Blessed to Be Here

By Steve Charles
  May 24, 2002

Among the Living Maya
Why Immersion Learning?
The Orr Connection
• Blessed to Be Here
The Man Who Wrote The Book
Padre e Hijo

Carlos Carillo ’05 was born in Chicago and nearly died there. As a baby, he contracted a rare blood disorder and was hospitalized for weeks. The treatment so expensive that Carlos and his mother had to return to the family’s former home, a small village in Jalisco, Mexico when Carlos was two years old. Carlos’ father remained in Chicago, working three jobs to pay off the bills and send home enough for his family to live on. But he didn’t have enough money to visit. So Carillo’s first memory of his dad was when he finally came home when Carlos was six.

" I ran to him when I saw him," Carillo says. " I was so happy just to have a father."

That yearning to embrace his heritage colors much of Carillo’s life. Isolated in his village in Jalisco, he rarely ventured further than a nearby town until his family finally moved to Lafayette, Indiana when Carlos was 11. Once again he was leaving a country he hadn’t really known. Rediscovering that country and culture was a powerful motivation for enrolling in "The History of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico" course.

Carlos wasted little time engaging the culture he’d left behind. When an elderly woman on our flight to Mexico City needed help filling out her customs declaration, she turned to Carlos for help. That led to a 45-minute conversation. The woman knew Carlos’ village well, and she told him about her family, about her son who had died earlier that year in a village in Jalisco.

When he visited the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, Carlos hung back with Professor Rick Warner, asking what each of the scenes in the Diego Rivera murals meant.

When Professor Dan Rogers talked about Aztec history, Carlos took copious notes.

The basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe was the zenith of Carillo’s first days in Mexico. The shrine is where the dark-skinned Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, and where her image appeared on the manta of the bishop and is still preserved.

"She looked like the indigenous people—the first saint really for them," Carlos explained to me outside the basilica. "And they loved her, and loved God for sending her. When I was growing up in Jalisco I heard of this place, but I never dreamed I’d ever see it. I feel blessed to be here."

After Carlos, Juan Carlo, Joe Orozco ’02 and Luis Flores ’05 told the story of the Virgin’s appearance to the rest of the class, Carlos continued his pilgrimage, reading every plaque, every label.

The freshman often caught details others missed. After a moving lecture by Sergio Castro, an agronomist and self-made medic for the Mayan people, Carlos noticed a newspaper clipping about the man’s work in Chamula.

"The article said an Indian had burned his leg so badly that the doctors suggested amputation, but Sergio knew the man needed his leg order to work, and he knew a way to save the leg,’ Carlos told me. "He treated the man and saved the leg, and the man was back in the fields that fall. And instead of asking for payment, Sergio gave the man 20 pesos. He said that he knew the man would need the money until he could work again."

"I’m not sure what my vocation is yet, but whatever I do, I want to be a man like that," Carlos said.