My host family owns a wooden, semicircular table that sits between the television room and the kitchen, surrounded by shelves filled with souvenirs collected over years of travel. They told me the table, which seats at least six people, came with the apartment when they purchased it, a fixture from the previous owner’s decor.

One of the first Spanish words I learned in Mexico was the verb platicar, which essentially means to chat or discuss. Its noun form, plática, straddles the line between aimless small talk and a formal conversation that naturally arises of a shared sense of familiarity between its participants who can sit comfortably in the little silences that punctuate each topic.

Whether sipping coffee in the morning over the roar of traffic from the highway below or attempting to slow my rapid eating as I gulp down my host mom Lupita’s delicious dinners, I have had the best pláticas gathered around that oddly shaped table, sharing a meal with the Mexican family — Lupita and her two adult children, Gina and Gonzalo — who opened their home to me in August.

Reaching for another pan de muerto, a type of Mexican sweet bread, Gina once bemoaned the popularity of the movie “Frida,” which has caused many tourists to overlook the works of Mexicans artists such as José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros as they wait in long lines outside of Kahlo’s home in Coyoacán. On another occasion, Gonzalo paused his work to offer his perspective on the Trump administration’s decision to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and outlined the response of the Mexican government to the potential deportation of thousands of DACA recipients across the Southern border.

Lupita, who usually remains quiet during my pláticas with her children about current social issues in Mexico, always listens attentively when I ask for advice about travelling or solving conflicts with friends. She has the rare ability to react perfectly to whatever drama I bring to the table as she scoops another spoonful of homemade paella onto my plate.

I love to watch Lupita cook. From my place at the table, I can see her dart from the stovetop to the pantry, keeping a watchful eye on the sizzling meat and heaping generous amounts of cheese onto tacos. She approaches me with my plate almost sheepishly, saying “A ver si te gusta” — “Let’s see if you like it” — to which I always grin and reply, “Sí me va a gustar” — I’m sure that I will. Like a mother hen, Lupita flutters around the room for another minute before settling into her seat across the table, ready to begin our daily plática.

Sometimes, she invites friends or family over for something to drink, and I happily listen to their strong chilango, or native, accents bounce off the walls of the apartment. I particularly enjoy the company of one of Lupita’s oldest friends, whose dyed, blood-red hair matches her fiery personality. Lupita’s friends speak fluidly across the table, drawing upon years of shared experiences as their long, painted fingernails lovingly peel the petals of pumpkin flowers, or stack the corn tortillas whose scent makes my mouth water.

When my parents visited me in Mexico City last week, my host family kindly invited them over for dinner, and I braced myself for an evening of my parents’ fumbling Spanish and awkward silences. To my surprise, thanks to the warm hospitality of Lupita and her children’s English skills, the dinner was an absolute delight, filled with laughter, tostadas and of course, tequila.

Seated between my parents and across from Lupita, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the loving care shown to me by my host family, their willingness to welcome a stranger, and her parents, into their home and their endearing fear that one spoonful of picante, hot sauce, would wreak havoc on my gringa stomach. They gave a sometimes lonely, always hungry, American a home in the chaos that is Mexico City, and that is a hospitality I can never fully repay.

Lupita has hosted students in her home for 14 years. Earlier this week, two German women who stayed with Lupita eight years ago came to the apartment for dinner, one of them accompanied by her Spanish boyfriend. The other married a Mexican man and works at a German school in Mexico City.

Seated around the table once again, I marveled at the continuity of the study abroad experience and the extraordinary generosity of my host family, wondering about my own future as the German students, now eight years older, laughed with Lupita over old photos taken during their stay. When I say goodbye to Lupita and her family in December, I know we will part ways in anticipation of our next plática at her table, as Lupita bustles around her kitchen and the streets below vibrate with the perpetual traffic of the city.

Grace Laria is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the fourth installment of Por Otro Lado.

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