Finding Our Roots--The Most Immediate and the Most Ancient

Eliott Sitz is 13-years-old and a popular performance poet at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Angeles. He was adopted at age nine by Ken and Teresa Sitz. Recently Elliott wanted to know about his roots, about his family (he has six siblings), and why he looked so dark and indigenous. His adopted parents are White (at one point his adoption papers had mistaken Elliott as Cherokee). Teresa Sitz, to her credit, decided to find out. She's quite the amateur genealogist--she discovered that Elliott's birth name was Elias Juan Gonzales (Elliott prefers his adopted name from a previous foster family). That part of his scattered family is in California, including his grandparents (he has one sibling that was adopted and now lives in Nebraska). And that--and this is where I come in--he's related to Luis Rodriguez!

Elliott is definitely Native--his side of the family, my mother's, have roots in the Raramuri tribe of southern Chihuahua, Mexico (they are also known as the Tarahumara). His grandfather is my first cousin Juan Jimenez, who's the son of my mother's brother, my uncle Francisco (Kiko), who also happened to be my Godfather.

Teresa contacted me about three weeks ago. Only a week before she met Juan and his wife Margaret in the Inland Empire. And Elliott has met many of his siblings but two. Now it was our turn to meet, which we did about three Saturdays ago at Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural.

I brought with me photos of the Jimenez side of the family, but also of my family here in Los Angeles. They included my grandparents Monico and Ana, my great-grandmother Manuela (full-blooded Raramuri), and many others. Elliott seemed fascinated and happy--his eyes were wide open and alive. Teresa and Ken were amazing people, the right kind of parents for Elliott. And Elliott met my daughter Andrea, her daughter Catalina, my wife Trini, and he spent an hour or so with my sons, Ruben and Luis. It was quite a reunion.

You can see some of the photos I brought by clicking Rodriguez Family Photos.

At the bottom of these are two photos of Elliott and myself. You can see the resemblance.

Below is one of Elliott's poems. He's quite the writer, like his long-lost cousin three times removed, but somehow very similar in interest with words:

Tossed Around, by Elliott Sitz

I’ve been tossed around since I was three,
Always strangers next to me,
Is there any home that’s just for me?

I’ve been tossed around since I was four,
Social workers at my door,
Looking for trouble, nothing more.

I’ve been tossed around since I was five,
I guess I was lucky to be alive.
Not much left to do but survive.

I’ve been tossed around since I was six,
Every day I took my licks,
by chicks, bricks, and sticks.

I’ve been tossed around since I was seven,
From dawn to dusk, it wasn’t heaven,
Hope it’s better when I’m eleven.

I’ve been tossed around since I was eight,
How long do I wait,
Before it’s too late?

I was finally home when I was nine,
As you can see I changed my rhyme.
Toys, books, room, parents, school, all mine.
Now everything is fine.

Read more

Congratulations to Poet Elizabeth Alexander--the Inaugural Poet for Barack Obama!

I am pleased to announce the great news that Elizabeth Alexander--poet, essayist, activist, and good friend--has been chosen to read poetry at the inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama, on January 20, 2009. She will be only the fourth poet to ever read at the inauguration of a US president--she's in good company with Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Miller Williams.

Ms. Alexander will be joining on stage the incomparable Aretha Franklin, civil rights leader Joseph E. Lowery, and classical musicians Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill. I send the most heart-felt congratulations--she is most deserving.

Ms. Alexander is a long-time friend of mine from our Chicago days (she now teaches at Yale University). And she was published by the press I founded in Chicago, Tia Chucha Press. Her book, "Body of Life," is one of our best sellers. To commemorate this distinction, we will re-publish Ms. Alexander's book (they are already sold out). Ms. Alexander was also a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize last year.

2009 is going to be a good year for Tia Chucha Press. For one thing, along with Ms. Alexander's honor, another of our best-selling authors, Patricia Smith, was a nominee for the National Book Award for Poetry. Another nominee for the same prize was one of TCP's former editors, Reginald Gibbons. And 2009 will be our 20th anniversary of creating some of the best cross-cultural poetry anywhere.

We recently published the work of Susan D. Anderson ("Nostalgia for a Trumpet") and Luivette Resto ("Unfinished Portrait"). Ms. Resto's book was the top ten pick of Amazon's Latino books for fall 2008. And she was chosen on the Marcela Landres online book list as one of the best Latino books for 2008.

