Story and Photography by Sarah Belle Lin
UC Santa Cruz is a university that sits pretty among the annual rankings for most beautiful college campuses in the world. It is because the entire campus occupies the ancestral homeland once inhabited by the Ohlone peoples that we see these top rankings.
The Ohlone were once around 10,000 strong, with 600 in the greater Santa Cruz area alone.¹ Santa Cruz was home to the Awaswas-speaking Uypi tribe. Their name for the coastside haven was “Aulinta,” meaning “place of the red abalone.”
When the Spanish explorers arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries, so did the systematic conversions, exploitation, abuse, slavery and murder of Indigenous peoples and their tribes. In September 1791, Mission Santa Cruz was founded and built. Both Indigenous men and women were subject to pain and abuse at the hands of merciless Franciscan padres.² Indigenous peoples were forced to convert to Christianity because they were supposedly “savage” and needed saving.
Spanish explorers called the Indigenous peoples they came upon, “Costeños,” or coastal people. This was changed to the term, “Costanoans.” In the 1960s and 70s, “Ohlone” became the widely accepted term for the Indigenous tribes.
The term Ohlone is something of a misnomer; it is a blanket term for the many diverse Indigenous groups that resided from the San Francisco to Monterey and Big Sur regions.
The mass extermination and attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples was unsuccessful in stomping out their cultures and traditions. Although still marginalized and amends never made in their favor, Indigenous peoples showed how vibrant and alive their deeply sacred traditions are on a sweltering, albeit beautiful, Saturday afternoon in Santa Cruz.
UC Santa Cruz Drum Feast
On April 21, the calming scent of sage drifted across the field and though the crowd was but a growing few, the quiet reverence of the ceremony carried a inexplicably sacrosanct presence that filled the space.
This was the opening blessing ceremony for the 7th Annual UC Santa Cruz Sophía García-Robles Memorial Drum Feast, held at the Family Student Housing field. When the ocean breeze made its way up to the grassy field, its cooling touch provided an additional blessing.
The event was hosted by UCSC’s American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) and is held annually to commemorate the life and work of Sophía García-Robles, a former UCSC advisor who provided guidance to many Latinx and Chicanx students. The feast supports a community that is often forgotten about, but is an integral part of the lands that support UCSC and the greater Santa Cruz area.
AIRC director Dr. Rebecca Hernandez Rosser, has led coordination of the Drum Feast for the past four years. One of the jobs of the AIRC is to educate people about the current Indigenous populations residing in Santa Cruz and she believes the Drum Feast helps accomplish this.
“It allows for the campus community to see that there are Indigenous people, both that are students and that are living in the area, ” said Dr. Hernandez Rosser, who identifies as Mexican American and Mescalero Apache. “It’s nice to have that visibility for a day.”
According to the 2017 U.S. Census, the current American Indian population makes up 1.8% of the population in Santa Cruz County.
Because the land was blessed during the Drum Feast opening ceremony, people were not allowed to simply traipse over the land unless invited to. Instead, people could walk the periphery of the Drum Feast to get to the food and drink vendors, organizational booths and seating area.
With the aura of sage still lingering, a group of veterans wearing bright red polos slowly marched forward after the blessing ceremony. The American Indian Veteran Association (AIVA) took to the field with color guard members carrying distinct flags. Emil Holquin, secretary of AIVA and 20-year Air Force veteran, carried the navy blue Air Force flag.
He says that like other Americans, he is patriotic to a certain degree but has mixed feelings when he is assigned another flag – the American flag – to hold during ceremonies. The flag reminds him of a history marked with the widespread genocide and death of Indigenous peoples.
“For me,” Holquin says, “the red stripes are like the blood of the Native people that got eradicated, starved to death or died of a disease.”
Holquin knows that American Indian stereotypes are still very real today. He listed them out without hesitancy, and with a tone that sounded like he has heard them all one too many times. But he wants everyone to know that Indigenous peoples are more than what they are sometimes reduced to.
“We are a multicultural society,” said Holquin. “What many folks consider primitive or backwards cultures, have something to offer.”
