Jose is with us today helping Stephen in the yard, clearing out the woodshed in preparation for winter, sorting through the detritis of a cluttered garden shed, and making a haul or two or three to the dump. He and his wife just had a new baby boy, his third, three weeks old. They named him for the king of birds. “It’s a Native American name,” he tells me. “Those are my roots. I am indigenous.” His high cheekbones and sculpted Mayan-like profile speak to that. Jose is from Veracruz, Mexico. It is a place I’ve never been, but he speaks of it fondly. His parents and some siblings are still there. He hasn’t seen them since he came to the U.S. some years ago. I suspect he is not documented, but it’s another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This is his third boy, age three weeks. All the children were born here in North Carolina and that makes them citizens. When we talk about this, I can see Jose is proud. The two older ones, age seven and eight are getting an education and there is hope that there will be work for them that pays a good wage when they come of age. Not like home.
Image by www.nicksaumphotography.com
We are talking about food. “Did you know chipil is growing in my garden,” he says to me, more of a statement than a question. Chipil is a green leafy herb that grows wild in the Oaxaca countryside. It is plentiful in our village of Teotitlan del Valle, is gathered and sold in the daily market, and used for flavoring much like cilantro. “I don’t know how it got there” Jose says. “Maybe a bird brought it in.” I think, perhaps, or another immigrant in his neighborhood missed this herb so much that he brought it back with him when he returned and the seeds scattered. I think of how indigenous people use what is given to them from the land — a centuries, millenia old practice.
Ah, chipil, I say. The aroma of a mint-like parsley comes to mind. That’s what is used to flavor tamales and squash blossom corn soup, yes? “Yes,” says Jose, and I see the faraway look in his eyes. Are you homesick, I ask. “Sometimes,” he says. “But, the work here is good and I am happy to be living here.” We are grateful for his work, too, and for his company. He is a bright, handsome young man who gives us a hand when we need it most.