In 1947, it was considered illegal to simply stand near the local springs in my home town and look at the water if one was of “Latin American descent.” It was also illegal to swim in it, or drink water from the springs.
Fortunately, my grandfather, M.R. González, Sr., knew the value of protest and went and stood atop an elevated piece of land nearby with my then pregnant grandmother, Carmelita, until they were forced to leave by a local “non-Latin” (read: non-Mexican) citizen of the town who, as my grandfather told me in the last conversation I had with him before he died in 1985, said to him, “Now, M.R., you know you shouldn’t be standing here…” That was before he grabbed my grandmother by the arm to force her to move, and invoking in my grandfather the ire and conviction that was his trademark, and responsible for his lifelong commitment to justice, political action, and protest.
The protest was not just about the prejudicial discriminatory law about the water at Comanche Springs; it was about the fact that at the time, in addition to being forbidden to swim, drink, or ostensibly even *look* at the water, if a “Mexican” wanted to get an accredited high school diploma and go to college, s/he needed to be allowed to go to the then whites-only Fort Stockton High School (whites then were simply referred to as Anglo–in Texas, the labels then had to do with the language that was spoken, providing insight into the history that led to these circumstances).
This protest was joined and collaboratively led by many of our town’s most courageous and virtuous Mexican-American elders who have all since passed on. My grandfather was the target of three different attempts to murder him, the final time an apparent plan to lynch/execute him, had he not been in hiding when they came for him at his home, with burlap sack and rifles ready for him. You see, protest makes those who are benefitting from unjust laws and ‘the way we do things around here’ very uncomfortable.
To have the right to go to school, to be educated, to look at the water that nourished your ancestors, to live on whatever side of town you wanted to…these were what was equated with living in the U.S.A., and my grandfather and those like him, protested for those rights. From where I’m standing, to be protesting against the flag right now is not so much an act of hate, as an act of grief and desperation–to be held in the sort of turmoil that leads one to say that this flag has been sullied, and we are not supposed to hang and honor a dirtied flag.
Nothing like a little religious certainty to make them throw out the golden rule. And I’m sure many members of the American Congress believe that God helped them write that bill to get rid of health care for the poorest and most ill, the aged and frail…just like God wanted the inquisition, hunting down midwives as witches, torturing of indigenous peoples, slaughtering of infidels, hoarding of treasures of the victims of genocide… ever think perhaps there’s something flawed to the model of faith that causes one to violate every ethic of decency in which they “believe?” Tribalism is just too strong an impulse. That, greed, and a historically recurring sadistic sense of superiority, an equal opportunity human inclination.
Then again, maybe they thought the protagonist was Herod.
Today I realized how different it is to be exhausted from doing the work I’m meant to do and being exhausted from work I’m told, or have been led to believe, is important. The latter fatigue is dangerous to my health, to my well-being, to my sanity. The former is paradoxically life-affirming and healing.
I am so grateful for the wonder of students who find inspiration in learning activities so much that they dedicated their Friday nights for five weeks, countless hours at home and on weekends, and their creative energies to make the role-playing game, “DiGlossia,” for our intercultural communication classes.
And in class today, as we began the two-day playing of the game, I watched these silent Gen-Z students active, engaged, interacting, and having an incredibly good time as they realized they were role-playing scenes right out of the things we’ve covered in class. And the students who had opted “out” of role-playing…? Well, I realized that to be a more realistic game that involved the idea of immigrants and refugees, that the island and its multiple regions where they were traveling towards their dream city needed to have a host population of allies. Every one of them wound up actively engaged, watching the experiences of the others until they could determine the best moments at which to give of their resources to help them make progress on their journeys. Still others, whose characters had been privileged prior to emigrating, found themselves frustrated that many of their skills and powers no longer served them when what they needed most was food, transportation, or a place to sleep.
They will continue the game on Thursday, and two honors students will be working with me to document the process, in a paper they will co-author with me. Another student has asked to be my apprentice in the fall to continue working on the project.
