Airports have always fascinated me, people are coming and going, excited and sometimes sad. People meet for the first time and leave others behind for indefinite periods. For me, no other place is more exciting than the international arrivals/departures area of a big airport. Its where grand adventures begin and end. The arrivals gate is often the first glimpse into a foreign culture, a microcosm of what lies on the other side of the sliding glass doors.

I remember walking out after customs at the Quito airport in January and being completely overwhelmed. There I was with a group of 30+ Americans from fairly diverse backgrounds, trying to make our way through the masses. The one thing I remember was feeling taller than just about everyone and everyone had dark hair. Judging by the amount of people waiting, you´d think everyone who´d gotten off the plane was coming home from battle. It was a blur of luggage, hugs, and tears.

Fast forward to my recent trek to the airport, I went to meet a friend who was coming back from a trip home to the States. Given that we only live about 2 hours from the airport and I´d been sitting in my room computerless staring at the wall for 2 days, I decided I would be there to welcome her back to the land of llamas and crazy bus vendors. Her flight didn´t arrive until 11 pm so I figured it wouldn´t be too crazy. Wrong. I was feeling pretty proud of the small sign I made with lots of colors to get her attention. Just about every family waiting put me to shame. There were balloons, flowers, cakes with candles, and posters. One sign said “We thank God you have returned.” It was in English on a huge poster…no idea what the story was behind that one. It seemed that every person coming through had no less than 5 relatives waiting for them. People were pushing trying to get the front of the barricade to see who was walking through, security guards were holding people back, people were yelling.

I tried to remember what it felt like to arrive at JFK after my semester abroad. Maybe there were a few people waiting, bust mostly hotel valets waiting to shuttle people from the airport. There were definitely no cakes and you could count the number of people waiting on your fingers. The only time I´ve seen such a display at an airport in the States was when a group of soldiers had just gotten off a plane. Why is that?

Most people know how important family structure is in Latino culture. If you didn´t, well you should fly into any Latin American city and see for yourself.