The Road to Renewal and Strength

My family and I have finally returned from our travels to Arizona. We drove into San Fernando late on Sunday evening, after a 12-hour drive from the Navajo Reservation.

To recap, we left ten days ago in our minivan to the Arizona/Mexico border, south of Tucson. I talked for around three hours to some 50 wonderful student teachers in Sierra Vista – near the Mexican border – as part of a University of Arizona program to help orient incoming teachers on the culture, values, and interests of Mexican/Chicano and other Latino students. I also read to faculty, administrators, and other students in the afternoon. I thank Cynthia McDermott and her staff or arranging these events – and for the great hospitality.

One concept I brought to their attention was Nemachtilli – the Nahuatl (Aztec/Mexika language) word for “learning.” But more is involved. It’s the unity of the spirit of learning (feminine energy) and the spirit of teaching (masculine energy), which are vital if any learning or teaching is to be going on. The link between these two sides of Nemachtilli is imagination and creativity. One of the results of a totally engaging teaching-and-learning experience is healing – for the psyche and soul from trauma, confusion, and even “cultural” brainwashing.

I brought up the same concept to Tucson Unified School teachers at a conference sponsored by the University of Arizona Raza Studies Department (Augustine Romero, head of the Raza Studies Department, hosted my stay and made sure I had a receptive group to address). Before hitting Tucson, the family first went to Bisbee for a day and evening. I was always intrigued by the town after once participating in the now-defunct Bisbee Poetry Festival many years ago. We stayed at the “officially” haunted Copper Queen Hotel (paranormal experts have cited 13 entities there). We also did the Queen Copper Mine tour, and walks around the artists/writers/hippie community that emerged after the mines closed around 1975.

In Tucson, I spent a day with the teachers – around 80 or so. I did the morning keynote talk and conducted two breakout sessions after lunch. Again, I had a wonderful response, including fantastic Q&A periods. Of course, I talked about new ideas around teaching, around mentoring, around creating community, and making sure all children are actively engaged in learning their whole lives (something that the present educational system fails to do with most students).

From there, the family piled into the minivan and drove the nine hours to Lukachukai, below the Chuskas Mountains on the Navajo rez near the New Mexican border. We came to visit Anthony Lee – the Navajo Road Man and Elder – who adopted my wife Trini many years ago (and consequently the whole family). We’ve been coming for ceremonies here ever since (I first came in 1997; Trini was adopted in 1999).

The whole Lee family (his wife Delores and their six children) have been wonderful toward us. They have become more “family” than my own family (who, of course, I love, although we are not close spiritually or politically). With lots of hard work, time, and energy, we prepared for another all-night prayer meeting. Many of our friends on the rez attended – in particularly John C. Smith and Floyd Begay. Much sacrifice, prayers, songs, and intense inner conflict comes with the ceremony. It’s always hard for me, but I know when it’s over, I need it. I come in broken, stressed, angry, and I come out awakened, pulled together, balanced, and renewed.

With ongoing sweat ceremonies near our home in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and the cultural work centered around Tia Chucha’s Café & Centro Cultural we try to maintain the blessings and protections from the prayer meetings, so many miles away from the rez.

We came home safely – my son Ruben read two Harry Potter books, the latest big ones, and Little Luis read about four of the earlier ones. I came home to 800 emails and tons of regular mail. But I’m back into the blessing / protection way. I’m back to being whole for the often painful conflicts, battles, and work ahead. Tlazhokamati (thank you in Nahuatl) to all who helped along the way.

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