The Heart of the Drum Feast
By mid-afternoon, the Drum Feast crowd had blossomed to 110 attendees. The aroma of sage was replaced with the mouth-watering smell of crispy fry bread lavished with strawberries, honey and powdered sugar.
Groups that were curated to present and perform were People of the Islands, Fremont Drum Group, Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas, Senderos and the White Hawk Aztec Dancers. Each of the groups showcased traditional songs and/or dances that demonstrated their devotion and ties to their ancestors, cultures and lands.
“There’s a tremendous reverence when people are performing,” said AIRC director Dr. Hernandez Rosser. “Especially dances like the Aztec dance group where’s it’s really rooted in relearning about their own histories and celebrations of being connected to that culture.”
One group who is familiar with the Drum Feast is the Fremont Drum Group, a community drum group who has presented at UCSC for the past two years. Sitting around their Gathering Drum, they sang six songs including Buffalo Song, Happy Song and Grass Dance.
The Fremont Drum Group is led by Drum Keeper Christina Cruz and sees around 15 students – aged from kindergarten through 12th grade – regularly at practices. Despite being Drum Keeper, Cruz herself does not cast a vote on the group’s activities. Cruz stated that just about everything is decided by the youth and it is because of them that she holds her title.
“I was taught in my upbringing within my nation that we are as our community sees as,” said Cruz, who was brought up Apache and is of the Lenape and Chumash tribal nations. “Because of that, the students recognizing my work and what I bring to the drum is what makes me a Drum Keeper.”
A majority of the students are from the Fremont Unified School District but some come from as far as Oakland. The reason behind this, Cruz said, is that although there are drums at other organizations, not all of them allow girls.
“What I was brought up understanding is that the heartbeat of our mother of the Earth is through the drum,” said Cruz. “And one of the things that has happened over time is that men have said, ‘You shouldn’t be beating the heartbeat, it should be the men doing it.’”
As a member of Thoz Womenz, an all-women Native drum group created in Alturas, Cruz personally experiences this oppressive masculinity, which some individual drum groups have adopted because of influence from Western patriarchy. She said experiencing this mindset with the youth group is a rarer occurrence mainly because people tend to be kinder to youth. Still, in the past there have been some young boys who have come to their events and said that they will not stand with them because there are girls at the drum.
“As women, we are the life-givers or water-carriers and because of that we carry the heartbeat with us,” Cruz said. “The newborn within us hears our heartbeat and so when we sit at the drum and we drum, we’re drumming the heartbeat of the mother. And what is more natural than a woman to do that?”
Although this issue could easily rile anger in anyone who is so devoted to their craft, Cruz knows it is far more important to share the information they have about drumming along with the fact that there are such existing differences between First Nations.
While Cruz respects teachings from others’ nations, just as importantly, she aims to exchange the teachings she has learned with others.
“It doesn’t help to scold people or to hurt their spirits,” said Cruz. “It’s a balance between educating people and keeping the cohesiveness of our drum as well.”
True to her words, Cruz sought to make it clear that Native drumming is called “presentations,” as opposed to “performances.” This is because Native drum groups sing for their community with the intent of healing.
Cruz emphasized the need for those who attend Native social events to be respectful at all times, whether it be for something as seemingly harmless as asking a question, receiving permission to record and take photos or not stealing any of the songs presented. Often times, drum songs are copyrighted and it is customary to bring gifts or payment to drum groups in formal exchange for permission to use any of their songs.
Revering and Remembering Indigenous Peoples
Reverence and remembrance of Indigenous peoples and their cultures came to be at the Drum Feast, where the community was able to observe and participate in an intimate space under the same sun and sky.
“Often times, there’s little opportunity to embrace yourself so it’s nice to have designated events where you can feel comfortable and more at home,” said second-year marine biology student Julie Gomez, who was a Drum Feast volunteer and Hermanas Unidas member. “Our school tries to be more inclusive and diverse, but sometimes you feel isolated in a way.”
