August 11, 2023
In Nahuatl yolqui is the idea of a warrior brought back from the dead. For Roberto Cinctli Rodríquez, it described his own experience one night in March 1979 after a brutal beating at the hands of L.A. sheriffs.
In November 2019, we celebrated the publication of his book Yolqui, a Warrior Summoned from the Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence. Today, we re-share a portion of the excerpt in honor of his memory and his tremendous contributions:
In the middle of a cornfield in Huitzilac, Morelos, Mexico, I am given aguamiel, the juice of the maguey plant, to drink. That night, presumably, it prompts a dream.
I am hovering above a sprawled body.
Suddenly, I realize that the body is mine.
My spirit and my consciousness are outside of my body.
But how can this be possible? How can I be here, looking down at my own body?
I observe my bloodied body sprawled on the ground below me. I know it is me because those are my pants, my jacket, my hair.
I am not struggling. I am not moving. I am lifeless. A cold realization sets in, but it doesn’t make sense.
If my spirit and my consciousness are outside of my body, what does this mean?
I know I am not awake. This must be a dream. How else could this be happening?
The only other explanation is that I am no longer alive . . . that I am dead. No. This must be a mistake. There must be another explanation. I’m not going anywhere—I’m not ready to go!
At that, I am startled awake. I am in shock, trying to understand what I just saw.
For the past twenty years I’ve not had any dreams nor nightmares; either I
was not dreaming, or I was unable to remember my dreams. Either way, something changed that day in the cornfield, and that night I finally had a dream that I could remember. I was very disturbed by the dream, knowing full well there was meaning attached to it.
In the dream I’d been conscious of observing myself. It was the night of March 23–24, 1979, in East L.A., the night I was assaulted while photographing the brutal beating of a young man on Whittier Boulevard. Once I understood what I was looking at and where I was, my mind forced me to wake up.
That long-ago night resulted in my being arrested and charged with attempting to kill the four deputies who almost took my life. It took nine months to win that trial and another seven years to win the lawsuit I filed against those same deputies and the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department.
Even as I write this, I realize that something else happened to me all those years ago, beyond the constant harassment and death threats, beyond having to live in fear and operating on survival instincts. Something was taken from me that night in 1979: the trauma to my brain and skull also had a long-term impact on my ability to process my thoughts in the dreamworld. I lost the ability to recall my dreams. A psychologist could probably comment about that; I know our ability to dream is a critical part of what makes us human. Dreams permit us to process our thoughts, our emotions, and our experiences, and dreams are what connect us to that other world. That was taken from me that weekend. Many Indigenous healers whom I am close to believe that our dream state is as important, if not more so, as our awakened state, and most view the inability to dream as unhealthy. I am also conscious as I write this that I am providing a psychological portrait of my mind and my spirit some forty years after that night in 1979 in East Los Angeles.
What was the meaning of the dream I had in Huitzilac? At the time, I was unsure, and that was disconcerting. In subsequent days, I internalized the idea that I had died that night in East L.A. Was that a nightmare, or was it a memory of what had happened to me that weekend? Regardless, I realized I had become a spirit walking outside of my body.
Sometime later, when I was living in San Antonio, Texas, I discussed that disturbing dream with a good friend, Enrique Maestas, who is also an Azteca/Mexica danzante. I told him I remembered having had recurring bouts of fear between 1979 and 1986, fear that I was going to be killed. “The dream is nothing to worry about,” Enrique told me.
All warriors have to die.
Okay. I got that. I now understand that I died on March 23, 1979, and on March 24, 1979, I was resuscitated. But why?
So that as warriors, we can come back and fight again.
Perhaps that was the answer I was looking for, though Enrique’s explanation did not sink in right away.
Roberto Cintli Rodríguez was an associate professor in the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona. He wrote for Truthout’s Public Intellectual Page and was an award-winning journalist, columnist, and author. His first book with the UA Press was Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas.