Casa Michoacan is the umbrella organization for dozens of hometown associations under the Federacion de Clubes Michoacanos in Illinois (FEDECMI). These hometown associations work to improve the life conditions of people from the Mexican state of Michoacan who reside on both sides of the border. They also provide many services for Chicago’s broader Spanish-speaking community. Programs offered at Casa Michoacan range from bill paying assistance, to ESL and computer classes, to scholarly conferences, cultural programs and exhibits as well as transnational organizing. These programs and services are complemented by a small collection of contemporary artifacts, many of which depict iconography of nature and people’s daily life interacting with the environment in their homeland. http://www.fedecmiusa.com
Here are some of their stories…
One woman told us that people often refer to natives of her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico as cheap. But, she said, people from Monterrey are concerned about saving because resources are scarce there. She said that, in Monterrey, you can only use your hose on certain days and that everyone is careful to conserve water; they don’t leave the water running or use water in their gardens.
A staff from Casa Michoacan explained the Michoacanos connection to the Monarch butterfly by saying that the butterfly sanctuary is not just a tourism attraction but that people in Michoacan enjoy going there as well. She described the sanctuary as en las grutas (in the high mountains), con mucha tranquilidad (very peaceful) donde el pueblo domina (where the town dominates) because they have a say on controlling development such as hotels, factories, large stores, etc.
At Yollocalli and Radio Arte the youth recycle as much as possible. One young man rides around on a used bike that his father found for him. It has a rip in the seat, and the youth has named the bike “La Rajada,” or “The Slit One.” Even though he has lovingly restored other parts of the bike, the ripped seat remains un-repaired; the youth says that it reminds him of where the bike has come from.
One participant reminisced about a campaign to conserve water that ran on television when he was a kid in Mexico City during the 1970s. The ads showed people in different situations being wasteful with water, and a child would appear on the screen and tell them, “Cierrale!” [“Turn it off!”]. Our participant said that in Mexico in the 1970s “cierrele!” became a kind of buzz word, like “Where’s the beef?”
Referring to a recent hurricane and subsequent flooding in Mexico, one community organizer noted that when people lose everything due to environmental disasters in Mexico, they are more prone to migrate. There is a relationship between climate change and immigration; climate change exacerbates migration. He said that earthquakes and mudslides, volcanoes, environmental degradation and lack of development will keep pushing Mexicans to migrate to Chicago.
One Pilsen resident proudly talked about her garden. It features yerba buena, epazote, four types of ajos chiles, potatoes, beans, squash, and tomatoes, as well as apple trees and two peach trees. It also has one very large tree that is over thirty years old.
One resident said that a big problem in Pilsen are the maquiladoras [factories] that pollute the air. The pollution affects neighborhood kids, exacerbating their asthma. She notes that it has been very difficult to pressure these factories to reduce pollution because the factories have political clout.
The Jose Obrero Mission is a center for people with very few resources. Staff at the Mission noted that they serve three meals every day and try to avoid using disposable plates. They work with young people on community projects, including one mural that will feature natural elements such as butterflies to draw parallels between the migration patterns of the butterflies and Mexicanos.
At a meeting at El Hogar del Niño, a child care center, several mothers discussed forming a bike club so they could ride their bikes together to show their children that bicycling is a viable option for getting around. They all loved the idea of Casa Michoacan hosting a workshop that teaches the basics of bike riding, safety, and repair.
Every year, a local shoe repair shop has a big sale to sell off the shoes that customers don’t pick up. The owners shared that this sale has become very popular in the community, and anything that is not sold they donate to the Salvation Army. They have reduced their energy bill by keeping the big sign in their shop turned off at night.
A young staff person at Orozco School said that neighborhood parents have been very supportive of the community garden and that they frequently mention their own close ties to the earth and to gardening. She also said that the community garden ties parents and children into their heritage and links to gardening practices that they have at home.
One family in Pilsen keeps chickens in their garage: three hens and one rooster. They collect fresh eggs every morning, and the parents said that they are proud that their children have learned to respect and care for animals that provide them with food.
One local artist showed us a toy made out of a plant called “chule” that he had bought in Michoacan, Mexico. His parents in Mexico used chule to make many things, and now he shows his own son how to make creative objects using his hands and simple materials.