Finding love and adventure in the Roaring Fork Valley
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Many Mexicans come to the United States to escape the grinding poverty in their country. Alejandra Rico was fortunate; she came for the adventure. She and a group of her teenage friends were looking for summer jobs and a good time. But Alejandra found so much more.
Gallacher: What was your life like growing up in Mexico?
Rico: I have a lot of memories of road trips with my family. Any time we had any vacation we would go “road tripping” somewhere in Mexico. The ocean was a favorite.
I have very special memories of visiting my grandmother. She was my rock. She was a beautiful, loving woman. My sister and I visited her every Tuesday and Thursday. She would make wonderful food for us and we would sit and talk and share time. Both of my parents worked, so my grandmother did a lot of the cooking for our family.
I remember sitting, watching her cook and listening to the radio that was always playing trio music like “Los Panchos.” The songs were sweet, beautiful love songs. And I would be telling her how my day went and she would be listening all the time and laughing. She was a beautiful spirit. I still have dreams about her kitchen and her house. I am very fortunate to have had her in my life.
My mother is a lot like my grandmother. She too is a very wise woman. She has always told my sister and me how important education is and how important it is to live our youth. She encouraged us to experience the world before we have kids. She would tell us stories about traveling through Mexico as a young woman with her college volleyball team. Her stories were full of interesting people and places. They made us want to travel and explore.
My mom is very wise. No problem is too big for her, and everything has a solution. She is very compassionate, and she has always shown us through her example, how to care about other people.
Gallacher: What about your father?
Rico: My father is a child in a man’s body. He’s a dreamer, a philosopher. He loves life. He has given my sister and I a sense for social justice. I can remember breakfast on the weekends when we were small. He would read us the letters of Che Guevara to Fidel Castro. I don’t really remember much about what they wrote, but I remember how passionately my father read and how important it was to fight for justice.
My dad also taught us to appreciate music, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. When he was a teenager, he lived between Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. It was the late ’50s, early ’60s, and he and his friends were listening to American and English rock. So when I was growing up my dad would always have rock and roll music playing in the house.
I think my father was an actor in a past life, because he is so good at interpreting things. I remember him sitting us down to listen to Janis Joplin singing “Cry Baby.” He would sing along with her and tell us, “Listen to how she is feeling this song and expressing love.” For my father, it wasn’t enough to just listen to the music. You had to feel it.
Gallacher: How old were you then?
Rico: He did it throughout our childhood, middle school, high school and college. He still does, but now I remind him, “Dad, you have already told us that story.” But back then it was exciting to wonder “What is he going to tell us now? What am I going to learn today?”
I have had big teachers in my life.
Gallacher: Yes, you have. It probably explains why you came to the United States looking for adventure. How did that happen?
Rico: One of my friends from college used to come to the valley every summer to work and help pay for her education in Mexico. I asked her if I could come along. I was 19 and in law school, and I had never had to work. My life had been pretty easy because my family was upper middle class. For that reason, my friend didn’t believe I would really come and work but I did.
I stayed three weeks and fell in love with this valley. I really didn’t have any idea where I was going I was just up for an adventure. Riding the bus through the canyon and seeing this place for the first time was like entering a little paradise. I really didn’t think so much beauty could be in such a little place. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have picked this place without knowing anything about it.
Gallacher: Could you speak English when you came?
Rico: Yes, my mom had really made an effort when we were little to make us go to English classes after school. My sister and I hated it, but she would say, “You’ll appreciate it one day.” And she was right.
I went to work in a restaurant as a hostess and that is where I met Peter Jessup*. He was working as a waiter. We became good friends and when I went back to Mexico we stayed in touch through letters and phone calls.
I came back the next summer and that is when we really fell in love and started our relationship. I went back to Mexico at the end of that summer, finished college and moved here in 2003.
Peter was an amazing soul, an amazing human being. He was an example for me. He was always worrying about other people and doing things for others. When we were working in the restaurant he was just beginning to learn Spanish. With his Spanish he was helping the manager talk to the dishwasher. He was trying to bring people together even as a young man.
In college, he went to the Dominican Republic and lived in small villages with host families. Those families were so wonderful to him. He would leave calling them “Mama” and “Papa.” That experience made him want to learn Spanish perfectly, dance salsa and live his life for social justice. He was an exceptional human, somebody out of this world. His soul and its energy was very powerful, kind and beautiful.
Gallacher: How has your life been since his death?
Rico: It has been the hardest time of my life. It is the time I have felt most broken. I am still healing. I am still collecting the pieces and putting them back together. Spiritually, it has meant accelerated growth for me. Now, I think about death in another way. I had always wondered, “Why are we here?” But after Peter’s death it became a much more real reflection. “Where is he? What is he doing? And what am I to do now that he is gone?
He is around. I can sense him. He has visited me in dreams but sometimes I wish I could just hold him and hug him and listen to his words of wisdom. He was a very wise man, and I miss him a lot.
Gallacher: Some folks would go back home after experiencing such a loss. Why have you stayed?
Rico: There are lots of reasons, but I think mainly it is that I don’t want to leave Colorado broken. I don’t want to be broken in my soul when I leave this place. I want to leave happy and complete, as complete as I can be. I was going to leave in the summer and then it was the fall. I keep saying I’m going to leave but it is hard to leave this valley.
It is like my home now. I have friends. I have community. I will stay until I know what the next step is.
* Peter Jessup was the immigrant community advocate for Catholic Charities, a faith-based, nonprofit agency that works in the Colorado River corridor and the Roaring Fork Valley to give assistance to immigrants, the homeless and the poor. He died from a fall while hiking near Maroon Bells in the summer of 2007. He was 27.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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