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Native American Cultures and Traditions

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The Museum's mission is to advance and share the experience and knowledge of what has happened in the past and what this has meant for Native peoples today; to preserve the memory of those who died or suffered; to offer comfort, support, encouragement and understanding; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the need for dignity of and respect among all peoples.

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THE TURNING POINT

Page Contents:

The Turning Point   The Flamenco Dancer   The Ego Revealed   Return from Exile   The Cave in The Canyon   Healing    It Isn't Personal   The Echo   Despair   My God Box    Hokam   Alchemy   The Matrix

   

THE TURNING POINT

image001 Part of my healing from the work-related racism I experienced was through attending Dialogue Racism at The Center for the Healing of Racism. There was one segment on cultural racism and we watched two videos that changed my life: In the White Man’s Image and Healing the Hurts (a documentary featuring Indian boarding school survivors).

I begin learning and writing about my individual, family and ethnic history, reflecting the beauty of the Indian and Spanish cultures that my Moma and Daddy didn't get to see.

I became more at ease with myself, more at home in my own skin, more centered in my own life.

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The Flamenco Dancer

image002.jpg The flamenco dancer tapped heel and toe deftly and quickly, the cottonwood of the tablao scarred by the zapateado, the tapping with the heads of the nails embedded in the shoes. It was the continuation of a tradition originating in India, traveling across the Caucasus or along the northern coast of Africa, finding a home in Andalusia in the former caliphates of Cordoba, Seville, then Granada, the last capital of the Moorish empire in Spain. The high-pitched, sacred, mellifluous cry of the muezzin chanting from the turret of the mirrored Great Mosque of Cordoba lingered hauntingly in the air.

These peoples, referred to as Gitanos, gypsies, marginalized, were not welcomed in Spain. Unencumbered by material comforts, non-conformists, unrepressed, living on the edge of black magic and the law, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel tried to curb their freedom as did succeeding monarchs, including the brutal tyrant, Fernando Septimo. Nonetheless, they settled in areas referred to as Gitanerias: in Cadiz, Jerez, La Puerta de Santa Maria, Triana, La Isla de San Fernando, Sanlucar, Puerto Real. They brought with them their music, a blend of Indian, Judaic, Moorish and Spanish themes. Ancient, ritualistic, primeval, highly portable, from Syria, Pompeii, Greece; Federico Garcia Lorca aptly described it as anguish made flesh.

The singer (the cantaor) at first sang unaccompanied, a palo seco; his voice - afilla gritty, an animalistic wailing wrenched from within his soul, the emotion otherwise inexpressible. The cantaor sang of honor, misfortune, black fate, of the misery of unrequited love, of Christ, a fellow sufferer, persecuted, abused, of Mary grieving for her Son, of the Inquisition, of prison, of his own wounds and suffering resulting from the oppressive force of the strict conformity required by Spanish tradition. Cante jondo, this deep song, echoing from the heart, became a receptacle for anguish, a release of emotion, catharsis and expiation.

Cantaores were venerated: Tomas El Nitri is said to have died singing a siguiriya, choking on his own blood, compelled to sing in spite of his tuberculosis.

The resonant, understated, accompanying guitar was added along the way. The strumming of metal wires, hands or knuckles beating on the wood, intoned cries of ayyy in the background, added to the urgency.

Last came the dance: faucos, bamberas, tangos, alegrias, tarantos, bulerias, martinetes, tientos, zapateados, granainas, garrotines, fandangos. Flamenco is made up of the elements of replante, desplante and escobilleo: (1) the slow or sudden resumption of the dance; (2) the quick halt during the dance with a frozen, sinuous, statuesque pose; and (3) the syncopated foot drumming.

