October 18, 2021


by: admin


Tags: Angeles, Deep, Glimpses, Immigrant, Los, Oasis, roots


Categories: Parenting

Glimpses in Los Angeles of an Oasis With Deep Immigrant Roots

Ten minutes from my home, next to a disused garbage dump, a motorway and the largest port in the country, there is an improbable oasis of hills with vegetable and fruit trees.

The San Pedro Community Gardens emerge from their surroundings like a mirage and occupy six hectares of city-owned property in the otherwise highly industrialized area of ​​the San Pedro port community in Los Angeles.

Once part of the ancestral lands of the Tongva, an indigenous people of California, the site – now divided into 224 family lots and one community lot an average of 9 x 12 m – has brought several generations of Angeleno immigrants. supplied with physical and mental nourishment since the gardeners started tilling the soil here in the 1960s.

As many rural residents were pushed into cities and across borders by industrialization and urbanization, some sought refuge in the gardens, a bond with their homeland and an opportunity to preserve and pass on their cultural heritage.

Raúl Laly Fernández, who grew up in the small town of Purépero in the Mexican state of Michoacán, joined the community gardens in 1986, around 20 years after immigrating from Mexico City.

“Most of the people who garden here used to live in small towns and ranches in Mexico, working the land for other people who own the fields – we call them campesinos,” he said. “When they came here, they are now working in the city. This country means a lot to them because they feel at home here when working with the soil. “

Mr Fernández told me about his early days in the gardens: “Before I retired, I came here after work, grabbed a shovel and started working in the soil. And all the stress, all the tension you get from work would just go away, ”he said. “I looked after my plants or talked to my gardening friends. Sometimes we played cards, Mexican games that we know. “

For Mr. Fernández, the gardens provided much-needed daily relaxation and a common space that he otherwise missed in Los Angeles.

“The way most people in Mexico live, especially in small towns, after work they go to the square where people gather in the evenings,” he said. “They sit on a bench and talk, greet passers-by, because almost everyone knows each other. We can’t do that here. “

As a Russian-Ukrainian American who moved to the United States as a teenager and later married a second-generation Mexican American, I am drawn to stories of migration, breakups, longing for their own culture, and the search for a new home.

When I discovered the San Pedro Community Gardens in 2019, I was immediately united by the longing for ancestral land that I saw in this lovingly tended landscape. At that time, amid the drought in California, the gardens were closed due to improvements in water infrastructure. They reopened in June 2020 and I continued to learn the history of the community through the trauma and disorder caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by structural racism.

Kimberly Mentlow, a new gardener who was born in Ohio but raised in Los Angeles, wants to be a part of the community. She has just received her property after three years on the waiting list. Working with the gardeners – sweating with them, getting dirty, growing and sharing things with them – is particularly important to her, she said.

“I am very happy to get to know them, to experience them, to learn about their families or to see what their passion is, what they want to grow, who they are, how they express themselves in their garden,” she said. “I can see my friends Liz and Dave’s gardens and you can feel who they are. You can feel their art, their culture, their creativity, their experiences, their love. “

By joining the garden, Ms. Mentlow also seeks relief from the stress of her job and a connection to earth. “Time goes by and you don’t look at your watch,” she said of her time in the garden. “You are right now.”

For many gardeners, their family property served several generations and is a reminder of deceased family members.

Johny Cracchiolo, who immigrated from Palermo, Italy with his parents in 1968, took over the property from his father, who died 23 years ago. “This is my home away from home,” he said, and almost collapsed. His father, he said, worked the land for 30 years. “So this act has been my father and me for 50 years.”

Imelda Ladia has a similar family history. After retiring in the Philippines, Mrs. Ladia’s father immigrated to Los Angeles to join his daughters. He wanted to return to the Philippines in time, but Mrs. Ladia tried to give him a reason to stay.

“He loved growing plants, so we got him a plot of land here,” she explained. More than 30 years have passed since then. “We came here with my sister, brother-in-law and husband and helped him. We loved helping him and he was so happy. “

After the death of her father, Mrs. Ladia and her family decided to continue cultivating his property to celebrate his legacy. “Our heart beats in the garden,” she says.

For some people, tilling the soil in the San Pedro Community Gardens is an opportunity to mend broken ties with their ancestors’ homelands.

David Vigueras’ family has lived in Los Angeles for generations and he uses the garden to rediscover the way of life of his indigenous Yaqui ancestors from Sonora, Mexico. “I’ve been to all of Mexico, but I’ve never been home, the Hiak Vatwe,” he said. “I’m trying to imitate the way my people, my ancestors, might have approached this garden.”

Mr. Vigueras also values ​​the diversity of the gardening community. “What I find beautiful here is all the ethnicities in this garden, the different cultures that people come from and that we all share what we grow,” he said. “There are Italians who grow Mexican chillies, other people who grow Italian eggplants.”

“We fertilize each other,” he said.

In the course of my reporting, the gardeners of San Pedro greeted me and presented me with their wisdom, their stories and the fruits of their labor. They also taught me how to handle soil and plants, which gave me a deeper understanding of the garden itself. Close friendships followed. Eventually, the garden became where I spent most of my time away from home during the pandemic pre-vaccination days thanks to the relative safety offered by the outdoor common room.

My own family in Ukraine grows much of their food themselves, and so I have deeply connected with the gardeners’ desire to recreate a piece of their homeland, reconnect with a lost way of life and find deeper roots in their adopted home – and all while nourishing not only the health of their family but the health of an entire community.

Stella Kalinina is a Russian-Ukrainian-American photographer from Los Angeles. Their stories focus on human connections, personal and communal stories, and the places we live. You can follow her work on Instagram.


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