In April, we will publish the phenomenal poetry of Linda Rodriguez (no relation) of Kansas entitled "Heart's Migration." We will also have a special 20th Anniversary Reading on January 31, Saturday, at our parent center, Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural. Both Susan D. Anderson and Luivette Resto will read along with yours truly.

Look out for other events/parties for Tia Chucha Press, including in Chicago where Tia Chucha Press was born. Our efforts will include ads, press releases, and a number of other promotional ideas. You can order Tia Chucha Press books at or from our distributor, Northwestern University Press at [email protected] or call 1-800-621-2736.
Read more

Re-imagining urban landscapes and cultural spaces

The Woodbury University is a pleasant old-school feeling oasis in Burbank. With brick and stone structures and green landscaped walkways, it reminds me of older well-preserved campuses back East. Trini and I went there last Friday to attend the all-day presentation of four-year architect students. Only this was special--the students were assigned to design real plans and models for Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural. They choose at least four sites in Pacoima and Sylmar and created amazing diagrams and color presentations, with studies of wind, sun, gangs, and other environmental concerns taken into account.

I can't describe the emotions I had entering a foyer with eight large architect plans on the walls. Each plan had two persons involved. They presented to the whole group with a commercial architect, former students, and other architect teachers (and teachers from other disciplines) critiqueing their work. Trini and I were the "clients." We had no critiques so much as observations, in particular to the innovative, imaginative, and thorough jobs the students did. I can't go into all the fascinating ideas the students had. I just have to say if we ever have the funds and place to do something like this, it would probably be a hybrid of all their ideas.

Trini and I were deeply honored and appreciative of all the time, energy and work the students contributed to these plans. I want to especially thank professors Jeanine Centuori and Gustavo Leclerc for making this happen. They met with myself and other Tia Chucha staff, and also brought the students to Tia Chucha's so that I could talk to them. Some of them showed up to an Open Mic and other events (a few remember Tia Chucha's from our old space in Sylmar).

We plan to have a community meeting in January with a similar presentation to the board and community. We have plans to make other presentations, including to policy makers. Engaging the imagination of young people is the key to bringing back our communities to life, with spirit, and enveloped in art. LA, where the arts are concentrated in a few places among a few people (Hollywood, Downtown LA, the Wilshire District, etc). must now look at spreading the arts to all neighborhoods, safeguarding the community flavor, independent bookstores, and cultural spaces wherever they may be.

With so much talent in our universities, colleges, and other institutions, it's time we had real community connections so that these young people had a real impact in how our communities look, feel, and thrive.
Read more

My recent talks and reconnecting with old friends

I had two amazing events last week--one in Albuquerque where I did the morning keynote address to the New Mexico Conference for Boys and Young Men, and the other at the campus of California State University, San Marcos, as part of their Native American/Social Justice Month.

In New Mexico this work involved Native spiritual and traditional rites of passage and ceremonies. Many tribes were represented in the event from the US, but also Chicanos and people from Mexico and Central America (as well as European Americans, African Americans, and others). In attendance was my long-time friend and lifesaver Katrina Coker, a Muscogee Creek Native woman and activist (she helped in my last sobriety effort, which has now taken me to almost 16 years of being clean and sober). Her 15-year-old son also took part in the conference (she has another 3-year-old). It's been a while since I've seen them so I was very pleased this could happen--it's as if we never lost track of each other.

I also hanged around another old friend Albino Garcia, a Chicano (Chichimeca and Lipan Apache tribes) who has helped create La Plazita Institute that now has a cafe and a cultural center. His house has also been a Native sweat lodge and ceremonial center there in the middle of the barrio. I've known Albino for many years, including his son, Albino, Jr., who works at the Native American Cultural Academy (NACA), a charter school for Native children of all tribes that Katrina Coker also works at.

Albino, Sr. was also one of the organizers of the conference. Another organizer, Paul Golding, has taken part in the Men's Conferences I do every year in Mendocino, CA for the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation of Seattle, WA with storyteller Michael Meade, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, and urban healer Orland Bishop.

It turned out to be an amazing time with a panel following my talk of young and older men that included a couple of Chicano and Native youth. I also got to visit NACA, which is doing a wonderful job providing Native cultural traditions and knowledge with modern technology and experience. I also met Keah, a Hawaiian native who works at NACA and has many years of work with gang intervention/prevention work.