La Golondrina, La Macarrona, La Argentina, Pastora Imperio, Pilar Lopez, Christina Hoyos, Rosa Duran and Carmen Amaya, bailaoras expressed the anguish of the stark songs in their controlled, refined, restrained arm and hand movements, fingering their castanets, slicing the air with the tail of their exotic, colorful, tight, ruffled dresses, the bata de cola, the expanse of their porcelain back exposed to the caress of the night, the silk monton (shawl) draped over a postured arm. Their dark, glistening hair swept back and up, taut, held only by a peineta (comb), their obscure eyes shaded, their full lips painted red, they seethe with the Moon's glistening beauty, teeming with raw, palpable, painful sexuality, bewitched.

Holding a position until it dissipates into the mist, their faces contorted, their simmering, repressed passion erupts, singeing the audience. Later would come the intricate footwork, the calculated, feverish, pulsating, blinding, spinning whirlwind boring into the Earth’s crust, consuming the dancer in fire. The premier male dancers, bailaoros, fashioned their spontaneous, improvisational dancing after the erect profile, the undauntable regal style of the matador. Opaque, smoky, misty, electron charged, cafe cantantes were born for these dancers, guitarists and singers. Dancers, tempestuous Earth and Moon goddesses, reminiscent of the Iberian paragon of femininity, La Dama de Elche, performed at parties (juergas) that went late into the night. Finger snapping - pitos; clapping hands - palmas fuertes, or slower cupped clapping, palmas sordas, accompanied the music.

Riveted with the intense spirituality of St. Teresa, of St. John of the Cross, of El Greco, the audience experienced the unimaginable tumult and terror of the dark night of the soul, seeking to communicate to their flesh. Blood, sex, life, death, family, love, hatred, envy, jealousy, pride, betrayal, revenge, violence, murder, passion, tragedy, remorse, damnation, karma all acted out within the close-knit community, for flamenco equates with the gypsies. Sensual superstition, somber mood and imagery, seductive sultriness, fickleness, a world of myth is evoked through song, guitar and dance.

Lorca, the famed Spanish Andalusian poet, executed before a fascist firing squad during Spain’s Civil War, his body thrown into an unmarked grave, characterized flamenco best: the cry of dead generations, a painful elegy to lost centuries, the moving evocation of love under moons and winds.

I, at my height and fullness, am flamenco.

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The Ego Revealed

image002.jpgToday, my ego has taken me as far as it can. Yet it is unwilling to let me go, committing me instead, el toro, to the life and death dance in the Plaza de Toros llenazo (full bullring), la fiesta brava (the wild feast).

It is five in the afternoon, the afternoon shade cutting the sun in the ring to half, the cool air overtaking the heat of the afternoon, the pasadoble music wafting through the air. I’m released into the ring - frightened, confused, separated from the herd, alone.

In the first tercio of la corrida (the bullfight), the matodor uses his cape to test me, to sense my personality and choice of direction. Then, the picador on horseback uses a pica - a lance with a steel point - to weaken my neck muscles so that my head is lowered for the kill.

The second tercio is the act of banderillas where the banderillero places the banderillas (colorful decorated barbed sticks) into my back. The banderillas are supposed to anger me, to bring me to life for the final part of the bullfight.

The final tercio of ten minutes consists of the faena and death - the sweeping and startling passes used by the matador, with his red flannel muleta, to lure el toro to his fate.

It starts with the matador doffing la montera (hat) to el Presidente, securing permission for the kill, and the toss of la montera either to a person, or in the center of the ring honoring the audience. If the hat lands right side up in the sand, it is considered buena suerte (good luck).

I stood snorting, pawing the Earth and backing up, bellowing, banderillas covered with blood twisted into my back, yet clinging to life, los aficionados (fans) booing and whistling.

I wasn’t bred for this. I was not the malevolent, menacing manifestation of Satan with horns, hooves and a tail, traveling in a whirlwind of dust.

My ego had imploded in me, ripping me apart, blasting away my will to live, leaving me helpless, powerless, unable to fulfill the grandeur demanded of me, to carry the weight of my family and my peoples, leaving me ashamed for my failure, fully justifying the banderillas negras.

Yet as I faced the matador, my fury flared forth. I charged the matador, la hora de verdad (the moment of truth) delayed.

