When I think back to my childhood in Mexico and what it was like to grow up in San Luis Soyatlan, Jalisco, one of the first things that comes to mind is Lake Chapala. Growing up, my friends and I used to always go to the lake and play by the shore. Two of my uncles, who still happen to live there, used to go fishing and every once in a while I would join them just for fun. I remember it being a lovely experience, we would be surrounded by the water and the big, blue sky directly above us. The large sun would be shining over the lake and would make the water glisten and shine. My uncles would check their nets and remove the fish that they had caught for the day. To this day, those are some of the fondest memories I have of the lake. But what about my mother’s memories? Or my grandparent’s memories? After all, they lived in that town longer than I had. Why had I never asked them anything of it?
Ten years ago, my family decided to migrate and move to the US. Originally I had thought that the main reason why we decided to come here was due to the lack of educational opportunities that were available to us. I thought that my mother simply wanted to provide more chance of achieving a higher education in the US. But after learning more about climate change and the effects that it has on migration, I began to wonder whether one of the reasons that we left San Luis was due to the lake changing over time. So I decided to ask my mom and my grandfather about their experiences with the lake. Below is some of what my grandfather, Jose Luis, told me when I interviewed him.
My grandfather told me stories about his ancestors, and he said that for many, many years his family had dedicated their lives to fishing. His grandfather was a fisherman, his father and uncles were fishermen, and eventually so was he. The lake used to provide food and water to his family, so it was a very important part of his life. He remembers growing up and playing by the clear blue water, being able to see the fish swimming under, and going there to bathe every once in a while. The lake was massive according to him. It used to reach the shores of the town and sometimes it would even overflow onto the streets. He remembers fishing and catching different kinds and species of fish. One species that he called “blanquillos”, or white fish, was the most popular, but they slowly began to decline in the lake and eventually became extinct. He says other species have also began to decline and that its really hard to catch or find any nowadays. This is only one of the aspects of the lake that changed over the course of my grandpas life there. He also mentioned that the size of the lake began to decrease and vary overtime, and that the water quality also decreased as more and more pollution found its way into the lake. For my grandfather, this was devastating. Every year his catches would become smaller. When the water level of the lake would decrease, he would sometimes have to walk really far distances just to reach the water. But for my grandfather it was more than that. To him seeing the lake slowly deteriorate was very depressing, since he had grown up and spent his life there. The lake had provided so much for him in the past, but what could he do to help it now that it was suffering? Eventually, my family was unable to continue to make a steady income from fishing. My uncles slowly began to leave for the US in hopes of a better future. Some years after that, my mother made the decision to leave as well, and with that my grandparents followed. For my grandfather, being away from the lake has been very hard. It has been six years now since he has last seen the lake, and he constantly talks about going back to see it.
After listening to my grandfather and my mother tell me stories of how the lake used to look when they were younger, I realize how much Lake Chapala has changed, and that what I knew of the lake was not at all what it once used to be.
I looked more into what has changed over the years and found that currently the lake is suffering from contamination and waste coming from the city of Guadalajara, where the lake also provides water to 60% of the population. The contamination of the lake comes from the city as well as from the river Lerma that comes from the state of Mexico and carries lots of waste. The water level of the lake has also decreased due to the lack of water coming from the river Lerma, the overuse of the city of Guadalajara, as well as droughts in the past.
Moving forward, I plan to interview a couple more immigrants about their stories in Mexico or other Latin American countries and what led them to Iowa.