A New Perspective: Los Barriles, Mexico


By Heidi Ford

Hola! Me llamo Heidi Ford. Hi! My name is Heidi Ford. I grew up in a little fishing village in southern Baja, Mexico called Los Barriles, named after the barrels of pirates’ gold supposedly hidden somewhere in town.

My parents moved to Los Barriles when I was five months old and we lived there until I was 14, when we returned to the states for me to attend high school. I went to the local public schools through “secundaria” or junior high.

Although we did not have all the amenities that schools have here (no computers, few books, and no air conditioning), I loved my elementary school. And since elementary school is mostly about developing social skills anyways, these luxuries were not missed.

The community was very supportive and kind to my family. Though in appearance, I was the blond “Gringa,” kids and parents called me “Mexicana.” Despite cultural differences, I was accepted.

On Independence day (September 16), local moms compensated for our lack of preparedness by  dressing me in revolutionary gear and teaching me to shout, “Viva Mexico!”

In addition to traditional classroom education, much of my Baja education was held after school exploring nature. We drove home every day in our pickup truck, avoiding the goats or cows crossing the road. (Things moved slower in our town.) I developed tough callused feet at a young age from running effortlessly on hot sand and rocks. I learned to swim and snorkel at age three. I was familiar with snakes and scorpions and “aguasmalas” or jellyfish. I learned to fish, rescue hatching turtles, and ride ATV’s.

Every year, we would come to Bolinas for a month or two to escape the heat, hurricane, and dengue fever season. My parents would enroll me in school for a month here. I always had to play catch up, especially in writing. And, just when I was caught up, we returned to Mexico where I had to play catch up again.

Secondary school in Mexico was stricter than elementary school on the outside. We could not paint our nails or dye our hair. We wore pink uniforms and had to have our appearance including our nails checked at the gate.

Inside the classrooms, however, it was chaos with bloody fist fights. The classrooms were small, stuffy, hot and loud. We had to copy writing off the chalkboards. Teachers often had to travel two hours to school and then return to teach at another school in the afternoon.

Because most of the job opportunities for students in Los Barriles are in tourism or fishing, kids don’t have much incentive to study and work hard (although my two best friends did). With time, I realized that opportunities for women were limited: many married early and became housewives. I begged my parents to move to the States for high school. They realized that it was time to return and so we did.

I was amazed when I came to the States with all the resources available here. In junior high at Tam we had music, ceramics, woodshop, tech class and art. We went on field trips and had tons of supplies, computers, and books. When I first went to Tam, I had no idea how to open a lock on a locker, let alone navigate such a large school. It took me a year to learn how to make my way in a school where most people knew each other and knew the culture of Mill Valley. I had to change how I dressed (no uniforms!) and I struggled to adapt to a different socio-economic environment. Now, however, I feel like living in two worlds has made my life rich and given me different perspectives. I am grateful for the unusual opportunity to immerse myself fully in two cultures.  Estoy agradecida por la oportunidad única de sumergirme completamente en dos culturas. ♦