Just at the right moment, the matador, ready for the kill, gracefully and forcefully thrust his estoque (curved sword) between my shoulder blades severing my aorta. Blood splattered on the matador’s suit, his traje de luces.

It was followed by the descabellar - piercing the back of my head with the descabello (a straight sword with a crosspiece), severing my spinal cord. Then the banderillero stabbed his puntilla (small knife) into the base of my skull, assuring my death, a coup de grace.

Panuelas (white handkerchiefs) waved amidst the crowd.

My ear, a trophy, was lopped off to be given to the matador for having performed with duende (soul).

Then a team of men (monsabios) loaded me onto a mule-cart to be hauled off to the butcher. A cante jondo soleare (flamenco song) lingered in the dusty, hazy air.

My ego, fatally miscalculating my courage and the determination of the matador to carry out their roles in this ritual, stood alone, frightened, then hurriedly and furtively left the bullring. Unknowingly, mysteriously, the bullring had become a place of truth, a place of redemption.

 

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Return from Exile

image014.jpgI was in search of yet another Yagniza. She was calling to me, seeking to become part of today, part of me. I climbed a cottonwood ladder lashed together with yucca rope, up the face of a steep vertical cliff streaked with red mineral washes. At the top, I could see a canyon far below, stretching as far as the eye could see. I made the climb down, stepping firmly on the crushed sandstone beneath my feet.

To the West was a herd of wild horses, not in my path, but near. I passed them stealthily like a scout. I continued on my search, traversing the canyon, past yellow creosote, tarbush, mesquite, blooming yuccas and verdant green ocotillo. I broke off a sotol stalk for a walking stick, planting the sharp end into the red sandy Earth.

I followed the dry riverbed knowing with certainty that a part of me, a fragment of me lay ahead, waiting to be reborn. Circling the sumac and apache plume growing on an island, I imagined myself in a great ocean filled with seaweed.

Walking through white diaphanous curtain sheers, the sandstone canyon walls begin to close in upon me. I edged along a small horizontal ledge, my back against a wall, the gritty rock sanding my face, loose soil sliding under my feet. I continued inching along.

Then I saw a bruised child, crouching in a crevice. I told her everything would be okay, that she was safe now. I would bring her with me, to a place where it is safe for a child.

We walked out of the canyon together; I carried her blue-silhouetted form when she was tired. When we came near the wild horses, she was afraid. I told her it was okay; she was with me. I pointed to the mesas streaked horizontally with black paint and told her that was where we were going, to my home. She would be my child.

Later when we were playing make-believe, she made a corral for the wild horses. Still later, she used her kaleidoscope wand and put the horses under a magic spell, changing them into big grey rats. She drew a strong wire cage for them, with a big padlock. She thought about poisoning them now that they were caged, but decided instead to pretend they were sterile. They could never again reproduce. When they grew old, they would die naturally.

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The Cave in the Canyon

image005.jpgNo longer as fearful of the internalized messages of the past, I was in search of yet another Yagniza. She was calling to me. I knew she was in a cave in a canyon.

I begin my search, traversing yet another New Mexico canyon, past grama grass, blue sage, pinon and juniper trees. I saw a cave and entered it. In the dark I could see the huddled shapes of many children, some crying, some moaning indecipherably.

I called out, " Yagniza, I'm looking for Yagniza."

A young fearful-looking woman stepped forward. Her hair was matted; her clothing worn-out. She twisted her hands and avoided my eyes. She looked so forlorn, a photograph of despair and disappointment. I embraced her. I told her I was so sorry for what had happened to her.

I could only take her; none of the other children could be brought out except by their counterpart. We walked out of the canyon together.

Those other children - they are waiting for us.

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Healing

image006.jpgIn my art class, we each took a sheet of paper, circulated it among the group, and each of us drew a gift we longed for the other to have. We learned that no matter how hurt we were, we had something in ourselves to share with one another.