The trip to San Marcos, CA (in the San Diego area) had the added blessing of my wife Trini joining me. It's rare and hard for Trini to get away from Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore work. But she needs to more often. I spoke to two classes about social justice, Native spirituality (including the Mayan prophecy linked to 2012), and the struggle now to be whole and fully human as we enter a new age, a new time, a new imagination. I also took part in talks with students and in a very cool poetry reading event that was packed (about 200 people). I got to read my poetry but more interesting was the amazing poetry of the young people who read as well. Poetry is alive and will in San Marcos, CA.

Trini was also being sought for her wisdom and stories--Trini is an old Mechista, Raza Unida pioneer, and long-time revolutionary and indigenous spiritual guide. Many of the women wanted to hear about her experiences as a Chicana leader and teacher, and current heart-and-soul of Tia Chucha's.

I also saw another old friend, one of my teachers from 35 years ago, Ed Carillo, who came to the poetry reading with his wife Blanca. His daughter Sonya just had a baby--congratulations to Sonya, her husband, and to Ed.

On stage, Ed read a poem during the Open Mic section, with maracas and a conga drummer from Brazil. He also related a story about when we first met and how I almost fought with my homeboys because I insisted I would one day write a book about my life and the barrio (I don't remember this incident). It was a funny story. I'm glad Ed is still out there helping war veterans (Ed is a Vietnam vet), the homeless, and others.

The last night, I delivered a talk for the Arts & Lectures series that centered around the present change we're seeing in the country and the world, and how we must choose to live in balance and respect of all life, all people, and the earth/cosmos. We've lived far too long with war, patriarchy, scarcity, and injustice. We now have the technology/imagination to build a foundation of a new world. Our awareness and actions now need to align to these immense possibilities.

This is the heart of the Mayan Prophecy, what most Native prophecies seem to be all about. For the Mayan's the concept is In'Lak-ech--you are the other me.

I thank Tim Bills and the other organizers for pulling this together. Tim was a most gracious host.

Eventually, Trini and I had to leave, but we made many new amazing friends in San Marcos--and we also got to drive to Carlsbad Beach and walk the shore a couple of mornings. I'm now hunkering down to finish writing my new book, due next spring, and catch up on tons of mail, emails, and Tia Chucha's fundraising and outreach.

Meantime, we wish you all a safe and wonderful holiday season.

Read more

Fires strike near my home--again

As many of you know, our community has once again been hit by brush fires in the foothills and canyons just to the northeast of us. The Sayre Fire in Sylmar, not far from where Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural used to be located, began two days ago and has already destroyed 8,000 acres, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, and destroyed more than 500 homes in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park. The local Olive View/UCLA Medical Complex lost power and patients had to be moved as well.

Other fires in Palos Verdes and Orange County south of us also tore into brush and neighborhoods, destroying several homes. No deaths have been reported, although there are some injuries, including of firefighters. Still my prayers go out to all those who lost homes and valuable possessions.

Barely a month ago, the north San Fernando Valley area was hit with two big fires--the Marek Fire that also involved Sylmar, Lake View Terrace (where Tia Chucha's is currently located, although we remain intact), and parts of Pacoima. And the Sesnon Fire in the Porter Ranch area a few miles west of my home community of San Fernando.

These fires were being fed by the Santa Ana winds carrying flames and embers from canyon to canyon, home to home. Police believe most of these fires may have been arson set. They seem to happen as soon as the winds pick up, indicating that some people are keeping track of this so they can get the blazes going. My hats off to all the firefighters, police, and other officials who have bravely tried to save homes and terrain, often with tears in their eyes when their efforts turned moot. They are true heroes.

We didn't have to prepare to evacuate this time, but the air quality was intolerable at times.

On Friday night, I was on the air at KPFK-FM on Divine Forces Radio with Fidel Rodriguez. He announced this will be his last radio broadcast, which he's done for eight years, and for many more years as Seditious Beats. This is the largest and most respected underground Hip Hop show in the LA area. I've been on his show many times, and Divine Forces Radio has always been good to Tia Chucha's and the work we're doing with the arts and community. On Friday, we talked about indigenous prophecies, in particular the Mayan prophecies linked to the year 2012. I know this is of big interest today, but I also know there is much confusion and misinterpretation. I'll be exploring these issues further in my talks and writings, but also in our online Xicano magazine called Xispas ( This won't happen until around next spring since I'm writing a new book and working on a couple of film projects that will take priority (on top of Tia Chucha's work, family, gang intervention work, and more).

