Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture – September 28, 2007

While in Albuquerque waiting to connect with Karen and Antonio who would take me to the people who were going to host us while we took part in the traditional medicine and healing gathering, I met up with Linda who was in Albuquerque to take part in a Civil Rights event at which her uncle, a champion for civil rights in the Hispanic community, was being honoured.

Linda took time out of her busy schedule to visit the Mayan textile exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre (NHCC) and I met up with her there. The NHCC was launching an exhibition of Mayan Textile Art, which showcases “Mayan textiles which, as works of art, reflect the splendor and continuity of the Mayan culture.” There were two other related exhibits opening at the same time - Threads of a Different Colour: Guatemalan Textiles from the John Shaw Collection, a collection of very colourful hand woven huipiles, or blouses, from Guatemala, and as well, an exhibition of the photographs of Linda Montoya called Mayan Indians – Weavers of Colour, which documents Linda Montoya’s journey to Chiapas Mexico to connect with Mayan Indian women and children.

The textiles were exquisite. Each colourful and intricately woven piece was only surpassed by the neighbouring piece, each a work of art with delicate traditional and modern patterns with detailed designs. Each of the vibrant red, green, yellow, blue and white pieces spoke to the time and patience involved in weaving the fabric and putting together the blouse. Each one was a testimonial to the creativity and artistry that lives in the Mayan soul that is expressed so beautifully, so colourfully in each piece – each similar, but at the same time completely unique. The vibrant colours and intricate work reminded me of the yarn art and the beadwork of the Huichols that I had visited with in Real and the Sierras. The vibrant colours and the designs of the Mayan, like the Huichols, are a reflection of their spiritual beliefs and their view of the world. Art for them is not something to only hang on the wall to be admired, as these pieces were, but art is practical, art is an intimate aspect of everyday life. In fact, art is life, as clothes and colours are life.

After a brief tour of the textile exhibit, Linda had to leave to rejoin her family before flying back to San Antonio. I stayed for a video presentation and discussion of latinos in WWII. This was an aspect of history that I knew nothing about and was interested in finding out more. While waiting for the film to start I met an interesting woman who told me she was a historian. She asked me where my Spanish ancestors were from. The truth is I don’t know, but I said that I thought they might come from Toledo given the connection I had to that city while I was in Spain. I had not felt that connection in any of the other places I had visited in Spain. Putting her historian hat on she began to explain the history and meaning of the name Toledo. We talked for a while and as the mathematics would have it, in a crowed centre, with many people in beautiful outfits present for the opening of the Mayan Textile and the video presentation, I would connect with someone who had an interest and knowledge of holistic medicine and natural healing. She talked to me about curanderas and about three herbs with incredible healing properties, one of which was the common culinary herb rosemary. She herself had used rosemary when she had broken her arm, which she had set herself after she had treated it using rosemary to draw the swelling, blood and toxins from her arm, so that she could set her arm She had not gone to see a physician and her arm, which was still sporting an adjustable support was healing nicely. I suspected that she had more knowledge than she let on, who knows, maybe she was a curandera herself, but I did not have too much time to talk with her as the film was starting.

The session was opened by Eduardo Diaz, the director of the NHCC and featured Hector Galan, who had been producing programs for public television documenting the works of Latinos. He produced the 2 clips that were shown. The first was part of the story of latino mineros and their struggle for fair wages and equal pay and told the story of their role in WWII. The second clip was from a 14 hour PBS series on WWII. Galán noted that when it was about to air there were no latinos featured in the entire series and the reason he was given for that was that no latinos came forward when they were looking for stories. Sound familiar? No doubt wherever the call went out for stories it was not in Spanish, and did not appear in any of the Hispanic media.

When Galan reviewed the footage, he noted that there were many latinos in the WWII footage but they had no voice. The piece he showed featured two latinos talking about their experiences. It was shown at the end of the first show of the series. He noted that the battle of omission had been won but the war wasn’t. Many people were still very unhappy about how the latinos were placed and the fact that there weren’t more in the series. An all too familiar story of the dominant culture eyes that do not see what is outside of their field of view and why the struggle for representation and for social justice is as important now as it has ever been.

The clip that was shown was an eye opener for me as it recounted that, unlike the situation with the African American and Japanese American troops, the Hispanics shared barracks and eating quarters with the white personnel. This was the first time that many of the Hispanic and white boys had experienced that type of intermingling and it changed both groups of men. One of the latino veterans mentioned that even though when he came back to the US he still faced the same discrimination that he had when he left, he had been changed because he had risked his life and fought for his country and knew that this country was just as much his as it was the property of the white servicemen he had fought alongside.

What an evening it was from Mayan textiles to the latino presence in WWII. The events at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre cleverly intermingled art and social justice, colour and beauty. It was a veritable feast for the eyes!

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque – Saturday September 29/2007.

After saying goodbye to Masauke, Linda and all the other healers I had been working with, learning from and sharing information with over the past months, I sadly left San Antonio and the wonderful community of people that had become family to me. I made my way to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to collaborate with Karen and Antonio, who I knew from the Sundance, and who are starting a healing centre with many of the elements of the centre I want to start in Toronto. I arrived in TorC just long enough to unpack and drop off my luggage at their house before I headed off to Albuquerque where Karen and I had been invited to take part in a gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing.

