Zoe and Sashi Sanchez-Wickland were born in Canada, have a Mexican father and a Canadian mother, and live on Salt Spring Island. Every year, the two sisters go to Puerto Escondido, the place where their dad grew up, to live there for a few months and connect with their Mexican roots.
When Zoe and Sashi think of Puerto Escondido, they think about their family, their dog Meatball, the Mexican food, and the incredible beaches where they love to swim and surf.
Puerto Escondido is an emerging tourist town on the Emerald Coast in the southwestern state of Oaxaca. “My mom and dad took us to Puerto Escondido for the first time when we were babies, but my first memories of Mexico are from when I was six years old,” says Zoe who is in Grade 9 at Gulf Islands Secondary School. “Puerto Escondido is right on the ocean. It is a city, with many suburbs, but still feels like a town.”
Both Zoe (15) and Sashi (10) who is in Grade 5 at Salt Spring Elementary, went to school in Puerto Escondido when they were younger. “We usually go to Mexico for a longer period of time. The longest time was six months and the shortest was this year when we were there for just two months. I went to school there in preschool , Grade 1 and Grade 5, and Sashi only went in Grade 1 so far. The older we get, the more important it is that we follow the Canadian curriculum, which we do online.”
Their school experiences are a bit different from their regular school days on Salt Spring Island. “We both went to a private school where our aunt is a teacher. We had to wear school uniforms and they have different ones for regular days and gym days. And a fancier one with a checkered skirt for assembly days on Monday when the six grades parade around with a flag. You have to wear the uniforms with socks up to your knees and black dress shoes. It felt a bit old-fashioned, but it was a fun experience. You never have to think about what you want to wear that day.”
French braids and big bows
They didn’t have to think about their clothes, but their hair was a different story. “Most of the girls have their hair pretty with gel, braided, or with ponytails and a bow. It is all a bit different from Salt Spring where you make sure your hair is brushed and that is it. We just went with the flow and did more with our hair when we were there,” says Zoe. “I usually had French braids and big bows. I would probably never wear them here, except maybe for crazy hair day,” Sashi adds with a smile.
The girls liked going to school in Puerto Escondido. Zoe: “It was really fun. I made new friends and I learned a lot. In Mexico you don’t get to choose your courses like in Canada, you do everything.” Sashi: “I had a pretty good time as well. Everyone was nice to me. One girl in my class spoke English, so I quickly became friends with her. I improved my Spanish a lot in those six months so I made other friends as well.”
Zoe and Sashi don’t speak Spanish at home on Salt Spring. “Not really,” Zoe says. “My dad never made an issue about that, although I think he probably would appreciate it if we speak Spanish more often. My mom speaks Spanish as well, but it is easier for me to express myself in English. I think I would have to speak more in Spanish to make it come easier for me. I definitely feel that my Spanish has improved every time we come back from Mexico.”
When they are in Mexico, they are immersed in Mexican daily life, the culture and the traditions but they do not necessarily take them home. “We don’t celebrate Mexican holidays when we are in Canada, mostly because our Mexican family is not here and they are a big part of the celebrations. Family is very important to Mexican people. The holidays you spend with family; parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They are more tight-knit than we are used to in Canada.”
Day of the Dead
The most recognizable Mexican holiday is the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) on November 1st; a day when people celebrate and honour the lives of people that have passed away. Zoe: “It is a nice tradition to think about people who are not with us, on a special day. We are usually in Mexico around that time. My grandma always makes a home altar for my granddad and other passed loved ones in the family, with photos, their favourite food and lots of flowers.” Sashi: “When we visit grandma that day, she always has Pan de Yema, a sweet bread, and hot chocolate.”
The one thing that does remind them of Mexico in their Salt Spring home, is the Mexican food. “We love Mexican food,” says Sashi. “Tacos, burritos, tamales.” Zoe: “Luckily both our mom and dad know how to make Mexican food, but my dad normally cooks the fish. We eat Mexican once or twice a week on Salt Spring. We are never getting tired of it.”
The Sanchez-Wickland family has a house in Mexico as well. “We have two homes and both Mexico and Canada feel like home for us. Maybe people view us a bit differently in Mexico, especially when we speak English, but they don’t treat us differently. In Canada, people don’t really notice that we have Mexican roots. Our skin is a bit more tanned and of course, we have a double name – my dad and my mom’s last name which is common in Mexico – but Canada is so diverse, that people never ask us where we’re from.”
Saying goodbye to their family in Mexico is always hard. “Especially this time because we were there a lot shorter than normal,” says Zoe. “It is hard to say goodbye to our family and it is hard to leave our dog Meatball. We found her as a puppy and she lives in our backyard. When we are not there, she is fed by an uncle,” Sashi says.
Zoe and Sashi both want to go to Mexico when they are older. Sashi dreams of going there and spending her days at the beach without having to worry about homework. Zoe: “I would like to stay for longer periods of time in both countries. I am not sure if I want to live permanently in Mexico though. When I am in Canada I miss Mexico and when I am there I miss Canada.”