After a bumpy flight to Mexico, Julia lands to find that water has leaked in her carry-on bag, soaking all of her belongings—and ruining the piece of paper with Olga’s login information written on it.
Julia’s chances to read more of Olga’s emails are—for the moment, at least—thwarted. It’s interesting that this occurs just as she lands in Mexico, and the reconnection it potentially offers to her past. For the time Julia is in Mexico, the quest to find out more of Olga’s secrets are left behind.
Julia’s Tío Chucho picks her up from the airport in his rusty and battered pickup truck. Tío has long been Julia’s favorite uncle, and as they settle in for the four-hour drive to Los Ojos, they catch up on one another’s lives. It becomes clear to Julia that Tío Chucho believes she’s been sent to Mexico because she’s been getting poor grades—he knows nothing about her depression or her suicide attempt. He encourages her to do well in school so that she can go to college and not have to work “like a donkey” like the rest of her family. Chucho laments the loss of Olga, calling her “la inocente”—the innocent. Julia winces as she remembers that no one in her family ever knew the real Olga. Not wanting to talk about Olga, Julia pretends to fall asleep against the window.
As Julia arrives in Mexico, she’s happy to see the kind and amiable Chucho—but slightly horrified when she realizes that even in Mexico, she’s not going to be able to escape Olga’s shadow or the grief her entire extended family feels over her loss. At the same time, what Julia is starting to semi-realize is that Olga’s status as the “perfect” one also cut her off so that no one truly knew her.
Hours later, Julia—who has fallen asleep for real—wakes up just as Chucho’s car pulls up to Mamá Jacinta’s house. Mamá Jacinta runs to the car with tears in her eyes and embraces Julia, who starts crying too. At the door to the house is a crowd of people—Julia’s relatives and extended family who have come to greet her. Among them are her mother’s sisters, Fermina and Estela, who wrap her in hugs and call her sweet nicknames. Julia is overwhelmed slightly by the attention, but not in a bad way like she is back at home.
In spite of Julia’s fears that she’ll never be able to escape Olga’s shadow, she feels genuinely happy and peaceful as she reconnects with this branch of her family. There’s something about them that’s more open and less judgmental than her family in Chicago—this foreshadows the journey towards increased empathy and love Julia will experience while here in Los Ojos.
Julia’s relatives rush her to the kitchen and feed her a lavish dinner of beans, rice, and beef tostadas. Mamá Jacinta tells Julia that she’s too skinny, and hopes she fattens up a little before it’s time for her to go back to the States. Julia wolfs her food and asks for seconds, which she eats as her many relatives pepper her with questions about her life in America. She feels like a celebrity—at home she’s the black sheep, but here, she’s beloved. She laughs as she realizes that perhaps Amá was right after all—perhaps a trip to Mexico is just what she needed all along.
Whereas at home food is scarce—and Amá is constantly berating Julia for eating junk—in Mexico, Julia’s family is tripping over themselves to feed and nourish her. This symbolizes their support and love for her, and their desire to see her grow and flourish, but also the fact that, in this way at least, life in Mexico is less difficult than that for a poor immigrant in Chicago.
The next day, Mamá Jacinta teaches Julia how to cook menudo, a rich dish made from tripe. Though Julia hates Amá’s cooking lessons at home, she finds herself enjoying the work of cleaning and preparing the meat and cooking the delicious food. As the women wait for the dish to simmer, Mamá Jacinta asks Julia about what’s going on at home. Julia is reluctant to answer, but Mamá Jacinta assures her that whatever she says will stay between them—and won’t make its way to Amá. Mamá Jacinta tells Julia that Amá was always the rebellious daughter, and tells Julia she shouldn’t be so hard on her—she’s been through a lot.
At home, cooking lessons with Amá are complicated and layered with lessons about traditional femininity and expectations. With Mamá Jacinta, however, cooking is about togetherness, happiness, and indulgence. It’s a chance to grow closer to one another—and while the food cooks, Mamá Jacinta tries to talk to Julia about what’s going on, and reassure her that any of Julia’s secrets are safe in Los Ojos.
Julia asks Mamá Jacinta what she means, and Mamá Jacinta tells Julia about how Amá and Apá were robbed when they crossed the border. Julia says she already knows the story—she’s heard it several times over the years, and while it’s sad, she doesn’t see why it's such a huge deal. Mamá Jacinta laments the bad luck her daughter has had in life, and Julia quietly sips a cup of tea.
This passage foreshadows that there is more to the story of Amá and Apá’s robbery than meets the eye, continuing on the novel’s theme of secrets, lies, and the morally ambiguous shades of gray which keep certain things buried for years.