In Mecca, Dreams of Utopia

In Mecca, Dreams of Utopia

By Rogelio Montaño
Coachella Unincorporated

I grew up in a small, one-room trailer home in the small, rural town called Mecca. In this town isolated from the rest of the valley, there is so little diversity or foreign subjects I was exposed to that I even began to wonder as to how my aspirations were formed. As I begin to recall the many memories I’ve unintentionally made there, I am overcome with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, as one would expect, but I had almost been so overwhelmed to the point of tears. The reason being, it is there, among the narrow, cracked streets, the dry desert foliage, and the small-town mindset of the community I lived in, that I began to crave something more. Just like the sun-beaten environment I have grown accustomed to, I became thirsty—thirsty for knowledge, the kind that was not within my immediate grasp.

Looking back on these memories, I began to see I had a potent interest for foreign cultures and languages from a very early age, an interest that was initially implemented by the purchase of my very first globe at the age of four. I remember it distinctly; a multicolored globe, with the names of several cities per country, and bumps to identify the mountains. I loved it. I “played” with it everyday by looking at it, and while it spun, I would use my finger to stop it, and whatever country I landed on was my homeland for the day. Even though I had no real idea of the culture, language, or customs of that particular country, I still let the pot of my imagination concoct my own language and customs for the country. Right next to my trailer home, there was this large patch of land in which I would take in the joy of creating my own different countries with my own drawn up borders, and I would even create wars between them. Obviously not knowing the ramifications of war, I would often make one country completely obliterate the other.

In my old, small town of Mecca, the majority of the population is not only Latino, but of a low socioeconomic status, my family included. Even at a young age, I realized that I could not have everything I wanted, and I was completely dumbfounded when I found out that my parents couldn’t buy what they wanted. Why couldn’t they? However, not long after this realization I accepted the fact that the world isn’t that a great a place, as I compared my home and community to the rich “American” families’ lives that came on television. Why did they have more? The answers to these questions are obvious now, but to my infantile mind, the concept of people being unequal was mind-boggling. It was then that I began to imagine my countries as what I now know are called utopias—social and political perfection, the complete contrast of my graffiti-covered, low-income neighborhood.

I now live in the community of Coachella, a town of similar conditions as Mecca, but much bigger. I found more people of the same situation I was in; low-income without the same access to school resources as the rich, white neighborhoods north of us. This obvious contrast has wanted me to do something for the planet Earth, hoping that there I could come up with some sort of invention or method or SOMETHING that could push the human race to become like the utopian countries I would imagine as a child.

2 thoughts on “In Mecca, Dreams of Utopia

  • January 11, 2012 at 5:18 am
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    Dear Rogelio and Community,

    Your article touches on certain issues that I grew up with as a child in Oasis, just a few miles from Mecca. I too grew up into a hard working class family immigrated from Mexico. It was hard at times to not understand certain circumstances such as the financial aspect of life or why my parents did not know English. However, I do cherish the special kind of life that I had away from the hustle and bustle of what we see today in a globalized world…

    It was then as a kid when I was able to walk out and play in the dirt, feel it through my toes – make figures out of mud, climb trees, make an army out of sticks and even create fantasies out of an innocent imagination. Going out with friends from the other trailers without a care in the world. Running around playing tag, discovering distance little by little where our only boundaries were limited to where the last trailer was parked.

    Life had a routine, went to school, struggled with the English, had an amazing sloppy joe in the school cafeteria and dumped the disgusting celery, but wait, not if there was peanut butter! Then of course, the great bus ride home where only the unimaginable could happen. As I got home, parents were either there… or not. There were times of solitude because they would work until later hours and then came home to sleep on the floor because of back pains, cramps, oh, and start cooking ‘lonche’ for the next day’s meal at work. There was always a way into the trailer though. It could have been easy to drift away from trying to do homework or have a small sense of responsibility without their guidance.

    However, all I heard was ‘estudia hijo, no quieres esta vida!’. That stuck with me. I too had a globe and associated Chad in Africa with the Chad that was in my class, or Mexico and what it meant to actually drive further south than my hometown of Irapuato. I too spun that globe and stopped it with my finger; but only to say to myself that none of those places could actually exist.

    Today I remember and reminisce just like you do. I am currently living in Mexico City but travel extensively home – to Coachella where my family just managed to buy a house in a community. Yet, it doesn’t feel right. I always go back to Oasis/Thermal where we still have our trailer. I always take my shoes off, walk, look at those mountains that kept innocence near my life. I drive by those iconic palm trees that represent our valley and give me a sense of home. My parents continue to work in the fields; to a certain point it’s a sense of belonging and strangely enough I couldn’t picture them in any other capacity – neither my dad in a tie or my mom in a women’s suit. I embrace my life in that time. I embrace what Oasis School gave me. I cherish my CV high school education. I value the life I had.

    We might be evolving as people, succeeding in different capacities, but you and I agree that we would never change what we had then and can only assure that we can help our community by giving them a better future and the options to mature into a successful career yet embrace their roots to strengthen pride, that sense of belonging and appreciation. Struggle never has to be a bad thing, our parents struggled and go figure, the product is you and I, and many other proud immigrants – first, second and now third generation… Some of us went ahead and got an education, were able to visit those countries; the same ones we were placing our fingers on the globe. But, lets face it, we are a particular group of people. It’s always hard, confusing or frustrating not knowing when to call yourself Mexican, American or even Chicano. Hispanic, Latino? Sometimes I just feel like saying that I’m from the Coachella Valley – a special place that back then knew now racial difference (we were too far away from all the affluent communities northwest of the valley). We are a special kind.

    Thank you for writing this article, for taking me back in my imagination, thoughts and heart. For a moment, I felt that dirt in between my toes.

    Diego Zaragoza Tejas
    Oasis ’93
    CV ’97

    Reply
    • May 14, 2012 at 11:41 am
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      Wow, Rogelio and Diego thank you both for sharing fascinating insights into the lives of children growing up in unincorporated areas of Coachella. I really feel as though I’ve experienced some of what it feels like to be a kid from a small town with big dreams. I was born and raised in San Francisco so I feel as though I’ve learned something new reading your story Rogelio, and your comments, Diego. Thank you again.

      Reply

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