Cousins Jose De La Paz and Ximena Zarate Develop a Bond that Goes Where They Go


Credit to Photo Submitted

The trip to La Piedad, Mexico was not an unusual trip for sophomore Jose De La Paz. It was a trip he had taken on several occasions to visit family and friends. However, this trip that was supposed to last a week, became an excursion that lasted two and a half years. The COVID-19 pandemic left De La Paz and his family trapped in Mexico. The separation from friends in America was difficult, but it helped bond him to his family and specifically his cousin, junior Ximena Zarate.

“We’ve always looked at each other like brother and sister and not cousins,” Zarate said. “And now it feels like a stronger brother and sister bond.”

De La Paz was born in La Piedad and moved to America when he was a newborn. His life in America was normal with numerous visits back to his hometown to visit family, like Zarate. Zarate, on the other hand, was born in Arizona. When she was four, she moved with her family to La Piedad and received several visits from De La Paz and his family. The two lived different lives with a bond that stretched the two countries. He grew up speaking Spanish but learned better English through school while she grew up mainly speaking Spanish.

“I kind of grew up mostly speaking Spanish but when I got to school, I got like a mix of both,” De La Paz said. “I think I speak better English than Spanish.”

During De La Paz’s spring break in seventh grade, he made yet another trip to La Piedad to visit Zarate and her family. However, this was infamously the time that COVID-19 caused a lockdown around the world and De La Paz was stuck in La Piedad. This was a time of uncertainty
for the family as nobody knew when they would be returning to the U.S.

“At first, I kind of felt like I didn’t want to be there,” De La Paz said. “Because I didn’t want to make new friends and have to restart.”

However, De La Paz had to re-learn Spanish as he was taking online school through Mexico. He found it difficult to relearn the language he had spoken long ago. The accents and rules of Spanish were difficult to understand and he began the learning process all over again. Despite the language difficulties, De La Paz found joy in reconnecting with his family and Zarate.

“It was definitely more exciting having them there because we get along the best out of everybody else,” Zarate said. “Having my quinceañera really bonded us better together.”
The two had fun while they were together in Mexico where they went to celebrations and participated in many family activities.

“Like today on Nov. 20, there’s a fair type of thing with food and everything,” De La Paz said. “But I feel like the [best part] is because all my cousins would go and we’d all go horseback riding or go on the four wheelers.”

While the two cousins were bonding, an old friend back in the U.S. was staying in touch. Sophomore Reina Murrell and De La Paz had become friends when they met at Becky- David in fourth grade in Sheri Wuensch’s class.

“He’s very energetic,” Murrell said. “He has a very caring personality and he’s really funny.” Murrell was sad to find out that De La Paz was staying
in Mexico and not returning as quickly as she had hoped. However, the two managed to keep in contact throughout his absence via social media and text messages. But all the while, America was calling the whole
family home. Traveling was becoming safer and in September of 2022, the family decided it would be best to move the family back to St. Charles, including Zarate.

“It was going to be difficult with the language barrier
and getting accustomed to a new country that I had already been in but I hadn’t remembered anything,” Zarate said. “But knowing that I was gonna be with Jose and his family, I kind of felt better at the thought of moving.”

So, the families relocated to St. Charles, where the De La Paz family had previously lived. Both De La Paz and Zarate enrolled at North where Zarate participated in ESOL to help bridge the language barrier. One person was especially happy to see De La Paz return in September of this year and that was Murrell.

“I was so excited because I haven’t seen him in so long,” Murrell said. “And I was excited to see how tall he was now. What he looked like. And like how deep his voice was because he used to have a high voice.”

For both De La Paz and Zarate, life in America was a transition. De La Paz had to renavigate through friendships and surroundings while Zarate had to adapt to life in America.

“Being with my family, I feel [together] and not alone,” Zarate said. “I feel safe and supported.”

The journey De La Paz underwent changed his outlook on life. Through
the chance experiences he encountered and the ways in which it benefited his life, he learned to take nothing for granted.

“I learned to take advantage of the opportunities I had,” De La Paz said. “You never really know if you can get them again.”