Volunteers from Hermanas Unidas, a Chicana/Latina organization, and interns from both AIRC and People of Color Sustainability Collective (POCSC), an environmentally-minded organization that supports communities of color, assisted with tasks like welcoming guests and encouraging people to dispose their trash sustainably.
Second-year environmental studies and economics student and POCSC member Lian Utsumi worked a shift by the garbage area and helped attendees separate trash, compost and recyclable waste into their respective bins.
“I think that with things like Drum Feast, going back to where we started and learning Indigenous and traditional roots of culture is really important in sustainability,” said Utsumi.
Utsumi sees how within the modern field of sustainability, there are trends like using pricey Hydro Flask water bottles and wearing the popular outdoor brand Patagonia, but she believes that this is not a viable and accessible option for most people. Utsumi decided to get involved with POCSC because she was looking for a way to practice impactful sustainability and from there, learned how the original caretakers of the land were eradicated from history.
“Indigenous and American Indian history is so erased,” Utsumi said. “As somebody with a lot of privilege, I think it’s a duty to learn more about those kinds of issues. It’s just something I felt the need to do to be a better person.”
For the past five years, the amount of American Indian students has steadily declined at UCSC. Data provided by UCSC’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion helped shed a light on this situation. In 2013, American Indian students were 1.3% of undergraduates. In both 2015 and 2016, the number dipped down to 0.9% of undergraduates.
This past fall, the count was at 0.8% of undergraduates, which is 147 American Indian students out of 17,577 total students. The amount of American Indian graduate students has also dropped to 1% of the graduate population.
AIRC intern Margherita Vargas, a second-year history and politics student, is a tribal member of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians. She revealed that it is very difficult to find people with similar backgrounds as herself. She saw the Drum Feast as a way for the community and others who are interested in American Indian culture to come together.
“For UC Santa Cruz in particular, I think it’s really important to build awareness about native visibility on campus,” Vargas said. “We feel like this event really highlights students who need that sense of community.”
Attending events like Drum Feast marks the beginning of the path towards better awareness and understanding of America’s, or as Fremont Drum Group Drum Keeper Christina Cruz knows it as – Turtle Island’s buried past.
What must happen next are the conversations people have in spaces like the Drum Feast. Delanie Medina, first-year politics and film and digital media studies student, also volunteered at Drum Feast with Hermanas Unidas. Although Medina understands having conversations about Indigenous history is and will be uncomfortable, she pointed to respectful interactions as a way to promote dialogue and suggested a word to the wise.
“Just listen as much as you can and try to respect everyone,” Medina said. “As long as that’s happening and people are open to the conversation, then it’ll be easier.”
¹MaryEllen Ryan, “A Well Looking, Affable People…”: The Ohlone of Aulintak/Santa Cruz,”(Santa Cruz Public Libraries Local History, 1980): 1
²Geoffrey Dunn, “Spirit Weavers,” Good Times, 2013)
By: Lorenza Figueroa
Illustration By: Steph M. Hernandez
*I never felt so poor until I got here. I never felt so ashamed of my worn out clothes until I got
here. I never felt so incapable until those blonde haired and blue eyes talked so eloquently. Classrooms dominated by their presence. Brown, black, yellow, and red bodies not knowing how to express themselves. Once again, our existence becoming diminished…*
But I do want to express that I’ve found the courage to speak again, to freely express myself. To voice my ideas and critical thoughts, to critique those who have not lived the life of this brown woman. This brown woman with different learning abilities— who had a mental breakdown because her recorder was lost, who runs back and forth looking for the right therapist— please! no more white women who dehumanize my traumas, this brown woman who comes from a house that’s falling apart, house shaking because of our back neighbors, the trains— they have endless journeys– no roof on our bathroom, catching the rat tails hiding deeper into the darkness of our attic, daddy saying that he’ll fix it, but years have passed and this brown woman only smiles and nods her head “yes” every time daddy says he’ll fix the holes in the house. He replaced the window with the bullet holes after seven years, “progress is progress” he says, “painting over our chipped, faded, blue house is next” he continues— as he sips his canned beers, his 40s, smokes his cigarettes, takes his pills, his over-the-counter drugs, his addiction. But this brown woman accepts daddy with as much compassion as possible. No more yelling at him to stop, just hugs and acceptance, appreciating his presence. His smile brightens my soul, his stories and jokes minimizing my depression.
