Latina/o Healing Practices: Mestizo and Indigenous Perspectives
Edited by ISBN-10: 0415954207
Linda Vallejo mentioned on pp. 231-232, p. 244
May 19, 2008
Excerpt from pp. 231-232:
“At the same time, other spiritual circles had begun in California – circles that developed communal ceremonies such as the Fiesta de Maíz in Los Angeles and San Diego, the Fiest de Colores in Sacramento, and the Día de los Muertos, organized in Los Angeles due to the efforts of Chicana and Chicana/o mental health workers who understood the need to heal the spirit in their work with the community. As a collaborative effort between Calmécac, Flores de Aztlán, and Kukulkán, the first Fiesta De Maíz was held in Los Angles on June 5, 1979. This first fiesta included the participation of Esplendor Azteca, the danzante troupe of the now deceased maestro Florencio Yescas of Tacuba, Mexico. It also brought together artists involved at Self-Help Graphics, a community art center in East Los Angeles. Similar efforts nationwide served to communicate and implant the spiritual, political, and cultural ideals of the emerging Chicana/o consciousness during this “cultural nationalist part of the Chicana/o Movement” (Ybarra-Frausto, 1993, p. 64. According to Linda Vallejo, a member of Flores de Aztlán:
We were developing a Chicana/o calendar of ceremony…Through the ceremonies we acknowledged the different [cardinal] directions and the continuation of the cycle of life. Fiesta de Colores honored spring. Fiesta de Maíz honored summer, and Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated the new year. We were also learning the full moon ceremony and the sweat lodge ceremony.
Other artistic endeavors also helped to transmit cultural knowledge. In reflecting on the influence of these early community efforts, Carolina Saucedo, who was involved in teatro (theatre) groups, comments, “We were alive and growing, talking about Tonantzin, learning to drum, being politically active, learning from Native American brothers and sisters, sharing our commonalities.” These inital experiences of women immersing themselves in ancestral indigenous knowledge provided the stage for further spiritual growth and development. Patricia Parra comments:
In the 1960s and 1970s I started grasping my spiritual power. I wanted to go back to who my people really were and what they did before the imposition of Christianity…We began to give ourselves the structures and foundations to have our own strength.
Mexicano elders such as Arnaldo Solis transmitted knowledge through oral tradition, as did elders and teachers of North American native peoples. The process of forging a spiritual path informed by northern and southern indigenous ways resulted in Chicana/mestiza/Indígena ceremonial practices. Becky Bejar, one of the founding members of Calmécac in Los Angeles, speaks of this process as “my effort to bring together the various traditions of the Indígena of the continent to create the ceremony we think needs to continue.” Linda Vallejo now facilitates the sweat lodge ceremony for Chicanas and Latinas in Los Angeles. Taught the tradition by her participation in sweats run by Lakota, Navajo, Chicana/o, and California Indian tribes (the Chumash, Gabrieleño, and Tule River people), Linda explains:
I have not had a hierarchy of teachers. They have all been at the same big table…giving me responsibility, The ways I have been taught to pray are Indígena, the way I play the drum, stand, the language I use is Indígena. The tools I use are from my experiences in the different fiestas, danzas, sweat lodges, sun dances. The multiple experiences are specific to the Indígena of this continent…I open and close the sweat ceremony in a Sioux tradition taught to me by Beverly Littlethunder, but I incorporate a mixture of traditions. I sing Chicana/o, Sioux, Seneca, California Indian, and Navajo songs in the sweat. Each leader follows her spirit. I use my creative intuition and am comfortable with the rhythm of the lodge. It is understanding the rhythm of things. We can’t get it from a book.
As mestizas living between the north and the south, these women act as bridges between groups. Their concerted efforts to learn from northern native peoples but through their own lenses and experiences as Chicanas result in specific and unique ceremonies. This time the bridges lead to their own power, their own identity as mestiza women of the Americas.
Participating in ceremonies not only shares healing knowledge but builds political alliances between Chicanas and northern Indígena peoples. Analuisa, a founding member of Calmécac and member of Flores de Aztlán, reflects on her participation in the Sun Dance ceremony and what it has taugher her about struggle:
The Sun Dance requires great sacrifice and dedication. Dancing for four days for the sacred renewal of the earth and the people…I learned to make sacrifice on behalf of the people protesting at Big Mountain for other Earth. In the ceremony, the water we would normally drink we instead give up to the earth. The ritual allows for the concrete as well as the symbolic sacrifice necessary to transcend the secular and become immersed in the sacred.
For Lisa Duran, her exposure to Chicana/Indígena ceremonies “incorporates our visceral understanding of what it means to live in the U.S. under constant cultural oppression. The sharing is very liberating politically, psychologically, and emotionally.” Chicanas seeking to reclaim their indigenous ancestry by learning from northern native peoples often receive criticism from those who believe Chicanas/os should limit themselves to the indigenous traditions of Mesoamerica. While encouraging mestizas to return to indigenismo, critics often ridicule the efforts of Chicanas to learn from northern Indígena. For example, some critics incorrectly believe that the sweat ceremony is not indigenous to Mesoamerica, and this is contrary to historical and contemporary documentation that places the sweat bath as a tradition that is indeed rooted in Mesoamerica. Chicanas refusing to accept dichotomous understandings of where they find spiritual strength accept their geographical location in history. Indentifying as mestiza women, these Chicanas “learn from where we are at and what we have access to. The spirit would laugh if we couldn’t have access to our spirituality because of our experience in multi-cultural living.” Like the Indígena of the continent, different tribal people historically shared food, shelter, ideas, and culture when the environment or politics necessitated exchange. In reflecting on intertribal relations, Linda Vallejo comments:
I don’t think drawing from many traditions is specific to Chicanas. It is specific to ceremony. For example, the major ceremonies are intertribal. You will hear songs from different peoples. I have danced at a Sioux Sun Dance on Navajo land singing songs from different tribes. Tribal people meet people from different areas and share their songs. The mixture becomes indigenous. I have heard Yaqui songs in the middle of a California Luceño Ghost Dance. It is not a Chicana/o urban reality but an indigenous reality…Chicana/os are becoming indigenous.
Excerpt from page 244:
When asked what consejos advice could be given to Chicanas and mestizas embarking on a spiritual journey, several of the women stress the need to gravitate toward other women also on the same search, women wanting to questions, seek, grow, and read. Linda Vallejo emphasizes the importance of finding people:
who will allow you to think and learn according to your own personality, pysche, and spirit…Look for people who will say, “I will be happy to share with you, but you will have to find your own road eventually.” This is how your songs will come to you.