I want to find the language and images that will carry the lessons and truths of these prophecies to the greatest number of people possible. Tia Chucha's will also sponsor talks at our space but also around the city called "2012: Coherency Studies" to open up the dialogue.

I'm leaving tomorrow for Albuquerque, New Mexico to speak at a youth mentoring conference, and then after that to California State University, San Marcos for various talks and workshops. Meantime stay in peace, in change, in wholeness.

Read more

Riding on the excitement of the Obama election--but now it's time to work

I’ve just finished talks in three North Carolina cities, which began a day after the election of Barack Obama for President. I have been to North Carolina sporadically since my big visit there in early 2000 when I was part of the largest writer’s residency in the state’s history. The North Carolina Writers Network and the North Carolina Arts Council, in collaboration with countless community organizations, schools, writers, and others, had me drive from one end of the state to the other—from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks—for ten weeks. I drove in snow and through beautiful green fields. I ended up doing 21 events a week—at universities, colleges, schools, churches, migrant camps, prisons, juvenile detention centers, workspaces, and the Cherokee reservation to speak about poetry, culture, and healing community.

I'm not complaining--I loved it. And the NC Writers Network and Arts Council did a heroic job in organizing this (which I was ensured they'd never do again).

The aim was to address the 600 percent rise in the “Latino” population (mostly from Mexico, but also Guatemala, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Peru, and other countries). It was one of the most exciting, rewarding and educational ventures of my life. I spoke to whites, African Americans, and “Latinos” in packed Town Hall meetings, which I’ve also done around the country for a couple of decades.

This time, I went to Winston-Salem to speak at the Salem Academy & College, a girl’s prep school and women’s college, considered the oldest institution for women in the country (although men are allowed in the continuing education program). Started by Moravians, a religious group in the early days of the nation, it was also the first school to accept an African American woman (in the mid-1700s!) and Native Americans (later in the early 1800s). Today it is a very prestigious and academically high rated institution with a 28 percent enrollment of people of color (quite high if compared with other private institutions).

I had two dinners with students, administrators and community members. I met young women from across the country, as well as Nepal and Mexico (from San Luis Potosi and Guerrero). I had a great discussion with one Native woman, Cherokee, who was also a former gang member and drug addict—we shared many stories and healing ideas from the indigenous in our lives. I also addressed honor students, which was an amazing talk about the elections, social change and the hope we can all have in an Obama presidency. The last evening, I addressed a rather large audience, perhaps 200 people, of school and community people to rousing applause. There was a great energy that night that I think was part of the excitement of last Tuesday’s election.

From Winston-Salem, I drove in a rental car to Charlotte, NC where I was to keynote the opening of the 1,200 participant conference of the Coalition of Essential Schools. This organization is the premier group in progressive education in the country, based in Rhode Island. Teachers, administrators and students came from all over the country (I even saw a young man I worked with this summer from LA’s Eagle Rock High School). I was well received as I read a poem, exhorted the group to fight for real change in our schools, for each child and young person to live out their stories, and to have the proper resources and tools so they can infuse the world with their internal gifts. In the end I received a standing ovation, quite an honor, for which I’m truly grateful.

The next morning, Thursday, I drove to the Charlotte Airport to fly into Wilmington, NC. By then the news came out that North Carolina had voted for Obama, a rare thing from a Southern conservative state, but quite significant. Perhaps part of my 2000 residency helped plant some seeds in a state that once had ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke address crowds against immigrants. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do so, but I’d like to think I helped.

Wilmington also has the terrible distinction of being the site of the destruction of one of the country’s leading intellectual and economically developed African American communities in a race riot that killed hundreds of African Americans. The White ex-slavers and power brokers made sure no African American would have a beacon of what could be possible. That was in 1898, one-hundred-and-ten years ago. Yet today the state turned out for Barack Obama. That’s change. Yes, the remnants of those times, of the racism that has permeated this country for centuries, are still here. But the ground for racism has become shallow and will be even shallower as time passes. It won’t go away, but a new conversation about what really matters for most people will turn this on its head. What matters is how we live in a healthy society and environment for all, and how we will meet the basic needs of everyone—regardless of race.

In Wilmington, I spoke to about 15 high-school youth, and a number of community activists, about expression and empowerment in these troubled times. Several of the young people read their own poetry. Amazing work. They were mostly part of Dreams, an arts-based community organization that has taken some of these kids when they were eight and now at age 15 are truly expressive and bold.