I critique them when they say race, drugs, and poverty isn’t necessarily a systemic problem. I say I do not blame my older cousins when I was told to pee in a cup at nine years old as they were strung out on meth, worried of getting their help denied, trying their best to keep sober, but this vicious cycle loves to interfere— profiting from each bunk bed, setting strategic traps to catch those whose skin color is criminalized— who suffer the effects of “the war on drugs,” drugs that were historically and purposely put into our neighborhoods, the crying effects now under the umbrella of ‘poverty.’ Another broad title to cover our realities, another word to justify the genocide of our bodies. They do not live the life of this brown woman. They cannot speak on the experiences of this brown woman. They taste the sorrows of my experiences, they hear the aches of mi corazón, but they cannot touch the resilience, the strength and the amor of my soul. They cannot speak on behalf of me, they cannot speak on behalf of us.
by Roxana Valentino
Illustrations by Carson Blumen-Green
To some extent,
I feel like a ghost of a past self.
The echoing off the walls
of my head
emphasize a new-found loss
Awaken and quiet
Forcing myself into a haze,
swallowing a metallic taste.
Slightly because I’ve lost myself inside the daze
Enveloped in the fog,
I linger around as time blows away with days.
Where can I go?
I float above old self.
A bent spine.
I never failed to claim it as mine.
I see it from below.
by Paola Ruval
Illustrations by Sarah Belle Lin
I saw you once more
under the hot blazing
standing behind those
blooming iron diamonds
whose shadows fail to hide you
Your eyes pierced out from behind
the dark cool lines
that cut your face into pieces
they whisper “Mírame”
I want to look away in shame
By then, the folds of my hands begin to unwind
blood drips deep from my fingertips
painting virgin roses on the floor
that glimmer bright without remorse
Smiling the roses rise from the dirt
fighting cruel sun rays,
they climb the traces of my veins
thorns against my knees I stand
as they sway away to familiar sounds
They dance my mother’s native tongue
I know every gentle syllable
I jump between their world of words
to understand my Tata’s laughter
to guide strangers under harsh fluorescent lights
to tell my grandmother I’m alright
Now I know you
you are a part of me.
we live among divided lands
you lie beyond the parted grounds
grounds lined with shiny rusty iron diamonds
that grew strong and tall from fear and hatred
I’ll never fully comprehend you
you’ll never fully know me
But we shall meet on crowded humid church afternoons
singing “Paloma Blanca”
on summer days watching Pedro Infante, Cantinflas
under Cielitos Lindos
rushing for Piñata candy
unaware of its cultural difference
Until realizing that parts of us
in some of us
Chicanx’s or just Mexicanos Americanos
hold remnants of those virgin roses
those glimmering pieces of our culture
So I’ll walk with these thorns
soft petals, and lovely skies
to keep you close to me
I may never fully
know you, or
You will always be a part of me.
by Sarah Belle Lin
Published Spring 2017
When I read my first tall tale in elementary school, I was fascinated by the fantastical descriptions of larger-than-life lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. Many say he created the Grand Canyon by dragging his ax across Arizona. He was an exaggerated, yet classic, representation of vitality and extraordinary strength. You can guess how in awe my little five-year-old self was. My imagination was one of my greatest pals during those years. That fact has not changed to this day. Even so, nothing could have prepared my mind for the story of how my mother came to America.
“I grew up in a war zone. I had to escape from my beloved home in the darkness of night with nothing but a set of clothes.”
I always knew that my mother was born and raised in Vietnam. I was not, however, aware that she was a Vietnam War refugee.
Saigon was her birthplace, Cho Lon her home. She had grown up and lived in a war zone until the age of 19. The day that North Vietnam became victorious over South Vietnam was also the day that Communism stole my mother’s childhood.
