Missionary Kids and Nostalgia


What’s up with missionary kids and nostalgia?

For some reason, even though I never truly fit in when I was growing up, every time I see Hispanics in the States, I feel like I’m home, like I’m somehow understood. I’ve always been more comfortable around brown-skinned people. That’s because I grew up as a missionary kid in Guatemala, where I lived until I was 18. It shocks Hispanics that I speak fluent Spanish because of my white skin and bright red hair. You should see their expressions! But they are always honored that I know their language, and they always treat me like an insider once they hear my Spanish.

For years I didn’t see a single Hispanic here in Washington state. I finally stopped looking. Two years ago I met a white woman at a park, who said she attended a Hispanic church where the pastor was from–of all places–Guatemala! An American missionary had led him to Christ, and now he was a pastor in Washington state. I said to her, “Are there enough Hispanics to actually make up a church?” Yes. The Hispanic population¬† had apparently grown while I wasn’t looking. A church that started in this man’s garage had grown to 200 members!

When I first stepped into the Hispanic church, I was transported through time to my childhood. I felt so nostalgic that I had to choke back a lump in my throat. My emotional reaction was so intense that I was overwhelmed. I was happy, but I wanted to sob. I felt like I was home, and I had no idea how much I missed my people. The fact that I hadn’t used Spanish in 20 years hadn’t affected my fluency. There was something about being with these people that brought me back full circle so that I finally felt complete, like part of me wasn’t missing.

Last Christmas the pastor’s wife made some Guatemalan tamales, and she gave me some. As soon as I took a bite, I began weeping. I was alone in my dining room, so there was no point in holding back the tears. These tamales are nothing like the other tamales I’ve had in the States–these were real Guatemalan tamales. I pulled out a bone and laughed. Yes, Guatemalan tamales often have bones from the meat. I laughed and wept and savored every atom of the tamale. When it was gone, I just sat there. I smelled the aroma of the tamale on the empty banana leaf. And I sighed with satisfaction and joy.


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8 Responses to “Missionary Kids and Nostalgia”

  1. Wow, what strong and vivid memories you had. How powerful. Isn’t it amazing how something can completely transport us to a time in our life?

    You made me totally crave a Guatemalan tamale! Yummy!

    Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  2. Mike says:

    You should see the looks at my bright red beard. Of course, living in Utah, the immediate reaction is “where did you serve your mission? ”

    Also, Mexican tamales are what we used to call chuchitos…

    • Susan says:

      Oh, yes… I forgot about chuchitos. They are definitely not the same as Guatemalan tamales. They taste completely different.

  3. Melissa says:

    What an amazing experience to feel ‘home’! It’s so interesting how we can have a part of us that is empty without fully realizing it until it is filled.

  4. Julie says:

    What great memories you have! I would have never known you spoke fluent Spanish! The tamales sound delicious!

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