Elizabeth Franco, 31, moved to Chicago from Mexico City in 2015. She returned to Mexico that same year but moved back to Chicago in 2016 and has been living in Pilsen ever since. She’s now a legal resident and works at Casa Michoacan, an educational nonprofit in Pilsen that promotes cultural activities and works to advance immigrant rights. This interview was conducted in both English and Spanish and translated from Spanish by the interviewer.
My story is a little bit sad, like many others. I was finishing my master’s degree in Mexico City in 2014, and I married a U.S. citizen. He was Mexican but he’d been naturalized. We decided to come here after I finished [my degree] because he thought it would be easier for him to find a job. We came to Chicago in February 2015 to live with his family, but the same month that we arrived, he died.
The truth is, I was [feeling] very bad in that moment. I came back to Mexico, but I had already started the paperwork for U.S. residency. A letter arrived that said to complete the process, I have to be living in the United States. And that if I don’t complete the process it’s illegal, and they will take away my passport and tourist visa for ten years.
So I decided to return here in July 2016. I start living with one of my husband’s friends because his mom and his sisters don’t want to talk with me. I think that maybe they have a lot of pain. I didn’t know anything of the city or the people, I didn’t speak English well. I arrived at Casa Michoacan because I’m interested in immigration issues. I was a volunteer for one year. Now I’m a [U.S.] resident, and I work with them, giving information to Mexican people about their rights, [like] what can I do if a policeman asks questions about immigration?
I miss corn. It’s quite different—corn here is very sweet, very yellow. In Mexico it’s bigger, white, not so sweet. And we have blue corn. I miss that—it has a different flavor. In Mexico there’s a type of avocado with a soft skin that you eat. You put it in a tortilla with the skin and eat it. And there the chicken is yellow because they [dye it]. I think the chicken smell bad here. I can smell death, like rotting meat. In Mexico it’s not like that.
I really like cooking. I’m a vegetarian, but I cook meat for people who aren’t vegetarians. Honestly, I never liked meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years, since I was 19. In Mexico there’s a lot of poverty. Even though we eat meat, we always try to eat very little. When Mexicans immigrate, they start to eat more meat. I think that it’s because they think that since they have money, they can eat more. All the Mexicans I know here eat a lot of meat. I’ve also learned to eat things that I didn’t before. Here all the Mexicans eat a lot of beans. I couldn’t eat them before but now I do. When I’m invited places I have to eat them.
Here there’s the possibility of trying things from different parts of the world, [which] I love. In Mexico we don’t have much foreign cooking; there’s Japanese food, Chinese food, and nothing else. Here we have the opportunity to try Indian, Italian, Chinese food, and the Chinese food is very different than what they sell in Mexico. I like Indian food a lot.
I still cook only Mexican food, but the products [I use] have changed. Like in Mexico, there aren’t many differences in the oil you use. There are only three brands of oil. And here you can buy avocado oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil. That changes the flavor of the food. People here use a lot of pink salt, which they say is healthier. In Mexico I’d never seen that in my life. All these little ingredients make the food taste different.
Chiles rellenos, in Mexico, are made with poblano chiles. Here we have the chance to try the banana pepper. It’s easier to cook because you don’t have to toast and peel it. You just open it, take out the veins, put cheese inside, and fry it.
One of the differences between Mexico and the United States is that in Mexico we only have three supermarkets: Walmart, Chedraui, and Comercial Mexicana. Sometimes I like to go to the stores [here] just to see the quantity of products that you can choose. If you go and you want to buy oil, there’s an enormous quantity. If you want to buy shampoo, it’s not something you do in just a few minutes.
I really like cooking for other people. If I’m cooking just for myself, I don’t like it. My husband’s aunt, I get along really well with her, and she has lots of parties. She celebrates Christmas, Halloween, the Fourth of July, Fiestas Patrias—almost every 15 days, there’s a party. And we share the food, like, you make the chiles rellenos, you make the posole, you make the rice. We cook for about 40 people, but I like it.
When I cook, I like to do it with lots of happiness, lots of love. I think it changes the flavor [of the food]. I even write about food. I have a poem that talks about my feelings when I’m making chiles rellenos. It’s a little crazy, but I like it. v