Descendant of great Purépecha chefs, Atzimba Perez It carries in its DNA the seasoning and passion with which it transforms the humblest ingredients into sublime delicacies. For this reason and because of her brave life story, she has become the most beloved and respected Mexican chef in chicago.
The relationship between Atzimba and the kitchen began to take shape from his first years of life, when he ran along the paths of Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacan. His father, Don José Guadalupe Pérez, better known as “The Pill”He prepared one of the typical dishes of the state like nobody else: the famous pork carnitas, the same ones that came to conquer the palate of the former president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas.
“My mother made meals for the patron saint festivities and my grandmothers and aunts are very skilled cooks. For my family, the kitchen has always been a constant in their life, with that they maintained themselves, so since I was a child I have been surrounded by kitchens”, said Atzimba Pérez in an interview with The Digital Herald.
His father’s ancestral cooking and life advice prompted Atzimba to pursue his dreams, so with effort he managed to get a university degree in “Hotels and Gastronomy” in Morelia.
She paid for much of her studies with the sales of some of her unique desserts in the school cafeteria, becoming so famous that two weeks after graduating, she opened a cake shop in the city. Three months later he opened a second store.
The Monarch’s Journey
Atzimba points out that she is a woman “Tuesday” and “very independent”; Although at first he was not very clear about how far he wanted to go, he did know that her future was far from her beloved Michoacánwhere they gave him “freedom to be herself”.
“The education that we Mexicans have ‘you have to get married, you have to be with your husband and wait to see what he gives you’, for me that doesn’t work, how can I expect someone to give me if I went to school? It is difficult to see a woman economically, mentally and spiritually independent, this is my case, so there was insecurity on the part of my partner and I came because of a lawsuit we had”.
The monarch butterflies They are known worldwide for the migration they carry out every spring, an incredible journey that starts from different forests of Michoacán to North America, and that includes flying around 2 thousand to 4 thousand miles, similar distance to the one he had to travel Atzimba to get to Chicago.
Unlike the small flying insects, Atzimba emigrated with her recipe book under her arm, but without immigration documents, so she was forced to ask for the help of a coyote.
It was not easy at all to reach the lands of the neighboring country, Atzimba tried to cross the border 6 times, until he succeeded on the seventh chance. Each attempt was accompanied by a series of events that put his life at risk and as if that were not enough, that of a 8 month old baby that he carried in his belly.
He ran into the ferocious desert and its fearsome fauna: scorpions and rattlesnakes pending to bite anyone who walked through the arid land; walked long distances mountainous extremely rugged; and he spent a few nights in seedy hotels with bedbugs, cockroaches and “other horrible things I can’t tell.”
“I couldn’t run in the mountains because I had the bellybut that’s how I went, at the risk of breaking my foot, and then we came to a stretch where the people who came in the van didn’t want to get off, because if they got off there were rattlesnakes and many have died in the desert from bitesSo we prefer to pee in the truck where we came from, “he said.
However, the experience that marked Atzimba the most was the day he managed to cross the border and was about to arrive in Chicago, but from one moment to another everything collapsed, Police authorities detained the van and all the immigrants with it. That was the penultimate time that she tried to reach the United States.
“We were already hoping to get to Chicago, when I see the checkpoint in the middle of the 8-lane highway. The cops catch us, put us in jail for a whole dayand me with my belly, protecting my baby. There were families crying in despair, because they had already returned to us many times, but I told them jokes so that my son would not feel the pain and the fear that we were actually all feeling,” she recalled with teary eyes.
Welcome to the “Windy City”
Once in the United States Atzimba started from scratch, Despite the racism and discrimination of which he was a victim, he went to work at a well-known fast food chain; however, he did not expect that the fame of her desserts would follow her to Chicago.
Some countrymen recognized the Michoacan woman, and after longing for Mexican flavors, they began to make numerous requests with which they were fascinated.
“’Aren’t you the daughter of Don Pillo, the one who sold cakes in Ciudad Hidalgo? My mom used to tell me that you make some very tasty cakes, can you make me some?’I told them yes and so they kept asking me for XV years and wedding cakes. My husband also came to Chicago and little by little we grew up and did our little things”.
Start with open wings
Despite the adversities, Atzimba continued to make food to order while working as a waitress. After a while she entered the union League Club, the most important social circle in Chicago, where he met great personalities, from renowned painters and musicians, to Barack Obama and the current US president, Joe Biden.
One day, the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the time, Omar Duque, hired her to prepare a banquet for him, which included his traditional 3 milk cake stuffed with strawberries, wrapped with cream of zamorano chongos and brass band -typical alcoholic beverage from Michoacán, obtained from the distillation of sugar cane juice-. After making all his guests fall in love with the food, Duke and his wife They encouraged her to start her own company.
“Omar arrives and tells me ‘Atzimba, Have you seen the talent you have? the guests want to eat the dishes, you are robbing people of the pleasure of trying your kitchen Do you want me to help you start your catering company?‘. The club kicked me out for not having my immigration status fixed, but the Chamber helped me register my business with the state,” he said.
At that moment he was born “Atzimba Catering and Events”company with which to date seeks to print the Mexican stamp on the dishes it serves at each event that hires it. Atzimba has had the luxury of returning to the prestigious club, but no longer as an employee, but as a more member and owner of her own company.
The Mexican chef is a faithful believer that the prehispanic food It is a way of preserving his roots, which is why he usually prepares food inspired by what was eaten before the Spanish arrived in Mexico and conquered it in the 16th century. It is because of that the pre-Hispanic tradition appears in each of its proposals.
From chef to activist
For Pérez, who became the official chef of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and has been there for 12 years, the American dream has a different meaning than it does for most immigrants: like the monarchs, she longs to return to her beloved Michoacán to reunite with his people and especially with his father.
Fortunately, his lawyers, “the most scrupulous in the US” assure that his migratory situation is about to be resolved.
For 25 years, the chef has been a great activist in Illinois; She currently “defends” immigrants who, like her, have suffered racism because of their immigration status, in addition to supporting different organizations, especially those that care for children who suffer from cancer and are poor.
“I believe that the day I return I am not going to kiss the floor, I am not going to kiss the ground, I think I’m going to eat it because they already weigh 25 years of being here, ”he commented at the moment his voice broke.
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