In Communist Vietnam, the poor class rose and attained financial status equal to that of middle-class landowners. This was so everyone could achieve “equality.” There were many families living on less than $50 a day. My mother’s parents were simply not able to support their six children on that measly of a budget. Before they could decide what to do with their situation, the Viet Cong threw them out of their house so that five other families could live in it.
“The Viet Cong were so fierce. One day they shot my grandmother in the leg. She survived, but became permanently disabled.”
Despite the horrors she witnessed, my mother decided to stay in Vietnam after finding a French woman, named Francoise, to act as her guardian. Their plan was to move to France. My mother bid her family farewell when they left to seek refuge in America but as the situation in Vietnam got progressively worse, her father told her to forget the deal with Francoise and leave immediately.
On a dark night in January of 1979, my mother fled from Vietnam with her uncle’s family. They put their safety and security in grave danger. Had they had gotten caught, they would have all been thrown in prison. By the grace of luck, they made it onto the harbor where a boat was waiting for them.
“It was terrifying because we had no idea if there were police waiting for us around the corner, at the end of the dock, or on the boat. Nothing was ever certain over there.”
They made it onto the boat and were transferred to a massive oil tanker. There, she found more than 2,000 other people — many of which included hundreds of families with their children and babies in tow. The destination: Kowloon, a city in Hong Kong more than 930 miles away. The cost of the trip? 10 gold bars…per person. The deal was brokered by an anonymous group of people who negotiated with the oil ship that was making its way from Taiwan to Hong Kong. It would take them around three days to get there from Vietnam.
“We sat down next to each other and when I mean sit, I mean there was not even room to lie down. The only time we could get up was to navigate through the crowd to go to the bathroom. People barely spoke. Our meals: crackers and water. We were never told when we would get to our destination. It was just a waiting game.”
Danger was still not kept at bay. My mother tells tales of Thai pirates who roamed the seas waiting to come across refugee boats such as the one my mother was on. The thing is, they were not like the tall tales I knew, they were real.
“One of my former schoolmates was killed because her boat was robbed by the pirates. We all pretty much knew what happened to my schoolmate after the pirates abducted her. It was so saddening to hear the news.”
After arriving in Kowloon, the boat was not able to dock. So they waited on the boat. For another seven days. The moment the refugees set foot on solid ground, they were hustled to a refugee camp. The camp was a four-story building secured and patrolled by armed soldiers. Still, it was heaven on earth. My mother would have a bed.
People were allowed to come and go as they pleased but the rule was to return before the midnight curfew. After it, the gates would close and stay that way until the morning, no exceptions. While she was in Kowloon, my mother felt obligated to spend most of her free time working a job that she had found in the city.
“I found a job as an assembly line worker in a factory. My daily work was to solder wires onto motherboards for computers. I worked every Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm for six months. I was paid minimum wage. I was allowed one one-hour lunch break and would go out to buy food, mostly chicken and vegetables. At night, I went to English class at a school that I enrolled in. I was expecting to meet with my parents and siblings who had already went ahead to America before me.”
After half a year of living in Kowloon, my mother’s parents beckoned for her to reunite with them. They had made enough money in America to sponsor a trip for my mother to travel over the seas. She would be able to call this new and foreign country her home.
“I was very excited to start a new life and reunite with my family when I found out that I was coming to America. I did not know much about America beforehand, except for the fact that everyone spoke English and ate hamburgers. When I actually arrived to America, I saw that there was a huge difference between America and Vietnam. I did not see anyone on the streets when I got here and wondered where everyone was. Back home, everybody is out on the streets!”
My mother likes to say that Hope brought her to America. When she reunited with her family, she saw around her a place where she could breathe and feel as liberated as she pleased. No longer did she fear speaking freely in public. Gone were the feelings of panic upon seeing the infamous green helmets terrorizing her streets.
“My family and I came here to America looking forward to building a better life. We should not prevent people from living out their dreams, especially if they cannot live in their own countries.”
