Meet Cipriana García (doña Cipriana), neighbor and volunteer at Buena Vista Community Garden
In 2013, doña Cipriana arrived in southern California from her community of San Miguel Maninaltepec, located in the Sierra Madre mountain range in the state of Oaxaca. Maninaltepec is a village of 366 people, of which 97% are Indigenous and 78.96% speak their native language, Chinantec. Doña Cipriana recalls that her life in Maninaltepec consisted largely of agricultural work, which provided her and her fellow villagers with their basic subsistence. There was no formal schooling in her community, and Cipriana only began to learn Spanish at the age of about 10 when she left Maninaltepec for a period of time. Yet, in her community, Cipriana learned agriculture from her elders, and the planting field was her classroom. Cipriana recalls the abundance of food crops that used to grow in her community: corn, squash, and beans--the “three sisters,” as they are known among corn-growing Native American communities in the U.S. Cipriana states that things are different now that the rains have become less abundant in Maninaltepec--the lack of rainfall has greatly reduced the ability to grow crops in a traditional manner, and farmers have begun to use harmful fertilizers to increase crop yield.
After moving to south Pomona to live with her children and help raise her grandchildren, Cipriana sought ways to continue growing the crops she used to grow in Maninaltepec when the rains were more abundant. In 2015 a cousin of hers who also lives in south Pomona told her about a nearby community garden attached to a church. Cipriana began to rent a plot there, and she grew corn, squash, beans and other items over the next few years. However, about two years ago that garden closed down. After Buena Vista Community Garden opened in the spring of 2020, Cipriana joined the space and since then has led garden volunteers in the planting of milpa (corn and its “sister” crops). Now 61 years old, doña Cipriana brings a lifetime of agricultural knowledge to the garden. She generously shares that knowledge and its products with garden volunteers and community members. After each corn harvest, for example, Cipriana grinds the masa corn (dent corn) to make delicious tortillas that she then distributes to garden volunteers and community members. And with plentiful squash that she planted this year, she made and shared multiple batches of a traditional Mexican dessert called calabaza en dulce. Given doña Cipriana’s knowledge and dedication, a section of the garden has been reserved for her to continue to plant milpa.
Doña Cipriana holds up colorful ears of freshly harvested masa corn, during the summer of 2021.
Doña Cipriana removes the dried corn husks (leaves), which she states can be used to wrap tamales de raja (chili pepper tamales). She notes how pretty the masa corn is (“¡está bien bonito!”).
Doña Cipriana shows the difference between masa corn and sweet corn (corn on the cob). She also shares the words for both kinds of corn in her native language of Chinantec (chinanteco in Spanish).