Meanwhile, two students have been hired by the university to work on social media updating of campus life because of their involvement in the Humans of ASU project we completed this semester (and will continue in the fall).
Yet another student from prior semesters in my Intersections of Race and Culture class, will be working with us to create a documentary podcast.
I LOVE MY STUDENTS, and I LOVE MY WORK, and I AM SO HUMBLED by the power of letting the students show me how to teach them.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
¡Feliz cumpleaños, César Chávez! Our greatest power is in our connection to the heart, to the earth, and to the humility in our ways of living. César Chávez was born over 20 years after my grandfather, but my Papa M.R. was cut from the same cloth. As Latin@s, we must honor our leaders and not hold back from acknowledging that our strength has never been measured by how much we conform to the dominant ways of living in a materialistic, individualistic, competitive, and harshly discriminating society. The socially coercive power of these values and practices is evident in the number of our community who learn either to fear speaking out, or to emulate the people and the ways of those who value our tequila and tourism value, and our hard labor, but who all but erase us from the discourse on diversity in this country, choosing to rely on stubborn stereotypes of our roles and personalities. It is people like César Chávez who did not just create a cliché phrase with “Si se puede,” but who MEANT it, and never swayed from insisting on that truth. César Chávez taught me that sacrifice for our people is no sacrifice. Forgetting our people is a far greater loss. I would rather lose all “honor” than silence the truth that our people largely live in situations of struggle and cultural conflict which must be addressed as our numbers continue to grow and our lovely cultural ways offer promise to be more widespread and common if we can remember the dignity that is our legacy in our personal resilience and persistence. SI SE PUEDE. Para siempre.
Feliz dia, Don César.
This morning as I walked, I saw a truck with a Trump sticker on it. I’ve seen it several times when I walk the dogs. And each time, I noticed the impulse that rose within me to “do something to it.” I then noticed the little “proper” voice within me begin to pump me up with pseudo-virtue regarding the decision not to. Eventually, if I pay attention enough, I also heard the internal response that acknowledged a slight fear that I would be caught and that someone with a Trump sticker might be moved to “do something” to ME.
This morning, this is when I realized that the reaction to “do something” to eliminate or change the nature of what makes me uncomfortable is in these types of situations rooted in the very same intolerant seeds that have flourished in others. We are all related–the actions of others, virtuous or evil, speak to my own potential. I remembered the words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., about the violent nature of the existence of “hatred in one’s heart.” I considered how Gandhi’s early history of racist bigotry might have informed his eventual awareness of how violence begins internally, often in the guise of the absence of outright aggressive violence.
The impulse to eliminate, convert, insult, belittle, joke, or otherwise “do something” to that which makes me uncomfortable or frightens me; which challenges the boundaries for what I’ve learned or decided is sacred, holy, or right; or which triggers me in areas where I’ve been traumatized and moves me to hyper-vigilant defensiveness—these are seeds which can be nurtured to become violent, judgmental, intolerant…or can be repotted in a soil that nurtures my own capacity for understanding and compassion.
Out of that “repotting,” dialogue and mindful expression of my own experience and critically-rooted reflection can inform my speech and actions so that my responses are not disempowered or made bland, but are no longer distorted by a veiled desire to “do something to it.”
Colonialism in the Americas and religious “holy” imperialism in Europe and elsewhere has given us a legacy that can feed these seeds with the impulse to convert and perceive the world with an inquisitional zeal and desire to forcefully or manipulatively, mold others into shapes and scripts that match ours. Agreement feels good, and we’ve learned that power is the ability to influence.
But today I am mindful of how easily I could flip or switch, and how the seeds for violence are the same as those for mindful, compassionate, inquisitive, and engaged discourse/conversation.
