Road Trip!

When I was informed that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar would be on the cover of this issue of LATINO magazine, I began to reflect on what his position meant to me personally and to the Latino community. A strong sense of pride overtook me as a thought of a Mexican-American being responsible for protecting America’s great outdoors and heritage.

The experiences I have had with “America the Beautiful” are priceless family moments that were afforded to me by the work of the Department of the Interior. And in my opinion, what better person than a Latino to keepsake national family treasures? This country has so many tremendous parks and sites to visit, I also began to wonder what happened to the good old-fashioned American road trip.

As I have matured and my income has risen, I have been blessed in pursuing my ultimate dream of seeing the world, but also experiencing this country. The travel bug was probably planted in me at an early age when my Papi would take the entire familia on the annual summer trip to Mexico---from Michigan!

Imagine the trip: Mami, Papi, Abuela, and 5 niños traveling for 30 plus hours in a Custom Cruiser Station Wagon (with wood panels). God bless them for putting up with five kids under 12 years old with no technology like there exists today. Think about it---no Nintendo, Gameboy, DVRs, iPads, cell phones, or MP3 players. We had to figure out a way to entertain ourselves, and not get on our parents nerves! Needless to say, we would end the trip with small bruises from the brutal pinches both my Mami and Abuela dished out, which were well deserved.

Being the youngest at the time, my sister and I had the jump seat (which faced backwards), where we would of course make funny faces at people who were driving behind us and request semi-trailers to toot their horns. Also, this provided the perfect angle for our brothers to pull our hair and randomly hit us. Screaming always ensued with an end result of a pinch and someone crying. This usually started occurring in the first two hours of the trip. In fact, by the time we reached the five hour mark on the road my brother Juan would ask, “Which place is closer, Michigan or Mexico?” When Papi replied “Michigan,” my brother would say, ”Turn the car around and let’s go home!” My father would have to stop often to let us run around and expend the energy we had stored riding in a vehicle for so very long. The stops along the way included many parks, sites, and McDonald’s. Given the budget and number of people, Papi needed to stretch that dollar as much as he could.

Looking back, I can only imagine how difficult it was for my parents to take this road trip with all us kids and a grandma in tow. My prideful father worked very hard for our base necessities, but his strong family ties made it extremely important for us to take our vacaciones in Mexico. He needed to see his Mother and 11 brothers and sisters that still lived there. My mother of course understood this need and would start packing the tortillas, snacks, and anything else that would make the trip more viable to go on. When we finally did arrive in Mexico, after also stopping in Texas to visit my mother’s side of the family, we were always well received.

Grandma Guajardo always had a huge pot of menudo on the stove, and all our cousins were there for us to play with. Trips to the rio, open dances in the town plaza, fresh fruit, chickens running wild, and fruit paletas all come crashing back as fond memories once I begin to reflect about our times in Mexico. Of course, the trip home was always painful, but I would not take the experience back for anything. As a family we bonded and learned to appreciate the beauty of nature, family, and how to get along in a small space on a long trip!

Today, I have experienced many of the things this beautiful country has to offer. To name a few, I recently visited Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore on one of my annual “sister” trips. I have flown in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon and have hiked Camelback Mountain, as well as Yosemite National Park. I have visited Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Muir Woods, and too many others to name here. Most of these trips have been taken with family or very close friends. There is something to be said for experiencing nature with people you love. In closing, take the time to disconnect from the digital world and connect with the people you love.

So, go ahead and pack your bag, grab your loved ones, and jump in your Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, or Cadillac and hit the road! Create some moments and memories that will last a life time. As the famous quote states, “Life as not measured by the number of breaths you take, but rather by the moments that take your breath away.”

Alma Guajardo-Crossley is the Corporate Director of Diversity Initiatives at the General Motors Company.