Hibiscus planted at UIC Heritage Garden

Collected by Christian Alfaro

My parents have always had an interest in maintaining and beautifying the interior and exterior of the homes we have occupied. At our old single family house in Bartlett, I remember spending most of my summer days outside and seeing both my parents planning out what flowers to get and where the flowers should take root. My papa himself planted, morning glory, magnolia, star gazers, pink and red roses, hydrangea, rhododendron, marigold, hibiscus and more varieties. To be honest, if our block had a contest for best landscaping, our landscape would definitely win. It wasn't just about the aesthetics of the placement of flowers, but about the labor, love, and diversity it brought to our home and its immediate surrounding. 

When we moved to our newest home just a suburb over, my papa worked extensively on the landscaping. My mama made sure to always state that a hibiscus be planted. I questioned my papa about why out of all the varieties we had at our previous house, the hibiscus was so favored. 

"We had a lot of hibiscus plants when I was growing up in the Philippines. The flowers bloom so beautifully here at our house. Your mama and I, we are excited by the hibiscus because it reminds us of our childhood."

Through taglish, Tagalog and English, my papa explained how the hibiscus or gumamela has such a close tie to their lives back in the Philippines. Both my parents came from working class families in the Philippines. Their family's meager incomes did provide them with education, but at times their childhood lacked leisure. He (my papa) mentioned that any kind of ball was enough to fill children in the streets with joy and they could play soccer for hours and hours. 

Often, the ball would deflate and through multiple use would create tears and soccer was no longer an option. The children would play with sticks, capture spiders and make them fight each other, or taunt the water buffalo. Around his house they had multiple hibiscus plants. His mom, my grandmother, would make gumamela tea and taught my dad how to make gumamela bubbles. She would grind the flower petals and leaves with a pestel in a mortar bowl until it became a slimy substance. In a another bowl she mixed water, dishsoap, and sugar. Into that bowl she added a few drops of slimy gumamela. She would take a papaya stalk from the plant that they had and gave it to my papa to blow bubbles.

When my papa told me this, it gave me so much insight to the privileges I had growing up in the United States. It also revealed to me how sometimes we are seemingly so removed from the flowers and trees around us when in fact we are strongly intertwined. I knew beforehand that planting these specific flowers on our lawn wasn't just to make our house pretty, but to invite beneficial insects and create welcoming spaces for friends who visit our house. Along with those, the flowers can bring joy and special memories as it does for my parents, especially for my papa.