A Journey North, Amidst the Rhizosphere

I’ve had an announcement I’ve been trying to make for some time now, one of those once in a lifetime kind of bits of news that deserve a proper time, place, and style. BUT since this new reality is hurtling toward us with a seemingly daily accelerating pace, unforgivingly preventing me from doing things “as imagined” and obliging the precedence of a raw “get ‘er done” mindset, the time has come to reveal this new chapter:
 
Farewell cupcakes
Our little trio is simultaneously thrilled, terrified, and appreciative to announce that after 16 years of life south of the border, and almost 3 years since we finally became free to choose which of our two countries of origin we could all legally reside in, we will be departing our lovely home in querido Queretaro and heading northward in relocation to the DC/MD/VA area, where I have accepted and been cleared to take on a new role with my agency (Peace Corps) headquarters in our nation’s capital, starting early October.
 
The irony is not lost on us that we will be moving north in the same exact month as we first migrated south 16 years ago, we may even cross paths with some southbound Monarchs on the way. As much as I would like to write for hours about what this opportunity means and will mean to our family (immediate, extended, friends, colleagues, and collaborators, plants, and animals), the truth is that despite an initially slow burning process that began several months ago, the nature of the move has abruptly accelerated in a way that is already affecting the way we will be able to say hasta luego. I hope that our friends near and far can forgive us when I say that if there were another way we would, but our process of outbound transition may end up ongoing, remotely, once we’re settled safely in the northlands (as heard somewhere – winter is coming).
 
There are countless places and people to whom I/we are eternally grateful for their role in making Queretaro a home and safe haven for the last 16 years. From the sanctuary of our home, to the dry forests and sky islands of Amealco, Zamorano, and the Sierra Gorda, to the friends’ homes and communities that bejewel these lovely highland slopes, there were always endless new horizons to discover, foods to try, cultural traditions to learn, friendly faces and conversation, and those are the things that we will always keep close in our hearts. In fact, the necessary process of letting go in order to make way for the new has been particularly more challenging, than I ever, ever could have imagined, even at the time when I correctly predicted, over 17 years ago, that “if I could last 10 years in Mexico, perhaps by then I might not even need to go back.”
 
And the truth is, I was right after all. As a result of needing to make things work for at least the 10 years we had to reside here in order to apply for Margo’s U.S. legal residency, we found ways to be happy during most of that time. But now, for the first time, more than a need or an obligation, it’s a choice, which is what we were ultimately looking for. We can’t say yet if it it will be the right choice, or what the future will hold, but as we did back in 2006, we can say for sure that we are following our hearts.
 
In the last few weeks the “hasta luego” process has gotten underway, and despite how mixed my feelings still remain about it, yesterday in the company of my coworkers at Peace Corps Mexico, a place where I’ve been blessed with gifts of subsistence, shared mission, solidarity, and friendships, I was able to crystallize some thought around this process. It is hard to capture the level to which I have been both honored and humbled by the words, kindness, and experiences that have been afforded to me in the nearly 13 years that I have collaborated with the organization, which I hope to represent well in my new role at a global level.
 
Despite the challenge of putting these complex feelings and thoughts into words, I tried my hardest to invoke the spirit of what I want to convey, and this is what I said:

“The Rhizosphere” by Nicole Salgado, Sep 2, 2022

The Rhizosphere, Mex.

This past weekend’s mushroom walk in Xajay (led by a local ethnomycologist), gave me unexpected inspiration that still permeated my imagination for days after we returned from the several mile hike under the forested canopy of a communal property in the indigenous community of Amealco. The term that stuck with me and wove itself into my thoughts, much like the subterranean universe of threadlike roots and mycelia that it refers to, was “rizósfera,” or rhizosphere.
 
In the days since the walk, my mind’s been searching for a way to integrate the multitude of thoughts and feelings about our imminent new adventure we are embarking on in a matter of weeks, but was continually unable to do so. I had tried to follow the advice of a good friend who once said, “write what you want to know,” but when I asked myself that, I just drew blanks. The night before the “hasta luego activity,” I had written a whole speech, but as I was getting ready to leave for work, a new idea began to coalesce, not unlike rock candy, around an apt metaphor for the complex nature of our current situation. And by the time we were on our way to the office, it occurred to me why it had been so hard for me to wrap my head around and make sense of the conflicted feelings I’ve been having about “moving north.”
 
It’s the rhizosphere.
 
You see, the roots I’ve grown did not begin with Peace Corps Mexico, although they certainly flourished there. The roots did not begin with raising a child here in Querétaro, nor even with building a home by hand here, though those are certainly massive taproots that have sunk pretty deeply and have anchored us tightly. They didn’t begin back in the SF Bay Area in the early 2000s when I met and fell in love with my Querétaro born husband and began creating community with Mexican paisanos who were also living in “el extranjero.”
 
They didn’t begin when I traveled to Latin America during college, or had Chicano professors, or when I read bird books with maps detailing habitat ranges extending into Mexico, though that often inspired me to think southward. They didn’t even start when I was born, in NY, to a mom whose family had deep roots of their own – a long line of farmers of German-Irish ancestry, and to my Dad, a San Diego born Chicano northern forest transplant in his own right. My Mexican roots didn’t even start with my Mexican grandparents, from the northwest border region.
 
My roots, and a great deal of roots for those of us born or who’ve ever lived in North America, have at least some origin in the Mexican rhizosphere. The same earth that gave life to fungi under the ancestral oak and pine forests of Central Mexico, later gave rise to oaks radiating out into all of North America. These oaks formed part of the subsistence diet of future generations of many first peoples. The Mexican rhizosphere also gave rise to teosinte, which, along with the other two sisters calabaza y frijoles, also in the care of generations of first peoples, gave rise to maize, becoming the dietary center and veritable radiating sun of Mesoamerica and even south – a place once called Turtle Island, which we now call North America, or simply, home.
 
Mexico, and my country of origin, are now considered separate nations, but they were once one. And in a way, through the rhizosphere and all its brethren, they still are. I can share more of my Mexico and PCM story later, and I guarantee it will be filled with praise, admiration, and appreciation for the trust placed in me by colleagues, Volunteers and collaborating communities, with whom I’ve worked for the last 13 years. I have learned and shared so much.
 
But for now, I understand, and I can say out loud, why my soul struggles so fiercely with imminent departure. It’s because my deepest instincts, the ones that go beyond my five senses, have experienced and connected with the homeland of all homelands – the Mexican rhizosphere, the birthplace and center of North American civilization. So I will resolve to carry and tell the beauty of Mexico with me wherever I go, but in actuality, it won’t be too hard, because although I didn’t fully realize it, or how, it was always already a part of me.
 
Note: Views expressed are those of the author and not of the U.S. Peace Corps.
 

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