September 24, 2019
Central to the process of decolonization may be reclaiming and reconstructing spirituality, centering knowledge that goes back generations when our ancestors were connected to each other, nature and sacred cosmic forces. This exploration is central to Voices From The Ancestors: Xicanx and Latinx Spiritual Expressions and Healing Practices.
Is there something about this time we are living that makes Voices from the Ancestors an important book?
LM: Currently 20 percent of Latinx are unaffiliated with any religious institution, yet there is an increase in the phrase “I am spiritual but not religious.” For Latinx of the baby boomer generation, this departure from institutional religion, particularly Christianity, began during the civil rights era of the ’60s and ’70s when self-determination became an essential component of our liberation. A return to our Indigenous ancestries and their profound spiritual knowledge has continued among later generations and Latinx scholarship now reflects this within the discourse of spiritual decolonization. Many of the issues faced today by Latinx in the U.S.A., such as the violent treatment of refugees at our borders, the mass shootings of Mexican Americans, the murders of transgendered folks, the destruction of our planet, on-going police brutality, and the obstacles being placed upon ethnic studies programs in our universities, require a spiritual response in addition to political responses. As editors of Voices from the Ancestors, we wanted to offer a collection of spiritual reflections and healing practices that Latinx are doing in order to keep themselves strong and grounded as they face the challenges of these current times. These reflections and practices are grounded in an epistemology that understands the relationship and interdependency between all life forms and they offer pathways to return to this Latinx ancestral heritage.
MG: There are some interesting conversations happening now within academia in the realm of Xicanx/Latinx Studies around identity, cultural appropriation of Indigenous identities to be more specific. Xicanx and Latinx people, people of mixed descent and cultural heritages, have been utilized as the “buffer” between colonial authorities and colonial subjects, between modern state authorities and state subjects deemed a threat to state projects pushing modernizing agendas thereby relegating entire groups of people, if one didn’t fit the image of a “modern” state subject, to the margins of society or zones of death. It has always been expected by the authorities that the mixed heritage subject would identify with state authorities, rather than the subjugated community or communities from which one might be descended. Today, presently, this continues to be the case. We still hear the terms “savages”, “uncivilized”, “barbaric” constantly being used in the media to describe people who don’t fit the image of a “western global subject” in line with neoliberal global policies or agendas. Within the context of the United States the proper Latina or Mexican American subject would be one who identifies predominantly with U.S. state policy both nationally and globally; it could be argued then, that given current U.S. national and global policies, the ideal U.S. Latina or Mexican American subject is therefore one who would betray her own humanity.
This text aims to intervene by first demonstrating through cultural practices that identity when based only on conceptions of bloodline is first and foremost still today a project of the state meant to create political divisions between communities of people. Second, that culture and our cultural practices, no matter who you are, is really what defines anyone as a part of a community or a person, more so than your bloodline.
Thirdly, to demonstrate that the narrative of conquest and colonialism must be continually revisited in order to contest the prevailing narrative that a conquest of the Americas or Turtle Island (an Indigenous name for this continent) was complete, that there is nothing left of our ancestors. While it is true that millions of people were destroyed, and hundreds of lifeways and practices eradicated, “speaking” books and knowledges obliterated in fires, many of them perhaps never to return, much has survived over the last five centuries. Survived, and as all cultural forms do, have been transformed in the hands of womxn over time and space.
If, Laguna Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko is correct in her collected essays Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, then we humans, we as Xicanx/Latinx womxn are not just individual subjects, but as people constitute a part of larger energetic forces operating within the natural world. And what I conclude from her writings, and the wisdom teachings Lara and I were able to bring together in this text, is that the knowledges, which we have retained in our families and communities, those practices that survived and some of which are beginning to thrive, have reemerged into our public spheres over the last fifty years because they have been meant to, because the survival of these practices were in fact mandated and foretold for generations prior to contact.
In decolonizing our spiritual lives, is there room to keep both practices?
