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Director of Hispanic Center of Western Michigan treasures abuelita’s relic

By HEIDI FENTON, The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, March 21, 2013 (AP):  Martha González-Cortes doesn't hesitate when asked about her most valued possession.

A drinking gourd she keeps in her office holds personal value far beyond anything else she owns.

The gourd once belonged to her great-grandmother, Abuelita Josefina León, who lived to be 112.

Ms. González-Cortes, director of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, still remembers the day she first saw it. She was visiting abuelita’s home in México, near the Texas border, in 1993.

The two were eating a light lunch when Ms. González-Cortes saw Abuelita León pouring water into the hollowed-out pumpkin gourd. It looked strange and caught her attention.

``It made me laugh and I said, `Grandma, what are you doing?''' Ms. González-Cortes told The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/XkzZYK ).

Grandmother León told her she used it because she knew no one else would drink out of it. She could keep her water safe.

The gourd was one of many items León brought home during yearly visits to her hometown in southern Mexico. She rode 10 to 12 hours on a bus at least once a year, traveling alone, to visit the place where she grew up. The visits continued until Abuelita León was 98 years old.

The family often laughed, Ms. González-Cortes said, because it seemed Ms. León always came home with so much more than she brought on the trips.

``She was known to leave with one suitcase and come back with three,'' Ms. González-Cortes said.

Sra. León came back with pottery, plants, piglets, and a variety of other things.

When González-Cortes left her home along the U.S./Mexican border in 1993, Abuelita León insisted she bring the gourd home to the U.S. with her.

``It was one of the last things she ever gave me,'' Ms. González-Cortes said.

Ms. González-Cortes has since lived in many places across the country, from California to Philadelphia. The gourd is always one of the first items to come out of packing boxes.

Though Abuelita León is no longer alive, seeing the gourd fills González-Cortes with memories of a woman who was fiercely independent, creative, and fun-loving. Even after breaking a leg in old age, she kept moving, kept pushing on.

``She was pretty remarkable,'' González-Cortes said.

Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids
On the Internet:  http://hispanic-center.org/


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Revised: 03/26/13 17:21:46 -0800.




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