Ours is not the typical immigrant story. It all began with a traffic jam.

Of the hundreds of traffic jams we had experienced in Mexico City, this was the Holy Mother of All Congestion that finally sent my mother over the edge. As my brother and I sat in the back seat of the car, she turned to us, her eyes wild, and said, “Stay in the car. I’ll be right back.”

Before we knew it, my mother became the traffic cop, untying the knot of cars in her knee-high, three-inch heeled leather boots, brown and gold silk scarf around her neck. She was hot and the men in their cars noticed.

“Ay que rica mamacita!” they called out to her, as their cars moved forward.

After the car jam, we spent a summer in Virginia. Seen through the naive eyes of tourists, it seemed like paradise. Clean streets, fruit orchards bursting with juicy peaches, clear streams, handsome cops. It was such a fantasy to my mother’s weary eyes that she convinced my father we had to leave Mexico City.

On a whim, my parents packed their things, sold belongings, bid goodbye to all family and relatives.

“It will only be for a few years,” they told everyone. “We will be back.”

But we didn’t return. And instead, we lived through a kind of purgatory assigned to all immigrants–not belonging there and not belonging here.

But on that morning, when the airplane took off and I looked below at the concrete labyrinth of Mexico City, the splash of green in Chapultepec Park, the floating gardens of Xochimilco, I could not have known the heartbreak parting from my native land would cause me.

It would take many years to understand where Mexico belonged in me and how America would form who I am.