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Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Palenque: a humbling and revealing experience

I was born in Argentina but at the age of three, my family moved to the United States. There, the landscape felt modern and homogenized. Strip malls and highways melded together from the car window. Homes were made from wood and drywall. Looking back, they seemed fragile, like they were not made to last. I remember the momentary enchantment of being on the road as a child, driving past half a house mounted on a truck. It was like seeing a ship cruising over desert sands. A prefab house, on the way to its final destination, my parents explained. The tone in their voice told me that it was nothing special.

Then at eleven, my family relocated to Mexico. In Mexico, there were no prefab houses. Most everything was built with bricks and cement. History felt more accessible in the colonial architecture of its cities. Occasionally, I would reach out to touch the wall of a church, or sit on some cracked sidewalk, and think “someone touched this exact spot hundreds of years ago.” It was easy to imagine. In thinking about how travel has influenced my sense of identity, the day I visited Palenque jumps to the  forefront. Walking through the ruins of an ancient Mayan city embedded deep in the jungle, I felt sharply that I was part of a larger natural world. That the jungle was teeming with life. It was also blatantly apparent that the North American and European history I was most familiar with was just a small part of the human experience. The pre-Colombian history of Mexico was grand and sophisticated. In many ways, living in and traveling around Mexico was a paradigm shift. I was able to understand practically, not just theoretically, that my own culture was one of many, no more or less rich than any other. I didn’t just know it, I felt it.

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