 

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It Isn't Personal

image007.jpgI gave a presentation on Native Americans to a troop of elementary school Girl Scouts so they could earn their Native American Heritage badge. As I discussed my background, I told them I was the past Chair of the Board of Directors for The Center for the Healing of Racism and that racism was an important issue to me. The troop leader asked the Scouts what racism is. One student gently stroked the black skin on the top of her hand and said, "It's when people don't like you because of the color of your skin." This one student helped me to break through the emotional barrier of racism surrounding me. Seeing her touching the black skin on the top of her hand, made me feel, not just intellectually realize, how insane racism is and that it isn't about us.

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The Echo

image008.jpgJust as an echo reverberates your voice, so the beatings my brother endured echo back to me.

My Introduction comes from experience:

Many non-Native peoples are not ready to recognize the impact of our physical and cultural genocide. Non-Native peoples though have been equally hurt by the witnessing of this Holocaust and the trauma experienced by Native peoples.

I was hurt by my older brother’s many, many beatings. I was hurt by Ms. J at Kaune School, a mean Second Grade teacher, who used to beat him.

I was hurt by Coach A, a mean Assistant Principal at DeVargas Junior High, who beat him beyond any horror imaginable.

I don’t blame him for dropping out of school.

I love my brother so very much.

As an adult, I went to each of these schools and I spit on them.

I did the same thing for my younger brother who I love also very much.

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Despair

image009.jpgI was so depressed, I would stand in front of a mirror, put a gun in my mouth, and pull the trigger.

Daddy had taught me that if anyone insulted me because I was Indian, I should say a prayer for them and go on my way. Forgiveness though was very hard for me. I carried the hurt inside me, unable to let it go. Each time was fresh; I never hardened to the reality of racism.

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My God Box

image010.jpgMy husband made me a God box - to put in it what I needed to let go.

I took off my mask and showed God how hurt I was.
He flinched. He looked away,
Unable to bear the pain
Facing Him in this defiled altar.

He wailed.
He screamed.
He shouted.
This was not what I had planned for My beloved Child.

Part of my pain was shame,
Choosing atheism over Him;
That somehow I caused this altar to be defiled.
That it was my fault.
That He would punish me for it.
That He would hate me.

Part of the pain was despair and disappointment.
That this altar would know no holiness.
That God would turn away from me.

Part of the pain was the struggle against God's will.
His way seemed so hard when I was yet so vengeful.
Yet, I took off my mask.

Kneeling before God.
I showed Him my pain.
I showed Him the bloody, oozing flesh
That I myself could not witness.
I petitioned Him, and Him alone,
For a miracle.
I couldn't go on anymore,
The pain had become too great to bear,
I needed Simon to share in my cross.

Yet I celebrated each day.
Trusting, trusting,
Walking prayerfully in Nature's glory.
Wanting life. Wanting God.
Wanting recovery.
Praying for God's healing power.
Waiting. Wondering.
Was I doing this right?
How long would it take?
Would it really happen?

My fear,
My dread,
My despair,
My disappointment,
Revealed the depth of my pain.
Revealed the depth of my sorrow. God stood before me,
Unmasked.
I saw my face
… Restored.

****
We have a part in grace,
To reach out to one another,
To avoid hurting one another,
To heal each other's pain.
To know the oozing, bloody mess
Just underneath the human face
In front of us.

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Hokam

image011.pngThe Pima singular word for 'all used up' is ‘hokam,' the plural, 'hohokam,' that described to them why the ancient Indians left an area.

The Anasazi had made tools and weapons, decorating their pottery with geometrical shapes, weaving willow baskets for which they were renowned, building villages of tiered masonry, carving mysterious, haunting petroglyphs, leaving behind their handprints emblazoned on their cave walls - then they had vanished, disappeared, 'hohokam.'

As I stood in front of a mirror, there was no reflection.

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Alchemy

image012.pngI drew this mandala and it felt right, that within it was my answer. In it was a sense of mystery and majesty, a transformation of mind and matter.

I hoped to find someone who could decipher it for me, who could tell me why I felt it was so right.

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The Matrix

image013.pngI repeated into infinity the mandala that felt so right, each a thin slice of our world.

 

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