The gathering was organized by Kalpulli Izkalli, a community organization that is a grassroots intergenerational action and resource centre dedicated to transforming the health and environment of the local community, Their motto, Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth is one of the concepts I have used for years in the courses I have taught, so I immediately resonated with this wonderful organization and their incredible event. Kalpuli Izkalli was started as an effort to create an alternative institute that could serve as a model for “integrating strategies to educate, advocate, and take action on those changes necessary to protect human life and the earth, and her resources with proactive alternatives that promote traditional knowledge and ethics of behaviour that celebrate the intrinsic value and sacredness of the natural world and its interdependence on humanity.”

“Kalpulli Izkalli are Nahuatl words meaning Kalpulli (Community) and Izkalli (House of the Light/Resurgence). Kalpulli Izkalli was formed in 1996 to promote, preserve and protect cultural and traditional practices. They are dedicated to community healing through these practices which include agriculture, medicine and traditional healing, ceremony, as well as the use of art, music, dance, writing and individual creativity to enhance personal, family, community and general human development. Kalpulli Izkalli exists to strengthen the capacity for individuals and families to create positive changes in the way we live that foster healing and renewal for ourselves and Mother Earth.”

The health fair took place in the parking lot of the Topakhal Clinic. The Topakhal Clinic (House of our Medicine Clinic) is one of the projects of Kalpulli Izkalli. It is a family practice clinic which combines Western and Eastern medicine, allopathic and naturopathic approaches. It has a beautiful community garden and a well designed clinic with treatment rooms, a small community kitchen and even an altar room for ceremony! What a progressive community health centre. I have been involved in the community health centre movement in Toronto for many years and have yet to see one with such an incredible integration of traditional and Western medeicines.

The gathering began with a Danza Azteca ceremony which honoured Mayahuel, the Guardian of Medicinal plants and healing and dona Predicanda, a local curandera or traditional healer, who had been healing the community for more than 60 years. Dona Predicanda was born with the ‘don’, the healing gift and grew up learnig from her grandmother, an indigenous curendera from Chihuahua, Mexico. Dona Predicanda and twp other curanderas were presented with plaques and honoured in the ceremony.

All the healers who had volunteered their services, myself included, were called into the centre of the circle of Aztec dancers to stand in front of the curanderas who were being honoured to be blessed with copal, prayers and agua de flores, flower water. After our blessing and the presentation of the plaques of honour to the curanderas, the Aztec dancers continued their dance into the early afternoon. The large group of Aztec dancers and drummers dressed in colourful clothing and elaborate feathered headdresses occupied most of the large parking lot. Information tables and healing tents had been set up around the perimeters of the parking lot. There was information on pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, services for people who had been physically or sexually abused, and information on local environmental justice projects.

In the two tents close to ours there were massage therapists, Reiki practitioners and curanderas offering limpias or spiritual cleansings. There were three practitioners in our tent, Karen Ferreira, a homeopathic doctor who was providing information on healthy natural foods and homeopathic consultations; Dr Miguel Ortega, an iridologist from Cuernavaca, Mexico, who was staying with the same people who were hosting our little group, and who was examining eyes/doing iridology consultations and I was doing energy work and bodywork, incorporating some of the techniques I had learned from Masauke and company despite the fact that I had left my feathers in San Antonio.

We had a large number of people sign up for all of the different therapies when we first set up the tent but we were following Sundance rules and waiting for the ceremony to be over before we began the treatments. It was only some time after noon, when the woman who had been the first to sign up came over to find out if I would work on her that we found out that the tradition in Mexico was different from the Navajo Sundance tradition and that treatments were common while the dancing was going on. With that information in hand, I started working on her and from that time on wards there was a steady stream of people coming to our tent all afternoon. The treatments continued even when high winds suddenly began to blow and the tent almost came down around me and the woman I was working on. Karen and the husband of the client Miguel was working on grabbed the tent poles as the wind picked up, and along with the small group of people who quickly jumped in to help, they saved the day. We continued to work even after many of the information tables had been packed up and other practitioners had left. Miguel closed up shop finishing his last consultation under a tree as a group of volunteers came to take the tent down around him. Like at the sundance our services were voluntary.

It was a beautiful event which for me really demonstrated the integration of traditional and western medicine, as the regular Family Practice clinic was going on inside the Tophkal clinic. The waiting room was full of clients while the fair was going on and periodically the practitioners and interns from the clinic would come out to watch or take part in the ceremony. Many of the traditional practitioner who were practicing in the healing tents also provide services in the Tophkal clinic. All in all, the day was an amazing example of a community based model for integrative wellness – integrating traditional medicine, natural healing with ceremony, wonderfully healthy food and western clinical services. Bravo Kalpulli Izkali for a job well done!

For more information on Kalpulli Izkali and their annual gathering of traditional Medicine and Healing visit www.kalpulliizkali.org

For more information on Homeopathy or the Gaia Sophia visit www.gaiasophia.com