Christiana Castillo

The Three Sisters


Christiana Castillo is a Mexican-Brasilian-American poet, educator, and gardener born in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil and based out of the greater Detroit area on Anishinaabe land.Casstillo is recipient of fellowships from Room Project, Voices of Our Nation (VONA), and Disquiet International. Previous work of hers can be found in Belt Magazine, The Acentos Review, Riverwise Magazine, and Alegria Magazine's Latinx Poetry Project. Her chapbook, Crushed Marigold, was published in 2020 with Flower Press.

This summer I spent time caring for the stolen Anishinaabe land I take up space on. I planted tomatoes, carrots, beets, herbs, snap peas, endless varieties of lettuce, nasturtium (because if you can eat flowers, you should always choose to eat flowers). And with my time during quarantine, I decided to plant something new. I decided it was time to look towards ancestral knowledge. I grew a three sisters garden. Growing up, I admired the corn my abuela planted on her plot of land in Southwest Detroit. We would delight in eating yellow corn under blue skies with factory smoke around us. Through the native growers in Detroit I know, I learned of the three sisters garden, companion gardening at its finest. Something was calling me to grow the sisters. Maybe I wanted to see nature take care of itself. Maybe it was because I missed my sister, I wanted to remember what it felt like to see sisters caring for eachother, holding each other, existing together. I have never been one for long embraces, my sister is one of the exceptions. We snuggle up to each other and watch movies, talk about life, I think I feel most natural with her. My sister has been my oldest friend. I have not seen my sister for six months, half a year. We went from seeing each other in person every couple months to going half a year without seeing each other in person. I wanted to see care happen in person, not through my screen where miles and borders felt more real than usual. I think the ancestors knew I needed something to keep me grounded, I needed something to give my support to.

I measured out the land I occupy, created circular mounds that would support the life I was about to help grow. I was given Soltera Morado corn kernels from my compa, my comadre, Mel. She did not have the room for them to flourish in her yard, so she gave tiny bits of purple to me as we spent time socially distant outside together in her garden. We talked about how the land can take care of us, how we miss our students, their smiles, seeing them learn in person, we talked about being heartbroken and angry. We talked about being Chicana women, all the solidarity we held in our bodies, and the grief that lingered with us. I went back home hopeful and thankful for the time spent with Mel and the gifts she gave me.

This summer, as I was doom scrolling on social media, I found a post sharing that native maíz was protected as part of Mexico’s National Heritage. As a Chicana/Latina woman I delighted in knowing that perhaps there would not be more varieties of maíz that would go extinct. That there was promise towards a future where maíz was protected and honored. This summer with the gifts from Mel and the ancestors who saved seeds before us, I saw maíz grow towards the sun. It grew taller than me, kept getting closer to the yellow and orange warmth in the sky. The Anishinaabe land I lived on welcomed the maíz that had roots that went beyond the clay that exists in the yard I get to help nurture. 

As the corn I planted continued to grow, I thought about what I was protecting in the act of growing  during a global pandemic. I was caring for something larger than me. The plants around me know what community care means.

When the corn shot up off the ground, the bees visited their purple tassles, I got to see sweet pollination. I wanted to see more life, I wanted to see more of nature taking care. I planted the second sister, pole beans. I saw the beans lean on the maíz I planted. The pole beans I planted crawled, kept going up and up towards something brighter with the help of her taller sister.  The land accepted them and the Maíz accepted green, so much green, they almost fused together.

I almost envied the way the beans were able to lace around the corn stalks, the way they were able to embrace each other. I miss the feel of human embrace. I miss getting lost in other humans. This summer I chose to live through the sisters.

I planted squash, and it grew and expanded, protecting her sisters with the tiniest of prickles. I saw yellow blossoms turn into summer squash. I watched as the sisters protected each other, I watched the way they changed and grew. I was able to harvest corn that once I husked it it revealed mal de ojos, purple eyes, protection from God. The beans filled my belly and the squash turned brighter and brighter, tiny little suns adorning the land I help care for.

The three sisters held each other tight, welcomed bees, butterflies, moths, and my hands. The land accepted the seeds I was gifted and able to sow into the Earth. I took care of the land and it took care of me. For the three sisters, community care is natural.

© The Acentos Review 2021