A Garden for the Future
When I was a child, I remember being painfully aware that my family lived in poverty. I hated being poor and I vowed to do whatever it took to get myself out.
I remember being told that English was the optimal language if I wanted to get into college and get a career that didn’t involve manual labor. In response, I aggressively perfected my mastery of the language and in doing so almost lost my Spanish.
Statistically speaking, it was likely that I would get pregnant at 16 or that I would not graduate high school. Out of fear of becoming a statistic, I would lock myself in the shared family bathroom for hours at a time, at the expense of everyone’s bladders, to do homework and college applications. It was the only unoccupied room where homework was feasible.
I was angry and my anger became my fuel. Some might say this strategy worked for me, but no one ever told me that there was another way to stand up against adversity.
In January 2017—still feeling defeated from the election—I went to Maneadero, Mexico through an organization that builds houses for those in need. Maneadero is a small, rural town in Baja California with no running water and no electricity. Most living there are migrants from Oaxaca and are discriminated against because of their indigenous roots. Families there were cognizant of everything that was stacked against them—the same awareness I experienced while growing up. While my response to the hardships my family and I faced was to use unrelenting anger to drive me forward, their response was to love indiscriminately and to hope without doubt and without pause.
It was in Maneadero that I met Don Epifanio and his two little girls, Yoselin and Kayli. He was a builder and he showed me the adobe home that he had constructed for himself and his girls. The house, made up of adobe brick walls with openings for a door and windows, had a tarp in place of a roof and another that covered the front door. Inside was one room with a mattress on the dirt floor, a slab of wood lay next to it, a clothesline hung across the room not quite overhead, and more items— clothes and some toys—were haphazardly strewn about.
While Don Epifanio gave me the tour of his house, I realized that he wasn’t describing what I had initially perceived. He talked about putting his heart into every single brick as he formed them from the earth itself.
He pointed to the mattress on the floor. “That area is for the girls, I want them to sleep comfortably.” Then to the wooden slab, “I love to sleep on the floor.”
He wanted me to look through the back window, so that I may understand why he chose to put it there. The view, and suddenly the house, became a breathtaking sight. At that moment, the little girls marched into the house and sat on their mattress ready to be photographed.
People might look at those four adobe walls and think nothing of them. They may even disagree with the notion that this is not only a house or a home, but that it offers so much more than any mansion ever could. Don Epifanio made sure I saw that.
The older sister, Yoselin, age 7, is in charge of the family’s goats. It was common to hear Don Epifanio’s voice calling out to Yoselin to herd back the goats because they would regularly roam away. Every call to do her “chores” was instead a call to play with her goat pals for a while.
Because of the rocky dirt roads, skateboards aren’t actually able to roll in Maneadero. Jesus made up his own games and said that skateboards were never meant to roll far in the first place.
Marisa really wants to learn English, but the courses offered at her school teach “very little,” she says. Instead she takes her baby sister’s toys, like this See ‘n Say that says the names of animals in English. Marisa proudly told me that this is how she learned the names of some of the animals she sees in Maneadero.
A wise person once told me something like, “If you want to know what ‘hope’ looks like in Maneadero, look for gardens. A person who makes a garden is a person who hopes unconditionally.” If you look at Maneadero as a whole, you can’t help but see poverty, but every time you catch a well-tended plot, it’s like a glance into a small Garden of Eden.
Struggle can engender anger. You may even find people who will be angry with you, who will help you strategize to bring the guilty, the oppressors, the evildoers to justice. Though, in Maneadero, a humble family and their will to thrive taught me that in the face of adversity, you can also send a powerful message:
We will not be brought down.