I later did a community talk at the University of North Carolina, sponsored by Communities in Schools, to an attentive group of university and community people, including young people and a few from the Spanish-speaking community. Again, we addressed the power of this time to organize, to revolutionize our institutions, and to begin to find the common points that will allow our communities to thrive in the midst of hard financial times and war.

I’m using Obama’s election to expand our ideas about cooperation, organization, imagination and real revolutionary work for today. I’m honored to be part of this army of innovation and imagination that is vital if we are to move forward in this country, and in the world.

By the way, I returned today on a plane with about thirty competitors in the latest “American Idol” national eliminations. They came from the South and the East Coast. A cameraman from the TV series took shots and interviews on the plane. And when we landed at LAX – these competitors were Hollywood bound – they had to do more filming on the plane after everyone else left. I wish them all well.

Read more

Obama: All prophecies point to this time

Emotions have run with me. To see Barack Obama on the stage at Grant Park in Chicago, a city I love after 15 years of being one of her sons, a black man in a mostly white country, with the most challenging historical blocks and barriers arrayed against him, a man who grew up poor, lived in Hawai'i and Indonesia, once spent a homeless night in New York City, with Kenya and Kansas in his blood, to know he would stand there as the newly-elected US president seemed nearly hard to believe, if I hadn't worked hard myself to see this day.

I remember Martin Luther King's crusade and assassination, of the murders of Robert Kennedy, Ruben Salazar, Mark Hampton, George Jackson, Malcolm X, Rudy Lozano, and many others in the 60s and 70s, of personal friends and revolutionaries, gone and beaten, who's bones we stand on today. I've been in struggle for forty years--for civil rights, social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and human rights for all. I saw the legacy of our organizations, plans, marches, defeats and triumphs up on that stage. President-elect Barack Obama's words last night echoed the speeches and poems so many have written before and since then. It goes back more than a hundred years to the end of slavery, to before then when blacks organized with whites and others to end the chains on all men.

Who made this happen? It was young people, who finally believe a dream is possible in this country; it was Black and Brown, who for all the perceived divisions, still face similar numbers in the country's misery index; and it was white people, progressives, yes, but also millions of working class and poor whites who even if they harbored racist thoughts, voted for a new response to a dying economy hitting at all our homes, savings, livelihoods.

This is a moment of a lifetime that, unfortunately, Obama's grandmother and my mother (who both passed on recently) could not see happen. But their spirits, like those of all the ancestors, have paved the way and prepared us for this day.

In Hawai'i last week, I spent time with indigenous elders and teachers from various tribes in the US and other countries--and many powerful youth and activists from all walks of life. I learned how many native prophecies--be they Mohawk, Lakota, Hopi or Samoan--are similar to what the Mayan prophecies for 2012 have long concluded. As we enter the coming time shifts and alignments, change is happening at all levels: galactic, earth, as well as in societies.

It's time for us to come together, to break through the old static ideas and paradigms, to ride a dynamic of change that is sweeping all of us, to look at the world and realize the immense possibilities in it, and to organize with great social energy (and by tapping into the regenerative powers in the earth and in our humanity) to realize these possibilities.

Barack Obama's election is a step, although an extremely powerful one, in this process, meeting all expectations of these prophecies. We cannot sit stil, however. We cannot let this moment pass. Yes, let's celebrate. But now it's also time to go to work. Don't believe for a second the fascists, retrogradists, war mongerers, and detractors aren't organizing now to stop this movement. Reach out, be dignified, has Obama has been, but keep organizing forward. I hope to find avenues through this blog and other outlets to contribute to what we have to do as we enter the end of one era and the beginnings of another.

Today I'm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (I've been in battle states these past few weeks). I'm speaking at the all-women's Salem Academy and College to the school and community. I plan to express and continue the spirit of this historical moment.

Read more

Vote for the country you want and deserve

I left the Hilo area of Hawai’i Island early Saturday morning after an amazing week of prophecies, wisdom, issues, conflicts, relationships. I learned much, and appreciated the space created for me and others to contribute. Global Passageways opened up an important dialogue that I hope to help continue—what is the truth of our time, our age, and how can we move forward as a species to the balance, coherency, peace, and justice this world needs and deserves.

