As the credits of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” rolled onto our vintage box TV screen, I heard my dad murmur a subtle comment under his breath.
“This film could not be more relatable. That guy? I totally get everything he has to go through.”
He’s not wrong.
The warmth of the Chilean people is overwhelming. You roll down your car windows and ask the car next door for a yummy “casuela recipe.” Sometimes you can’t tell who’s talking to you — your vision is an absolute blur because they’re standing so close. You bump into someone at the store, and instead of an angry glare, they laugh and say goodbye with a kiss.
But there’s something to be learned from this.
There isn’t space in Chile to be self-reliant. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and blockaded by the Andes Mountains, Chile is detached from the all other South American countries. From the beginning, relationships were intrinsically woven into their survival as a people: communication was crucial. And so began an unending culture celebrating the beauty of co-dependence.
Upon arriving to the U.S., my mom realized that the only commonality Chile had with Arizona was the weather: both were intolerably hot. But she could work with it. You see, heat impacts a culture in a magical way: it brings people together. In the most literal sense, people don’t typically layer up when it’s hot outside. Our wardrobe lauds our freedom as we go about the day, almost dancing in the sun. In fact, it seems as though the lack of physical layers also breaks down emotional facades that we might be hiding behind.
Last Christmas, I went back to Chile, after 3 1/2 years. With 24 hours of travelling under my belt, the drooped bags under my eyes and the globs of oil streaming from my hair roots screamed my excitement.
And then came the next 10 days of parties — many, many parties.
We passed empanadas down the six-seat dining table which was cramming 14 of us, and we weren’t complaining about it. We showed up at a friend of a friend of my grandma’s and laid on their couches, munching on appetizers as if we were regulars. And there was an evening that I won’t forget.
It had been a hot day, the kind of hot where even an experienced Arizonan like me complains. The natural solution: a trek over to my cousin Yayo’s house for a pool party.
It was there that I realized that there is nothing more beautiful than dripping in sweat with the people you love the most. Under that sun, we rolled in the grass as “Josefin,” the baby bulldog, attacked us with dog kisses. We tossed our flip flops to the side and canon-balled into the glorious fresh water. We laughed for hours in the living room as a slow summer breeze seeped through the open glass door. And when the sun went down, we blew bubbles under the clear night sky and smiled as we shared our lives’ joys.
Our casual shorts and worn-out shirts, the ambience of openness, and of course the scorching heat wove us together in rich fellowship. Not only did the weather provide us with literal warmth, but that warmth itself proved to be a provider — a provider of familial warmth.
Whenever I visit my Tio Pablo and Tia Andrea’s house for the first time, I wait quietly at the top of their wooden steps for my cousins to come home. Each time I’ve waited, I sit expectantly — almost anticipating someone new. Years ago, Andreita appeared at the top of the stairs with her sketchbook in hand, her hair disheveled, sporting her dainty plaid school uniform skirt. Then Pablito stumbled atop the stairs with stains of sweat dripping down his face and his soccer cleats clunking over the familiar wooden floor: soccer practice had just finished.
This time, I sit on the aged blue couch. I wonder about all the memories imprinted on the couch, and the many I’ve missed. And then I faintly hear the keys jingle from outside, and a gentle shove of the door. They’re home.
This time, Pablito trudges up the stairs in a brand new suit, a worn briefcase in hand, his body aching from a long day at work. Andrea appears behind him, dressed head-to-toe in hot pink scrubs, her hair now disheveled from a long day of examining teeth.
Then came the loud and boisterous greeting, and the time spell had broken. Pablito clutched me tight while Andreita gasped at my younger sister, wide-eyed and smiling at the growth that stood before her. Their warmth was timeless.
“Love, is the foundation for warmth,” my mom once told me. “It’s as if love is a natural resource in our country. It’s so natural.”
Hillsdale is a frigid place. Each morning we lie in bed for five minutes longer than we should as we look outside the window and wonder how it managed to snow 10 inches within our “lengthy” five hours of sleep. We complain as we trudge up the hill and shuffle our feet, desperately trying not to slip on the ice. We cloak ourselves with layers upon layers of scarves, puffy hats, and big coats to shield us from the penetrating weather.
Warmth rips apart the barriers of inferiority, inadequacy, or even the reality that yes, you may be a stranger. It casts aside our awkwardness and uncomfortable attitudes that have disconnected us from rich experiences. Our relationships do not become stagnant by the hours we spent apart from our loved one: instead, we forget the time past and cherish the present.
Hillsdale’s weather isn’t going to change. Year after year, we will return to the same cold winter we thought we had finally finished only a few months ago. But maybe the warmth of community can transcend that — like a piece of Chile in Michigan — and our “hey”s can become warm hugs that celebrate our deep love for the people around us.