Don Geronimo Vela, 73, hitched up his pants a notch, pulled down his cowboy hat and said, "We are going to be proud to have President Bush here, but President Bush will be proud to be in Agualeguas."
Welcome, President Bush, to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's northern Mexico hometown: fiercely regionalist, friendly and open as the skies it shares with the U.S. Southwest.Bush was to arrive Monday afternoon for talks with Salinas and travel to nearby Monterrey in the evening for more discussions.
Nearly 5,000 people live in this farming and cattle community of stone homes. Some are from families that arrived in the mid-1600s.
The town's name comes from the Gualeguas Indians, one of a few groups of semi-nomadic tribes that lived in the region when the Spaniards came.
The Salinas and Lozano families, the two sides of the president's lineage, are believed to have settled in Agualeguas with a group of 12 Spanish families in the late 1700s.
The large, old Salinas one-story sits across the street from Don Geronimo's home. Just around the corner from the main plaza, the location indicates that the owners were among the town's first families.
"They are good people," said Don Geronimo. "Don Raul (the president's father) always has been a very decent man, a man of the people who came here to rest and visit whenever he had a chance, even when he was a high government official."
Raul Salinas served as a senator, congressman and commerce secretary.
"He always brought his children with him. I remember the president being a rather quiet, shy boy at the time," Don Geronimo said.
President Salinas was born in Mexico City, but he always comes back to his family roots and spends long holidays and vacations in Agualeguas.
"We are proud of him," said Ernesto Vazquez, who owns a small grocery store and claims he sells some of the best homemade beef jerky in northern Mexico.
"Someone from a town nearby said the other day Salinas was not even born here and we should not brag about him, but I think there is even more merit in the fact that he wants to be from here," Vazquez said.
"I think the visit here is like when you invite a friend to your home. Then they go to Monterrey to talk about serious matters," Don Geronimo said.
"I am going to sit on my porch and watch it all. I hope everything goes well. Bush has too many things to worry about now, but we want him to feel at home here."
It will be close. Agualeguas is like a lot of Mexican towns near the U.S. border that have a constant interchange with their northern neighbor country.
"We understand the United States and we understand Americans," said Mauro Martinez, high school teacher and city chronicler.
Many Agualeguas residents work or live temporarily in the United States but come home regularly for visits, Martinez said.