I see this as the beginning of the end of the old class-based, race-driven, patriarchy systems that have reigned over this earth for around 5,000 years. Among the Mayan prophecy linked to 2012, this is the 5200-year period (the fifth age of the last cycle) that will be ended on that date. The galactic and world alignments the Mayans were able to calculate call on us to also align as humanity around the key constants that should keep our race in accord with nature’s regenerative powers and our own.

It’s a time of the rising feminine, the abundance that must now govern our relationships (the end of scarcity systems), and of true respect for all life. We all belong on this earth. Let’s make the most of making sure we can all be here as full and complete as possible for this and future generations.

The most important aspect is that this is a time to create, to make our own way, to find the connecting points between all peoples and nations and establish the peaceful and just world we know is possible.

From Hilo to Honolulu, I ended up at LAX late Saturday. The next day early (I had to be back at LAX at 5:30 AM), I took a plane to Philadelphia and then to Stanton/Wilkes-Barre where I’m slated to speak at King’s College for two days, including a large reading/talk this Monday evening.

I’ve already done a poetry workshop with young writers at King’s College—a small group, we did have a great discussion about life, passions, and going beyond the social bounds. Wilkes-Barre, like many Northeast communities, is terribly affected by the deindustrialization that has hit most of the country since the late 1970s.

One issue for the students, of course, is who should be president, to be decided Tuesday night. I urge all people to vote. I know there are a few who continue to feel there is no difference between Obama or McCain. One good thing about political and economic knowledge, a sense of history, and about the current financial/housing crises is the ability to discern: we are in a qualitatively different election. We have not been here before, and there will be a tremendous difference.

Barack Obama is the most exciting and connected presidential candidate in a generation. Not since Robert Kennedy, in my view. Is Obama the be all and end all? Of course not, but the change Obama is talking about is objective, real, tied to immense possibilities.

Normally, I’d vote Green or for Nader. But as much as their programs and ideas are closer to what I think, a vote for either Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader would be a vote for McCain—we simply cannot have more of what the Bush Administration and the Republicans have done to us the past eight years (and really since Nixon).

Obama is also not the same ole same ole. He’s not going to save our world, but the direction he’s going we need to go. Vote for the change, not the man (although you can’t get to this change unless you vote for the man). Then we need to be as organized as possible to make sure we get the change our country so badly needs and deserves.

As you know, some people at pro-McCain Republican rallies have said “Nobama: Keep the Change.” They are largely scared and want the rest of the country to be scared—which makes for bad politics and bad decisions.

It’s time to go into the new and unknown, only not alone and with some guiding principles.

At Global Passageways, among some wonderful indigenous elders and teachers, as well as some energetic and wise youth, I think we have some of the principles and direction we can hash out for the future we are entering.

I’m convinced this is a time of cooperation, hope, and imagination.

Don’t stand still or on the sidelines. Go this way, toward change, even if stumbling. It’s worse to not do anything.

Read more

The real meaning of Alo'ha

In my last blog post, I said “Alo'ha—greetings from Hawai'i.” Today the word Alo'ha is used by the state’s tourist industry as a greeting: “hello and good by.” The indigenous Hawaiians, however, say it really means “presence in front of” (Alo) and breathing each other’s air ('ha). In other words similar to the Lakota saying O’mitkuye Oasin (we are all related) or the Mayan In-lak’ech (you are the other me). They are words of connection, love for each other’s humanity, the intrinsic laws that says our lives, our destinies, our futures, are bound together.

I’ve learned so much at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat at this conference of indigenous elders, teachers, shamans, students, activist, dreamers, and soul keepers. We are now in our fourth day. Yesterday an intense healing process was initiated after an affront to a Hawaiian family during a presentation the day before (as one of the family members was teaching, chanting, dancing, this person was rudely interrupted to move the agenda along). I can’t write here the deep healing that eventually happened for all of us during this process. But I will say that it proves spirit has its own “agenda.” Many deep moments of remorse and true sorrow eventually occurred despite counters and semi-counters. In the end we observed a compelling Polynesian (Hawaiians are also rooted in Polynesian cultures) forgiveness ceremony from an elder/teacher originally from Samoa and now teaching at the University of Honolulu that everyone respectfully calls Dr. Tusi.

From what I’ve learned, the Polynesian rooted people are similar to the Mexikas (so-called Aztecs), Mayas, and other indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central America, South America, and North America (we are all related). In fact, there are many who say there was interactions between the boat-making Polynesians and various tribes on the continent called “The Americas”—although there really is only one continent, not many, as US historians and officials have had us believe for rather racist and colonial reasons.

