Story Collected by Zainab Shirazi

recently spoke with Guillermo Quezada, a young man in his early twenties, about his Mexican heritage and the familial practices that have defined who he is as an individual. Guillermo has grown up with many struggles—one of the greatest being his family’s immigration from Mexico to the United States years before he was even born. While his father had spent a majority of his life traveling back and forth from Mexico, his mother had only come to America a year before Guillermo was born. Growing up with a closely-knit family, he was often surrounded by comfort in a foreign world that proved completely different from life back in Mexico. He has grown up feeling a sense of responsibility to provide for his family as well as preserve his cultural background despite a completely urbanized American society tempting him to do otherwise.

            Guillermo has been back to visit the Mexican town of Michoacán four times since he was born; each time he is reminded of the immense differences between his daily life in Chicago and the typical practices back in Mexico. He told me of the miles and miles of vast land that have been passed through his family for generations. The land is used to grow vegetables that they harvest for themselves as well as sell to local stores, allowing them to live a humble life. “Back in Mexico”, Guillermo remembered, “life is much simpler. My family rides horses to get from one place to another and bathes in the river to conserve water. It makes you really appreciate the beauty of nature and everything it has to offer.” There are very few roads, and the communities are small, which forces the people to share materials and food amongst each other. No materials would ever be wasted, because his family would make daily trips to the market, only buying as much as was needed for that day. Cheap resources such as flour are used often because it is one of the most economically stable materials. Everything would be harvested by hand because the machines could not mount the steep hills where the produce grew, eliminating the harmful effects of pollution. As his story unfolded, it became clear to me that Guillermo’s true home was, and always would be, Mexico because of the rich cultural practices that have shaped who he is as an individual, as well as how he contributes to society.

            A few years ago, in his Chicago home, Guillermo’s mother maintained a small, but beautiful, garden in which she would plant basil, tomatoes, chilies, mint, and most abundantly—bush upon bush of red roses. He shared with me the religious meaning behind these roses: his mother was a firm believer in St. Juan Diego, who is characterized as having a cloak full of beautiful red roses. I believe that these roses serve as a symbol for the significance of cultural practice in environmental sustainability even in the urbanized city of Chicago. Guillermo then told me of the reason that this garden no longer existed; people in his neighborhood would destroy the garden by ruining the vegetables and pulling the roses off the bushes. This ultimately opened my eyes to the struggles that we will encounter as we strive to raise awareness about environmental significance in a society that represents the epitome of industry and urbanization. 

            As I listened to Guillermo reflect on his past experiences, I realized that there is so much depth and meaning behind the memories that he shared with me. As he reflected on how his cultural practices in Mexico represent such an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, I began to realize that we choose to live the harmful lifestyles that we do merely for the purpose of convenience or even, at times, laziness. But it is only ignorance that can prevent us from gaining appreciation for the environment that surrounds us, and educating ourselves with cultural backgrounds such as Guillermo’s can inspire us to take action in our own daily lives.