In a way, I almost wish these events belonged to a tall tale. I would not wish what my mother went through on my worst enemy. Yet, these circumstances brought my mother here, to her family, to a new life, to freedom. This country isn’t perfect (who or what actually is?), but if the American Dream still rings true (and it should, as it is protected by the Declaration of Independence), then the opportunity for others to come and start anew MUST still exist. But is it still alive and well? Will we, as a nation, uphold these innate values?
“…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
I pale at the thought: what if my mother was turned away at the doors? My heart pangs for those standing at the gate, their bones exhausted from a journey that they did not sign up for, whose fingers wrap around the bars of fascism rooted in fear mongering, misunderstanding, and hatred. Their eyes, scarred with images of ravaged homes and fallen loved ones, plead. They have nowhere else to run to. The threads of Hope fray with each day the bars stand in place.
“…among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
American is just one way to describe my mother. She carries pieces of Vietnam with her every day. She still knows a fair amount of French (from the French colonization of Vietnam dating back to the mid 1800s) and is beautifully fluent in Vietnamese (ordering Pho was never a struggle with her by my side). I’m not quite sure what else I’ll hear the next time I beg her for more of this story. But one thing is sure as hell– Paul Bunyan has got nothing on my mother.
Top left: My mother at the age of 16.
Right: My mother’s old house in Vietnam, circa present-day.
Bottom: My mother’s graduation from Cal Poly Pomona in 1989.
by Anastasia Magaña
Published Winter 2017
An estimated 3.3 to 4.6 million people rallied across the globe together for the highly anticipated Women’s March in a not-so-subtle response to the inauguration of Donald Trump and his repertoire of unabashed misogyny, racism and uncensored bigotry. Political scientists coined the event, “the largest day of protests in U.S. history” but, was it enough to get Trump’s administration on board to support the causes represented in the march such as women’s rights, environmental rights, indigenous rights and transgender rights?
Trump’s response: a slew of authoritarian-style executive orders and promises that range from cutting federal funding for “sanctuary cities” to banning muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the country.
Sadly, it appears as though what could be the largest demonstration in U.S. history was largely ignored and further shut down by the new administration with executive action, in what feels like a massive “white-lash” against the nation-wide rallies demanding basic human rights.
To make matters more divisive, vice president Mike Pence attended the “Pro-Life March” in Washington the Friday following the Women’s March where he declared on the national stage, “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America.” This comes days after the President signed an executive order which bans federal money being allocated to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions. Thus, the administration has made it clear that they will embark on the path towards enforcing federal action against the rights of women, immigrants, indigenous communities and all people, regardless of how many of us come pounding on the White House door.
So, what does this mean for those who feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle? Upon returning home from the Women’s March in D.C., I felt an incredible amount of hope and solidarity with people across the nation, knowing they, like myself, do not comply with the oppressive regime that’s come crashing down on not only the people of this country, but people all over the world.
However, it’s become increasingly difficult to remain positive when, every hour, there’s a new headline about Trump’s next move towards restoring America’s “greatness” by taking executive action to actively move progress towards regress.
Yet, that feeling of people united — hundreds of thousands gathered, indivisible to hatred — the feeling of true power of the people, is something that will neither be forgotten nor ignored. Now is the time to take note from the great pioneers who fought to incite change in this country during a time when no one conceived it possible — people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and of course, Santa Cruz’s very own Dr. Angela Davis.
I saw Dr. Davis speak at the Women’s March on Washington and feel her words offer some guidance to those who feel uncertain of the future to come under this new wave of political instability, “Over the next months and years, we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice, to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white, male heteropatriarchy had better watch out. The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance—resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music. This is just the beginning. And in the words of the inimitable Ella Baker, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’ ”
To those who don’t believe that we, the people, can create change, or that we are bound to lay victim to the legislative pen of white men, know that a resistance unlike any other is emerging, and that only with action and reflection can we begin to write the history we wish to see unfold. The power of people is not one to be underestimated — love one another, protect one another and most importantly, resist. Resist the temptation of ignorance, resist those who act out of hatred, resist from silence and resist from fear, for fear is the emotion which our oppressors pray to incite.
