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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Opinion: Miles and years apart

A+photo+taken+after+a+hiking+trip+on+Dec.+23%2C+2022+at+El+Cajas%2C+Ecuador.
Photo by Photo by Ana Sofia Sloane

A photo taken after a hiking trip on Dec. 23, 2022 at El Cajas, Ecuador.

I’m jealous.
Jealous of those who can drive to a neighboring town to visit their grandparents or walk down a few blocks to talk with an aunt or cousin. For those with homes in such close proximity that unplanned visits are habitual, homemade dishes can be shared while still warm and FaceTime isn’t the only mode of communication.
See, half of my family lives 2,614 miles across the globe. I can’t leave Round Rock, Texas, on a random Tuesday afternoon and give my abuela or abuelo a hug just because I feel like it — oceans and countries create an obstinate division.
No, I have to leave my house at 2 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. flight to Houston, endure international customs before boarding a six-hour flight to Panama, then impatiently fidget through never-ending layovers before finally entering an airplane destined for Quito, Ecuador. After the three-hour plane ride, an overnight stay in a hotel awaits before an early flight to Cuenca, Ecuador. Finally.
However, every time I return to Cuenca — the city of terracotta rooftops and eucalyptus trees nestled between blue mountains — it feels as if I’ve skipped ahead in a movie and missed important segments of the plot. My most recent visit was no exception.
This past December and January, I spent Christmas in South America for the first time in my life — a joyous and tear-filled reunion after four years of no contact due to meddling factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and college chaos. During my stay, small details stood out to me like specks of paint on a pristine canvas, challenging the memories engraved in my mind during our separation.
When did my cousin’s voice drop an octave? I look at him and still see a newborn face fresh in my mind, his tiny hands and bright eyes reaching and searching. Yet here he stands before me, speaking up in conversations about government leaders and math equations.
How long did it take for my abuelos to rearrange the layout of their house? The tables and sofas are no longer in their old spots, house plants are giant and new paintings claim space on the walls.
One tía sports a new hairstyle, while the other moved to a different apartment. The cousin I was born with has a boyfriend I’ve never met. My mother’s and my favorite ice cream shop no longer exists. Age has caught up with the beloved house dog, her tawny coat peppered with silver hairs and eyes clouded with time.
The changes can be overwhelming. Each one tugs at my chest as a constant reminder that thousands of miles and millions of minutes separate me from this place and people. Unexpectedly, two homes, two countries, two families, two identities and two languages often feel more lonely than just one.
How does one deal with this divide?
After 20 years of elated hellos, sorrowful goodbyes and back and forth plane rides, a few things worth remembering have distinguished themselves throughout the tests of time:
Realizing I’m not alone.
Whenever my heart sinks, I think of my mother. At the age of 18, she traveled solo to the U.S. to continue her academic studies. With one family connection in Virginia, she navigated the uncertainty of a foreign country fraught with strange customs and a different culture completely alone — and never turned back.
Sometimes I catch small moments after calls and FaceTimes with our family in Ecuador, tears glistening as she silently stares out the window. A similar story to countless courageous immigrant parents in the United States, what’s hard for us is infinitely more difficult for our mothers and fathers who left everything familiar and loved behind to start a new life. If she can be strong, so can I.
Communication.
When my mother set down roots in the U.S., she had to use a landline or maybe flip phone accompanied by a hefty international fee in order to contact home. However, thanks to modern technology, easy communication is available with apps like Whatsapp — the Hispanic holy grail, in other words.
Once I finally won the endless battle against stingy iPhone storage and cleared enough clutter to download the app, the distance between Round Rock and Cuenca became significantly less intimidating. All it takes is a simple text from my cousin or a cringey GIF from my aunt and I feel their presence in the room, laughing next to me as I smile at my screen mountains and oceans away.
Above all else, remembering a plane ticket is all it takes.
Though the miles between our family seem desolate at times, that’s all they are: miles. Planes, cars, trains and boats were made to traverse the vast stretches of our world, allowing us to visit who and what we love in distant countries and continents. When the means allow, only a passport and a plan stand between me and the memory-filled home I’ve left behind. After all, my grandparents don’t live on the moon or North Korea — visits are perfectly feasible, though not as frequent as I may hope. No matter what, they’ll always be there, waiting with open arms.
With these three things in mind, the expansive divide dissipates little by little. There may be no perfect solution or happy ending, but the small things are what infuse imperfect situations like this with hope.
So yes, I’m jealous. But I’m also grateful to have such a loving family. I’m proud to call Cuenca my birthplace and second home. I’m happy that plane tickets and videos allow for a treasured connection. I’m excited to see who my cousins will grow up to be. I cherish the memories I have.
No number of miles and years can take that away.
Ana Sofia Sloane is a political science sophomore and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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Ana Sofia Sloane
Ana Sofia Sloane, Associate Opinion Editor
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