Immigrant Homeland Re-Creation and Healing in Urban Community Gardens of Los Angeles

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 422
Oral Presentation
Pierrette HONDAGNEU-SOTELO , University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
This presentation will extend the definition of the domestic sphere to include urban community gardens, which I argue serve as critical spaces that allow undocumented Latino immigrants to sustain themselves and to re-create homeland in urban Los Angeles.  I focus on undocumented immigrants, some of them indigenous and some mestizo, from southern Mexico and Guatemala.  

Illegality and legal violence, racism, and marginality characterize urban life in these neighborhoods. Home-making and healing practices occur in these urban community gardens, which become shared domestic space.  Mexican and Central American immigrants and their families gather at these gardens to grow familiar foods that nourish them. In the process, they connect their children, some of whom are U.S.-born, with ancestral traditions, attaching them to homeland culture, and to an experience with la tierra (the earth).  They are not simply feeding their families, as they are spatially re-appropriating urban Los Angeles and re-coding it with material plant life such as sugar cane, mango trees and corn stalks. 

The urban community gardens are also healing spaces. The gardeners cultivate and share a range of medicinal herbs, creating informal homeland pharmacies that remedy tooth aches, nervous anxiety and indigestion.  The gardens also provide palliative remedies for intimately experienced social problems, including loneliness, social isolation, and the depression and anxiety that accompanies poverty and illegality. 

The domestic sphere has always been a loaded place, a site of comfort, sustenance, and belonging, but also, as feminist scholarship reminds us, a site of patriarchy, power, duty and conflict.  So it is with the urban community gardens.  While there are Edenic aspects, these are not new Edens of Nirvana, and the conclusion of this paper discusses difficulties in the new governance and the top-down hierarchies of professionally-operated urban community gardens.