I’ve had great opportunities to teach what we know about our traditions, values, rites. For example, I did a presentation on the 2012 Mayan prophecies. Although I felt it wasn’t enough time to truly present a more complex and nuanced presentation, what I did say resonated with all the indigenous people in the room. Even the white academics of “time shifts” and the galactic alignments took what I said with respect—I usually have to add more to the pieces of puzzles they think they have (and I am only a student of these prophecies, not a master).

We also took an amazing ride to the end of a lava flow. I’ve seen this on TV and never imagined I would actually witness one of these. Lava flows have been happening here for millions of years. Most recently, people have lost homes and lives living near these spontaneous and powerful deep earth eruptions. While they don’t explode like one imagines a volcano would do, the lava does follow many miles from a source to the ocean that creates a large sulfur cloud and red-glowing smoke. Many people were there standing on old sulfite lava rocks from past flows (they cool rapidly and over time can be stood on) taking pictures, singing songs, talking, or just taking in the once-in-a-lifetime scene.

Hawai'i has the world’s largest mountain—deep in the ocean like 27,000 feet with another 15,000 feet above the sea—and is constantly churning new lava-blood and land.

The most valuable aspect of this conference so far remains the teachings and sharing from the various cultures represented here—including, to add from my last post, people from Portugal, Brazil, France, South Africa, West Africa, and many mixed heritages (I met a man who has links to the royal family in Hawaii and Scotland’s William Wallace; another has Hawaiian, Japanese, European heritages in his ancestry, and there was also a Hawaiian with a Puerto Rican father).

I hope today proves as fulfilling and actively energized with healing and sharing as yesterday.

Read more

Alo'ha -- greetings from Hawai'i!

O'ahu island emerged from low clouds as the Hawaiian Airlines plane coasted down into Honolulu Airport by mid-day on Sunday, October 26. It took about five and a half hours to fly from LAX to Honolulu, my first time I ever set foot on the islands. Again, this was a dream come true—the lushness of land and scattered rain clouds added to this dream. I only stayed a short time there, hopping on another smaller plane to Hilo on the big island of Hawai'i. An hour later by bus, we were in dense tropical rainforest, sweat coming from every pour.

I arrived to participate in “Generation Vision Quest: Rites of Passage for an Awakening World,” sponsored by Global Passageways. For five days, indigenous elders, teachers, students of shamanistic practices, and many wise and active young and older people came together to interact, share, and teach. Hawaiian indigenous people greeted us the first full day with an elaborate four-hour ceremony—including drinking from Ava, a sacred medicinal plant.

Present at this conference are an Ecuadoran native elder, a Lakota elder, a Mohawk elder, a Nahuatl-speaking Mexika from Mexico, Alaska indigenous, Navajo, New Zealand indigenous practitioners, a Samoan teacher, people from Barrios Unidos of Santa Cruz, CA, young artists and ritualists from all across the US, people from Europe (Germany, Switzerland, and others), and from Africa, African American communities, Cape Verdeans (via Massachusetts), Chicano and Central American communities, Australia, and more.

Besides rituals and ceremonies, we are having some strong and emphatic dialogue. Our goal is to present ancient and multi-generational indigenous traditions and values to a modern world as we enter a worldwide shift in time, ideas, imaginations, and hopes. We are discussing how to make rites of passage organic and meaningful to emerging communities. We are addressing issues of youth in trouble and how this very thing is how community gets forged, full and encompassing, with intentional and proper initiatory experiences. Young people need to find their own stories to live out, to embrace their true natures and spirits. Much of the suffering and neglect of youth today is due to the lack of proper rituals, rites of passage and initiatory experiences with whole communities—elders, adults, and families.

Yesterday, I made a presentation on Rites of Passage with other panelists. Today I spoke about the Raramuri people, the tribe in southern Chihuahua, Mexico that mother’s people originally came from. It was also to commemorate my mother who passed away on October 6. If all goes well, we’ll have a sweat lodge ceremony tonight in her honor.

In other forums, I hope to also address the 2012 Mayan prophecy along with other indigenous prophecies that many of the participants are able to present. The spirit here is strong and beautiful. All races, many cultures, many traditions, are represented. I’ll present more on our proceedings in future blog posts.

Read more