I have been a religious education teacher, a youth minister, retreat coordinator, professor of spirituality and Dean of a graduate program in spirituality headed by a prominent theologian.i am a yogini, with 38 years of practice and moderate experience teaching. I have been repeatedly drawn to a life of spiritual practice and yearn, often, for life in a religious or spiritual community. But I have never been able to find comfort within the often passively harsh control that is disguised as holy or driven by a religious mandate. What I have learned is how the sword of kindness and religion can often be a sword of intolerance, an attempt to silence or stop the expression of views or positions that make one uncomfortable. It’s passive aggression, micro-aggression, and hard to address because it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
As a teacher and, a woman committed to justice and human rights, I cannot remain silent, nor distort through critique if I wish to address imbalance both outside of and within me. I must strive to be vigilant about what I’m actually trying to accomplish when I speak or act. And if there’s even a tad of a desire to feed my fear or seeds of righteous intolerance and vengeance or hate…I must recognize that these are seeds of violence. And I aim to prevent myself from acting or speaking, while correcting the way I’m addressing or feeding the seeds within me.
I must be transparent and not strategic. And willing to “take back” my words, to apologize. I must be, not “do.”
What is sacred? What is too sacred to address? What is so sacred it must be handled tenderly, gingerly?
And what is respect? What is dignity? What is the significance of one’s identity within a socio-cultural climate in which there are clear markers about what and who has more power, more privilege, more rights to a sense of entitlement?
What is it that happens when we become so educated in the ideas of socially constructed reality, relativism, and postmodern/post-structural aesthetics that we can violate that which others hold sacred, private, intimate, or secret?
Let me start by saying that the arias were beautiful, the set minimally powerful, the music by Carlos Nakai and Xavier Yxayotl heart-opening. I’ll come back to some of this later, though. Because what was overwhelmingly present for me during the entire performance was the blatant rewriting of the “legend” as traditionally passed on, to, and through the Mexican people since 1531. And that’s where the paradoxes and contradictions complicate the repeated sense of violation that I experienced while watching the opera.
You see, one of the best ways to confuse someone is to combine something they’ll wish to destroy with something they wish to hold sacred. And DeMars succeeded in doing just that, in a very parallel way to that of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church when they took the Aztec imagery and symbolism of Tonantzin, earth mother, and combined it with the language of Mary, Santa María, the doctrine of the Church, and the power of the Spanish Inquisition’s threats of torture and death.
As I marveled at the beauty of the arias sung by Juan Diego and tenor Peck’s reverential presence on stage, I simultaneously was repeatedly struck by the casting of a plump and pink-faced “Malinche” as the competitor with Juan Diego for the Bishop’s attention. I had to keep telling myself, “It’s a college student production,” and simultaneously reminding myself, “but DeMars changed the historical facts in favor of his story.” It’s this sort of inner dissonance that made the original Aztecs vulnerable to colonialism and the Inquisition’s version of a holy faith, and which is the reason I found the opera deplorable today. While the predominantly white audience appreciated the story that I can only assume most knew only distantly before seeing the opera, I was also aware that many Chicano/as and Mexicans do not know detailed historical accounts such as those scholars of Guadalupe and Mexican colonialist and cultural history could tell. So we were all stuck with what DeMars “told” us through his English text viewed above the staged production. And it was dramatically and significantly changed to serve the contemporary Roman Catholic doctrine–even radically more distorted than the initial stories. (I could go into prolonged narrative detail here regarding history and the stories, but I suggest if you are interested that you read from books such as those listed at the end of my blog.)
Let me just say that there are places to read what the original legend claimed the lady said, in native Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs/Mexica. She did not claim to be Mary, but ambiguously referenced herself in a way that would confuse and mystify–and in fact some hold that she gave her name which had some phonetic similarity in places to the word Guadalupe, the name of a town in Spain with an associated image of Maria. And let me say that even the image on Juan Diego’s tilma was the “new” image, after the original image “miraculously” lost her crown a little over a hundred years ago when the first image began to show signs of wear and tear.
