, how many times a day I brushed my teeth. He asked many other questions about our life in the U.S., but nothing mattered more to him than American dental hygiene!

Anyway, when we were packing to return to Chicago, my mother announced that my uncle was coming back with us. All he packed was a small handbag that was very light. When the train arrived in Laredo, my uncle showed his documents to the authorities and slipped them some money. Everything was fine until we arrived in St. Louis. Some important-looking people boarded the train and questioned my uncle who presented them with his documents. The authorities then asked my uncle to go with them. I never saw my uncle in the U.S. again. I remember carrying his little handbag home and wondering what my uncle had packed since it was so light.

When we got home, my mother took the handbag for safekeeping. I was never to touch it or look in it. We would give it to my uncle when he would finally arrive in Chicago. Every now and then when I would snoop around in my mother’s bedroom closet, I would see my uncle’s handbag, but I would never open it. One day, I couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. So I looked in the bag. All my uncle had packed for his trip to America was a toothbrush and toothpaste!