Story collected by Lulu Martinez 

Marcela Espinoza is a 28 year-old Mexican immigrant from Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. She and her family moved to Chicago when she was six years old, and in 2005, a year after graduating from high school, Marcela and her family decided it was best that she return to Mexico to look after her grandmother. Because Marcela lacked the necessary documentation to return to the U.S., it was uncertain if and when she would be reunited with her family and return to the city she now called home. 

It’s been eight years since Marcela left Chicago. Living in La Villita until the age of 20, she doesn’t remember thinking much about food or the Earth. 

Food was always bought when I was living in Chicago, says Marcela now 28.
In Mexico this changed. In ‘el barrio’ folks still had animals and grew plants. It wasn’t difficult to adapt to food in Mexico, especially because some of the same food was also eaten in Chicago. 

She explains how many immigrant folk in La Villita, specifically neighbors on her block look to replicate their Michoacan homes and ways of living in Chicago. Now that she’s returned, Marcela realizes that there are more similarities in food, house décor and language between both cities. However, one of the biggest differences was in the taste and the consistency of the food she began eating in Michoacan. 

La crema, pozole, uchepos were different. 

Over time Marcela grew to appreciate the way food was grown, prepared and served and now has preference over some of the original Mexican-style tastes. There are other foods, however, that Marcela associates with Chicago that will always be favorites. 

When Marcela first arrived to Michoacan in 2005, she wasn’t much of a cook.
Her abuelita taught her how to cook and exposed Marcela to a different type of food. 

In Caracuaro, Tierra Caliente my cousin fishes. There are little pigs running around the fields. There are other plants specifically grown in that particular land. My family works the Earth, taking their time and considering their relationship to food and land. It’s part of a family’s culture and way of living. 

Some time after living in Morelia, she began growing her own food and started planting calabaza. Marcela spent more time with plants and gardening recognized working the land as a beautiful and necessary relationship to continue developing.

Un ‘pico’ is thrown onto the Earth and is used to soften, move, and prepare the land for seeds. There’s a different feeling and connection through this process and to be physically engaged with creation. Your body feels good, too to know you yourself are engaged with this process of working the land. You get blisters, but then you get used to them. You’re also more inclined to eating with your hands. Son costumbres de los campesinos, to have direct contact with your food. 

When she first arrived, Marcela remembers that the airport in Morelia was different to the O’Hare airport. You walk out of the plane and are stepping outside and see el campo. 

Where have I ended up? The homes look awful and unfinished.

Marcela had lived in a neighborhood where the homes were differently structured, and in Morelia folks construct their homes a su gusto, little by little. In Morelia the advertisements are painted on home walls. And above all, the smells and el aire smelled and felt different. When she got to the space that would be her home for the next eight years, it was in still in construction, in obra negra.

Marcela began talking to her neighbors and the children of her neighbors. She recognized that the neighbor(hood) dynamic was different. 

There you could stay talking with your neighbors for hours, listening to stories, watching the kids play. This is also part of the reason why I studied cultura and history. In chicago, you can be friendly but not necessarily develop relationships the way you could and did in Morelia. 

In her barrio there were many comercios, food stands with different smells throughout the day. Sometimes there would be up to four puestos de tacos on one corner and four on another corner. 

I remember the tortillerias, raspados, pollos rostisados, nieveria, carnitas--olores mas fuertes. Las casas coloridas, cada casa tenia su color. if you were lucky, you might find el señor que vendia el camote with his old school little cart that made the whistling noise letting you know that he was passing by, but this is dying off, not many folks eat it anymore. There would be tamales y atole at night that you could get from las señoras. Everyone would get together at night and everyone would just chill and talk. It was common for women in their 60s and 80s to gather in groups. Sometimes there would be one, two, three, four generations in one family household, too.

Marce explains how her grandmother knew other ladies her age and their children, and the grandchildren. It was common for generations from each family know each other. 

I remember when Doña Teresa passed away. Death is a big deal because you’re used to interacting, talking and sharing space with folks. Los velorios are in people’s homes and actually a lot of older folks started passing away this year. 

Marcela continues remembering her first impressions she had when first arriving to Morelia. Over time, she grew not only to appreciate the connection people had to their land, but how deeply it influenced food, relationships, culture and the trajectory of their histories and stories. Now back in Chicago, Marcela feels a stronger sense of being. Her favorite songs that talk about cultural resistance make more sense. La Villita feels more like home. And we connect on the basis that we can understand our parents and ourselves a little bit better now. Mexico and Chicago are both home. Marcela senses all remember.

A veces puedes escuchar a los gallos en la manana.