The issue here isn’t “what really happened?” The issue is who gets to share the story in a semiotically powerful staging of beauty in images and sound, so that it imprints itself on the minds of those learning the story perhaps for the first time. Who gets to portray the Aztec heart sacrifice with melodramatically struggling victims (learn the history to know why that is relevant) in order to tie the heart sacrifice to the “beauty” and “wonder” of what DeMars’ cultural experts (provided from the Church) led him to sanctimoniously proclaim as the first “peace treaty” between the equally confused savage and real Spaniards and Aztecs? Who gets to decide that Tonantzin, called Guadalupe, has suddenly become mestiza, and ceased being a Nahuatl Mexica woman? Apparently, today, as then, it is not us. That is today’s neocolonialism.
And let me say one more thing–despite the discordant imagery of what I could only call “hipster Azteca” members of the chorus, a Guadalupe dressed in the Eurocentric light colors of Mary humming in a way that sounded as if she would be more comfortable singing a southern Afro-American spiritual, and the repeatedly stridently flirtatious and millennial Malinche…despite all these things on TOP of the neocolonial propaganda we were being fed in the libretto…I had one very powerful reminder of who we are.
When the wonderful tenor as Juan Diego dropped his tilma to reveal the image of Guadalupe as we know her, my heart jumped, and I instantly began to cry silent tears of deep love. My friend who had brought me to the opera shared that she, too, had “to admit that moved me.” That image holds archetypal ancestry for us, traces of our original spiritual roots as both Mexicans and Spaniards. And as recent research has begun to admit to us, our DNA holds our ancestral trauma and history. My body knew. I just wonder what the bodies of those who do not hold our history say to them when they see us protesting the spiritual political and dogmatic fairytale they just found “delightful.”
READING: For a variety of perspectives and interpretations of the story of the apparition of Guadalupe and how it is held and experienced by the Mexican people around the world, here are just a few books I suggest: Rodriguez’ book, Our Lady of Guadalupe; Gaspar de Alba & Lopez (eds)’ book, Our Lady of Controversy; Castillo’s book, Goddess of the Americas; my book, Maria Speaks, Steta et al’s book, Una Gran Señal Apareció en el Cielo. Also, for an excellent lesson plan prepared by the Yale National Initiative, see “Context Clues: The Appropriation of Malinche and the Virgin of Guadalupe
About her name: What the church says she said about who she was is based in the official translations of the Nican Mopohua, the Nahuatl account written for the Mexica. It managed to conserve more of the Aztec meaning–see Rodriguez’ book named above for a powerful accounting of the text.– It takes effort to find the translations today with the “two Nahuatl alternative names that sound similar to “Guadalupe”, Tecuatlanopeuh [tekʷat͡ɬaˈnopeʍ], which …translate… as “she whose origins were in the rocky summit”, and Tecuantlaxopeuh [tekʷant͡ɬaˈʃopeʍ], “she who banishes those who devoured us.”(Anderson Carl and Chavez Eduardo, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, Doubleday, New York, 2009, p. 20)
When your words disrobe the emperor, suddenly the #politicsofturntaking become the self-righteous way to avoid admitting there’s a bigger picture.
As press conferences began to be disciplined in the Reagan era, the gag on serious investigation and interrogation of our leaders began to be pulled tight on journalists. Who the hell cares if Miss Manners approves?
We’ve been granted the freedom of the press so that the unwanted questions could not only be asked, but their answers reported so citizens will not be duped or manipulated by inquisitional, imperial, fascist and economically controlling factions and individuals. We’ve come to accept the control of the press to such an extent that those who ask hard questions, insist, and push are now disciplined by people who don’t even read the news or know much about what’s going on. And that, my friends, is a dangerous, very dangerous state of affairs.
What the person answering the questions wants to do or say other than answer questions, is not the function of a press conference. The reporters aren’t “in class,” invited to high tea, or chatting at a polite reception. A press conference isn’t a place to gather the pre-selected soundbites chosen by a candidate or official. The closer we get to that, the more we’re watching the construction of propaganda.
The more reporters attempt to avoid that which will keep them from being invited to the party, the less they are likely to think, to critique, and to share with US, what we otherwise wouldn’t know. Jorge Ramos may not have followed the rules, but the rules he didn’t follow should be broken. Again and again and again. And no reporter should stay in line. #vivalaprensa
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