Our power as people comes not from what we do out of fear, but what we do out of love for one another through unification and solidarity. To all of those who fear for the future, you’re not alone; but as students it’s our job to remain critically conscious of the socio-economic and political environment in which we live and to use our knowledge to strategize against the most inhumane atrocities committed by our country’s reigning administration.
Together we must act, together we must resist and together, we will prevail in the face of adversity.
by Isabell Retamoza
Published Winter 2017
Making whole pinto beans makes me feel like the part of a ribbon that is closest to the edge.
Gently wash beans with warm water.
When I lived at home, to me, beans were comfort food. Warm, brown beans with bits of meat and onions mixed in. My father smiled a little bigger; my mother laughed a little harder; and we all sat a little closer at the table.
Pour beans in a large pot with twice as much water.
Like coins in a box—tithing to my ancestry.
Let beans soak until the beans touch the surface.
My mother taught me to make beans before I moved out. It was the last thing I needed to learn. I asked her to write the instructions down. She shook her head no. Why? I asked. Because, she sighed, making beans is a knowledge that is experienced and taught. Watch and listen, she said.
Once the beans rise to the surface, turn the pot to a low simmer.
Making beans grounds me. I feel my toes stretch out through the tile, concrete, and soil. I feel the women before me, who labored for my existence, who hold my feet, who run their hands up my legs and rest their hands gently on my hips and shoulders. I feel their small, tender fingers pull my hair down to my hips in braids with red and green ribbons.
Spoon out the foam that floats to the top.
I spent my childhood in Oaxaca. Our house had a warm orange light that swarmed through the cracks in the curtains that shined in people’s brilliant golden eyes. I walked to school everyday by myself in a navy blue skirt with a coarse button up shirt. I would scour the dirt looking for colorful bottle caps and use them to handcraft necklaces for all the women in my house.
Leave the lid off the pot.
Everything that was done in that house was loud; cooking, cleaning, talking, gossiping, dancing, eating, sleeping, fighting, drinking. The women rousted in the kitchen with their bright, ornate aprons and drank coffee out of miniature red mugs. We moved to Minneapolis when I was eight and everything got quiet.
Add hot water as needed.
Everyday I lose my language more and more. I feel counterfeit. I feel the fire from my ancestors kicking at my throat when I can’t find the words to communicate. I meet white people who speak better Spanish than me. My parents stopped speaking Spanish when we moved to the states. I lost it.
My father used to have long, thick, black hair. I remember breaking hair bands trying to wrap his hair more than twice. He cut his hair when we moved to the states. My mother used to wear chunky, gold earrings that shined through her hair. She stopped wearing those earrings when we moved to the states.
Being both Mexican and Native manifests a reflex of anger. Not anger in the traditional sense but a severe loyalty; an intense love. It is a red, hot aggression to be alive, to love, and to prove myself worthy of such blood. Blood that has been shed, shared, and consumed.
Test beans for color and tenderness.
Last summer, my father called me on my way home from work in San Diego. His words stumbled out quickly and loud. He hung up. His instructions were to head to the Jack in the Box a mile from the border fence between San Ysidro and Mexicali and find Manuel. I felt my hands slide and slip on the steering wheel from sweat. My father picked people up all the time. Our home was a safe house for many years. But I was never directly involved. I took the twenty minute drive from downtown to the border and pulled into the Jack in the Box parking lot. I walked inside. Manuel and his wife Lucy were huddled in a corner with backpacks and orange dirt on their legs. I walked to the table and barely whispered, Estás Manuel? They barely nodded. I sat down. Dónde tienes que ir? I asked. Manuel handed me a torn piece of notebook paper, crumpled over and over again that it rubbed soft on my hands. I stood and turned to my car, motioning for them to do the same. Manuel grabbed his hat off the table and took hold of Lucy’s hand. I felt the little girl in the school uniform, the shades of women between her, and the woman with long braids interwoven with red and green ribbons. I felt all these women beat through me in full form like an exorcism. I want to go home, I thought. So do they, I said.
Published Winter 2017