We went to Jose's hometown of Huetamo, Michoacan last week for the first time, although unfortunately it was after we learned of his 20 year old cousins death. Rufino, his cousin, had lived in Healdsburg for a few years and was the only cousin Jose really knew from his father's side. Rufino's father has lived with Jose's family for years and is probably the closest relative Jose has outside of his immediate family. His uncle had sadly lost another son 8 years ago and is still dealing with his death. It was important to Jose that he supported his uncle, who left the United States to take care of his son's funeral, so we took a bus to Huetamo the day after I got back from my trip to the U.S.
The 6 hour bus trip took us through the city, farmland, pine forests, and finally Jose's hometown in the dry desert. Huetamo is surrounded by high peaks of rock, and the flat land outside of town is used for farming and cattle grazing. The landscape is surprisingly gray because there is little more than short gray trees, rocky soil, and dry grass.
While the three years Jose lived in Mexico were actually spent in Los Cuachalalates, a rancho 15 minutes from town, all but his most distant relatives have moved to Huetamo. We visited Los Cuachalalates and the abandoned house he lived in. As with most houses, there are only three full walls to the house, with one side being only a three foot partial wall. The area is so hot that houses would be unbearable without an open wall to allow air to circulate. Los Cuachalalates is a small village with few people, dirt roads, and mostly abandoned houses owned by the people who have left for town or the United States. It looks and feels like a town on its way to becoming a ghost town.
Huetamo is a thriving town of about 20,000 people. Some neighborhoods have paved roads, many houses are modern (some even have air conditioning), and the downtown is bustling. It strangely also has cows, horses, and chickens roaming the streets. Jose and I stayed with his uncle Israel, his wife, and their three children in a nice part of town. We met family from the Arzates (the family of Jose's paternal grandmother, who died when his father was young), Mederos, and Baltazar (Jose's mother's side). Most exciting for Jose was meeting his paternal grandfather for the first time. After growing up hearing negative things about his grandfather, and never speaking to him, Jose was surprised to find a grandfather who was interested in him, affectionate, and very kind. We spent hours each day with his grandfather, and Jose left Huetamo feeling like he had suddenly gained a new grandparent.
Jose had only met a few of his father's relatives before we went to Huetamo. He now knows his cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandfather, as well as his father's cousins, uncles, and aunts. He thought he didn't have any family left in Mexico, but it turns out there are a lot of people in Huetamo who consider him family. I can't even remember how many people told us to not return to Mexico City, and I think Jose would have agreed to stay for quiet awhile if we didn't have our dogs waiting for us. He is already talking about going down for a few weeks after I leave if he can find someone to watch the dogs. While we went down to Huetamo for a sad reason, it ended up being an amazing trip that Jose will never forget.