Araceli Robles, 43, recalls a life-changing pact she made with her six brothers and sisters as a young child. They swore to always be best friends and live in the same city.
Not every child in her family remembers that specific deal. But Robles is the eldest of the seven, and as the eldest of six, I tend to trust first-born accounts.
Regardless of whether the pact was formal or just an understood consensus, the bonds they formed as children did end up changing the direction of several lives.
The Garcia children grew up in DeKalb, Illinois, a rural town in the northern part of the state. Their parents had emigrated from Mexico and left their own families behind.
"We grew up very broke," said Ivan Garcia, 41. "My mom and dad were incredibly hard workers. We were each others' best friends growing up because we didn't have a lot of activities outside the home."
For a while, three of the four brothers shared a single bed together, as did two of the sisters.
Their tight family bond was a product of choice and of circumstance, he explained. When you don't have much money or extended family nearby, and when you're one of only two Mexican families in town, your brothers and sisters are your constant playmates. Ivan was ready to leave it all behind when he attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale for graduate school. He and his fiancee headed to St. Louis in 1998 to attend chiropractic school. They changed their minds at the last minute, got jobs and started investing in real estate.
And that's when the great migration began. Ivan invited his brother Berto, who had been traveling while working for General Electric, to join them in St. Louis. Berto quit his job and moved into their back porch, which lacked air conditioning and heat, and spent the winter there. He slept on a mattress with their two dogs for warmth. He quickly landed work and began investing in real estate, as well.
When Ivan and his fiancee, Jenifer, got married in 1999, his younger brother, Johnny, met the bride's younger sister, Amelia, at the wedding. Johnny decided St. Louis might be the place for him, as well. (He and Amelia later got married.)
Johnny and older brother Miguel had been especially close growing up, so Miguel decided he could do his work as an IT consultant and Web developer remotely -- from St. Louis.
"Truth be told, we were having a good time, and no one wanted to be left out," Johnny said.
By then, they had decided to merge their real estate pursuits and create a family business, Garcia Properties.
Araceli followed a decade ago with her husband and children, and it was just a matter of time before they lured their parents and remaining sisters from Illinois. They persuaded Anna, a registered nurse in DeKalb, to join the company as a real estate agent.
"As a nurse, I saw many people alone when they were sick or at the end of their life. I made a note of that and thought, 'I want to be together. I want to live close,'" Anna said. Plus, she wanted to be able to see her nieces and nephews whenever any of them wanted to.
The youngest, Aileen, moved shortly before her parents did.
Today, most of the siblings live within a city block of one another. Six of them work together. They gather weekly for Sunday dinner at their parents' house and for a constant stream of birthdays, baptisms and confirmations.
For so many college-educated adult children to have relocated to a new city, largely drawn by familial ties, is unusual.
Economics professor Robert Pollak, of the Olin Business School at Washington University, co-authored a paper on a 2009 study looking at how often adult children live near their mothers. Adult children with college degrees are much less likely to live with or near their mothers, the study found. Among couples who both have college degrees, about half live more than 30 miles from both of their mothers and only 18 percent live within 30 miles of both mothers. But among couples who have no college degree, the situation is reversed. A college degree increases the chance of mobility and career opportunities away from one's hometown.
Moving was a daunting prospect for the Garcia parents after laying down roots for so long. "We had the comfort of the city where we called home for 30 years, we had all of our friends, our church community, and all the memories we had of our children growing up, but what we didn't have was our actual children," their mother said. A close friend of theirs asked why they were moving to the city.
"That is where our children are," she said. There was a moment of silence, and the friend responded, "You are truly blessed to have all your children in one city. My children are all over the country, coast to coast, and I won't live to see the day with my children all under the same roof again."
That conversation made the move easier.
"It made things clear for us," she said.