Moving in Search of Happiness
Ever since I gave birth to my first-born daughter, now eight-years-old, her father and I considered moving from the United States to a country in Latin America to have her experience a different way of life. We did not want her to experience the capitalist, individualistic, and materialistic way of life that is glorified in the U.S. There are also many privileges that we all get used to and take for granted in the U.S. that make us unable to see the struggles other people go through in other parts of the world. I wanted my daughter to experience living in a country where she may be immersed in the Spanish-language and also be able to see the effects of Spanish colonialism and U.S. intervention to a country similar to the one her grandparents came from. We felt it was better for her to live this experience because it is not the same to read about it or watch a documentary on it.
Then we became caught up with life. We lost focus of our dream. Motherhood became a struggle when we had another daughter. I worked a good job for five years, paid the bills, and began buying “nice” things. This took a toll on us; we were falling apart as a family. We were often depressed, with anxiety, and had grave communication issues. We began to normalize our destructive behaviors and patterns. Most people we knew were in a similar state, living in a big city in the U.S. can be detrimental to your mental health. It truly is a rat race in the city and there is also so much disconnection. Parents both go to work and the children are cared by others often times with different values to those of their family. This creates even more disconnection. This way of living seemed unnatural. As a Gender Ethnicity Multicultural Studies graduate, I knew that in all cultures before capitalism it was community which shared same values help raise our children and parents were always close by. My partner and I then remembered we once had this dream to let go of our privileges and all we know and live outside this country. It seemed risky even crazy to make the move but I believe happiness often comes when you follow your dreams and walk away from sensible advice. It is then that we began to plan to live in occupied Wallmapu (Southern Chile), where a good friend of ours lived.
Southern Chile seemed idyllic, like a fairy tale place to live in. So much lush green forest and water, we became enamored with it. However, we tried not to romantize it without having lived it. It was a very difficult process to even arrive there. We had to let go of almost every material possession we had, our daughters cried through the whole process. They were excited to go to a new country but letting go of things was painful. Saying goodbye to a house and neighborhood we had become use to living in was also tough. The most difficult part was saying goodbye to our family and friends. Not knowing really what to expect of this new place, we did know was that it was beautiful and cold. I also knew that it was not in the city that I was trying to escape. Diving into the unknown, just like birth, was both scary and exciting.
When the plane finally landed, we noticed some differences but that was Santiago, the big city in Chile. The realization of change came when we finally got to our new home deep in the forest outside a small town called Villarrica. At first, we loved being surrounded by nature and having to cross streams to visit friends. Everything seemed like an exciting new adventure. Then we became homesick in those dark, long, and cold winter days. First of all, the coffee sucked and “this mom” (me) thought she could not live without it. We all missed our family, friends, food variety, and I even started to miss traffic. Building fire and keeping it burning every day for heat was a difficult task that often made me cry and give up on it. Staying inside without electricity every time there was storm, which was often, became exhausting. I even thought of returning home, but instead we became resilient and creative. I could not ask Google for answers so I began to ask lots of questions to the locals and I observed their every move. Also, here things are not fast and instant like we were used to and if we were not patient we would go crazy. We began to slow down because here in the sur there is no rush.
We began to learn, grow, and even love the challenges we faced. This is when all the pieces of the puzzle for happiness began to fall into place. Wallmapu is magical. Its fresh air, cool rain, and green forest are healing. I have learned how to build a fast effective fire, replaced good coffee with good mate, and I have learned to mold and make my own bread. We learned that if there is no light we enjoy the darkness and we sing, tell stories, make plays, or just cuddle. Sometimes we just stare outside and watch the trees leaves dance with the wind, like tiny green fairies as my daughters say. We learned to cook yummy food with just a few fresh seasonal ingredients mostly from scratch. My partner has learned valuable skills that made him realize he is worthy. My daughters attend a rural school deep in the forest and have learned to read in Spanish and enjoy the freedom of the wild.
As a mother, I felt I was not spending enough time with my daughters in the U.S. I often felt disconnected from them and I was missing out from their most important formative years. In Chile, I was employed in their rural school and was able to spend all day close to them. The school upholds values of the community that we also share, which include: autonomy, non-violent communication, and to live in harmony with people, animals, and nature. Parents at school are very involved and many teachers and staff have children enrolled in the school. The school teaches them not only to read and write but also about the nature that surrounds them often going hiking to forage or learn about plants and animals. They teach them about native people and even the native language spoken by the Mapuche in the area. Self-sufficiency is also important and they are taught about medicinal plants, cooking, sewing, planting food, and many more life skills. A school such as this was inaccessible in the low-income urban public schools in Boyle Heights, California. With the help of the community, mothering became less of a struggle and I slowly built a connection with my daughters and partner.
I have learned that the American Dream had become my nightmare and getting away from privilege and comfort was the best thing I could have done. I rejected the “nicer” things in life that most people in the U.S. talk about. You know the house with three-bedrooms and a white picket fence. Slowing down has forced us to face our issues we often ignored or dismissed in the hurry of life in the urban U.S. Being able to reflect and verbalize feelings has helped us all because without so much anxiety and stress we are able to communicate more effectively without causing hurt or pain. We have come to realize that happiness is a choice and if you are not happy where you are you can move, and not just geographically. Happiness requires movement and sacrifice— it rarely just falls into our laps.
I am Martha Escudero a mother, mental health rehabilitation worker, MHA, Certified Lactation Educator/Counselor at UCSD, Death Doula Twilight Brigade, and a LDIRs in health graduate, birth doula DONA, and Childbirth Educator ICEA with a B.S. in Gender, Ethnicity and Multicultural Studies from Cal Poly Pomona. I have worked in food justice, mental health, women’s reproductive health, and prisoner advocacy work. I am guided by my community to support families during our sacred transitions in our life. Believing there is almost no support in our current society during these times I joined Ticicalli Yahualli in 2009 to help build our own community support system. Since then I have honored women, children, and families creating ceremony in mother blessings, birth, postpartum care, welcoming baby celebrations, conscious dying and life celebrations. I am passionate about being able to honor life's transitions and believe we all deserve to birth, live, and die with dignity and respect. I currently live with my family in Southern Wallmapu, also known as Chile.