Reconnecting with My Roots

November 20, 2023 Research & Conservation

I was born in Mexico City; my family and I arrived at the U.S. when I was just 8 years old. Eighteen years had passed since I’d been in my native country, but last May, I finally returned to Mexico to attend a conference in Oaxaca.

As soon as I landed, I felt an instant connection. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is phenomenal, and the city is one of a kind. Not to mention I never thought I’d be a witness to Oaxaca’s magical botanical diversity. 

First, I got a taste of the city. As I walked through tight mercado halls, the delicious smell of mole danced around me. Elote, tlayudas, fresh fruit. I simply could not resist any of it. I had to try it all, yes, even chapulines (grasshoppers)! I made my way across the street to find artisanal pieces to bring back home. It was difficult to choose and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I walked out of the mercado absolutely swagged out. I explored the city, enjoyed the incredible murals and indulged in mezcal tastings. 

Then, it was onto learning. Students, faculty, indigenous peoples and other community members gathered to celebrate the 22nd inauguration of Semana de la Cultura Mixteca, a conference hosted by Technological University of the Mixteca (UTM). UTM is part of a larger network of universities in Oaxaca, SUNEO, that host Semanas de Las Culturas to disseminate the culture, dance, music and art of each of the regions of the state of Oaxaca. Art exhibitions featured wood carvings, ceramics, watercolor and oil paintings. Presentations included pre-Hispanic Mexico, paleontological findings and storytelling of ancient gods of la Mixteca. A spectacular performance wrapped up each of the long conference days, from Jarabe Mixtecos to vocal ensembles and rock bands.

I found parallels between the work we do at the Gardens and what I experienced at the conference. One of the Gardens’ core values is sustainability and SUNEO hosts Semana de la Cultura to raise awareness of methods to create a sustainable and conscious world. Those attending learn about the history of a region that has influenced art, literature, food, medicine and more. The Gardens often creates the kind of spaces that uplift diverse communities and celebrates their culture and traditions. With this experience, I hope I can contribute to our goal of reaching a broader audience while offering more inclusive and responsible programming. 

Oaxaca was the perfect place to begin my journey as I reconnected with my roots. Next stop, Mexico City. 

As a little girl, I yearned for the day I returned to my homeland, hugging loved ones, the room filling with laughs and stories, and replenishing my belly with the homemade tortillas I was convinced were waiting for me. To no surprise, I was overwhelmed with hugs and kisses from my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends when I finally arrived. We explored the city, mercados and even the pyramids in Teotihuacan. Although it was difficult to say goodbye, I treasure this beautiful reunion in my heart. 

What started as a professional development opportunity evolved into an inspirational and important part of my story. I feel extremely privileged to have had the support of Denver Botanic Gardens as I made one of my biggest dreams come true. 

This article was contributed by Karen Rojas Meza, research coordinator. 


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