LM: Yes, many practices or traditions if desired. Latinx are people of various ethnicities, bloodlines, and complex histories. Religious traditions historically imposed upon us through colonization have survived among our people because in many ways we expressed them on our own terms when religious officials marginalized our communities. I am thinking here of the rich traditions found within Mexican American Catholic popular religion and Santeria, where Indigenous and African spiritualities and values survived under the guise of Christianity. Today, we have Latinx theologians and scripture scholars whose scholarship interprets Christianity through feminist and liberatory lenses. We are pleased that some of them contributed to Voices from the Ancestors. Many Latinx also choose to practice Buddhism in a way that coexists alongside or integrated into other chosen spiritual paths. In my scholarship, I call this nepantla spirituality, which means to be in the middle of rich cultural/spiritual diversity and respectfully choose what nurtures us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
MG: Are you referring to both a decolonial practice and spiritual practice at once? Of course there is. In fact many leading scholars in decolonial studies would argue that you cannot have one without the other, or to put it another way, a decolonial practice gives way for a spiritual practice; an important part of decolonial practice is a transformation of the self and how one self-interprets the world and our role within it, this practice requires constant self-reflection and self-reflection itself can amount to a spiritual practice; self-reflection can lead one to accountability for one’s actions thereby a conscious claiming of one’s own agency and an understanding of prayer or spiritual practice as an intentional and mindful practice as Laura Perez, a contributor to this volume, reminds us.
Furthermore, for those of us who study history, in ancient settings across the world, the modern differentiations between spirituality, science and/or religion among other subjects we have so neatly categorized, did not exist in the way they do today. The goal in a reconsideration of antiquity, or ancient societies, might be then to try to comprehend how these terms or practices coincided one within the other thereby contributing to a more balanced mode of living within the world and in relation to all of life.
The book begins with morning prayers and ends with evening prayers, the rest of our lives in between. How do you see readers using this book?
LM: We hope readers will take in the introductions to each chapter that explains our intent in choosing those aspects of our lives. We also hope that readers will be enriched by the teachings held within the essays reflecting the spiritual perspectives and experiences of our contributors. And we hope that readers will be empowered to learn how specific spiritual practices can be conducted for themselves, their families, and groups they are involved in. This book could be used for personal, familial, and/or collective efforts to decolonize Latinx spirituality. We believe it can be used in college classrooms, community groups, and in homes. It is written in language for the general public and all the writings are “from the heart.”
MG: I don’t necessarily view this book as one which a person will sit and read from front to back. But rather as a text which a person may pick up, turn to a section which pertains to them in that very moment, and find a practice for themselves to serve the moment. Or perhaps the reader will feel inspired after reading a selection to look within their own homes/families to “see” if there is something there, has always been something there, a practice, a prayer, a home ritual, which they can recall for themselves.
I do think it is a text the same person can return to over several years when perhaps one part of the book may become more meaningful to that individual than when they first came across the book. These are the best kinds of books, the ones that become like a good friend you always have something to learn from. This is the kind of relationship I hope readers will develop to this text; a long lasting, well-worn relationship.
In the early life of this book, when you began gathering the practices, essays, and poems, what was the community reaction that made you feel you were heading in the right direction?
LM: The idea was discussed among our professional networks, and we received affirmative responses. When we sent the call out widely the response was exceptional with Latinx across the U.S.A. sending us their contributions. We knew many people desired a text like this.
MG: We received a lot of positive feedback from most of our community. I would say about 95 percent. As someone who enjoys bookstores of all sorts and never having encountered a book such as this by Xicanx/Latinx women, I know this book is arriving at the right time, and I think most of our community feels the same way. We are living during a very interesting and intense moment; a moment which requires a radical shift in consciousness if we are going to survive and thrive as people; as humans. Most of our contributors, if not all, would agree with this statement and one could claim that their submissions to the project are reflective of this understanding.
Do you have a special dream for this book of how it will be used or who it will touch?
LM: We hope that Latinx across generations will benefit from this book. We include blessings for newborns, teachings for our young ones, puberty or first moon rituals, rituals for our dying and deceased, holistic health care practices, moon meditations, songs, poems, and reflections on how spirituality can be expressed through the arts and our sexualities, and more … We have something for almost everyone! We send it out with the best of intentions, and we give thanks to our ancestors who speak through all of us!
MG: My biggest hope for this book is that it transcends or move between and beyond the artificial and real barriers between communities of people and the halls of academia. Lara and I purposefully set out to create a text meant for as a wide of an audience as possible. Both of us are aware of the power of the written word, we know the interventions that scholarly texts can make, do make and have made, within academia and the importance of these texts in wrestling with and shifting discourses. However, both of us as experienced scholars, Lara with more years than I, intentionally chose to write in a prose or language of the heart, of rhythms that reflect our daily struggles, joys and celebrations; in a prose that can set the stage for a different experience in the classroom and at the same time speak to the hearts of our communities: of our mothers, our grandmothers, aunties because they can read and see themselves in these words which would not be possible without the teachings that have been passed over to us generation after generation in our families, our communities.