I was at an art show of “Native American” art when an elderly white gentleman asked, who was my tribe? I responded, “I belong to the People of Ollin.” When he gave me that familiar puzzled look, I continued. “My origins go back to the indigenous people of Mesoamerica.” “Just what I thought,” he said, “You’re not Native American.”
This day, I had somewhat prepared myself for this type of conversation. “Yes and no,” I responded.” My people have been travelers of Turtle Island for generations before and after the Spanish invasion and the American holocaust. So, our experience is different and sometimes like the reservation oppression experienced by our North American relatives.” Triggered into a growing feeling of anger and frustration by my own words, I managed to say, “Thank you for asking,” before turning away.
Discovering and owning one’s indigenous cultural ways of thinking and behaving is difficult for us distant great grandchildren of indigenous people. Throughout our lives, many of us grew up bombarded with a host of mixed messages about our cultural origins and history from both our families and the dominant culture.
Given her appearance, healing knowledge, and leadership character, I viewed my grandmother as a strong indigenous woman. Yet, given the lowly view of “Indians” that she had experienced in Mexico, she would deny any mestizo (mixed Indian and Spanish blood) connection. In fact, we were often scolded, “no sean indio apaches!” (don’t be Apache Indians) when we were just being active and running around like kids will do.
I remember my denial of indigenous origins began when I was 10 years old and got chased out of our public swimming pool by three white boys because I was “injun.” I had tried to deflect their taunts saying I was “Mexican-American,” but inside I felt ashamed at denying my unclear native identity.
Finally, years later as a university student organizing one of the first Latino mental health centers in the country, I also became a student of my Chicano-Mexican-Indio ancestry. Becoming a therapist, I was drawn to learn indigenous and Mexican healing practices that corresponded to a popular Mexican wise saying,“cultura cura,” meaning that culture is healing medicine.
While my intellectual appreciation of my indigenous origins had grown, I did not feel native in my spirit until the birth of our second child. The first time I held her in my arms, the proud thought that came to mind was “india princesa,” my little Indian princess. I immediately began to chuckle thinking, “Of course, I’m indio!” Miraculously within moments, I felt as if the DNA memory of all my body cells began recalling that, “Yes, soy indio!” Yes, I am Indian!
Whether it was due to awakened genetic memory, family upbringing, conscious choice, or a combination, I became more deeply indigenous in the way I saw myself, my spirit, and the world. Soon experiences and people came into my life reaffirming or teaching me my indigenous ways of viewing life and spirit, and ways of living respect for family, community, and Mother Earth
My path had become clearer. Core to my life mission is to be a porvida teacher, a person who teaches how to live our indigenous practice of being for life, love, justice, and positive change. While on this path I met, collaborated with, and worked with Native American brothers and sisters of different communities and tribes, yet not feeling a true connection to my tribe until I discovered the People of Ollin.
Through prayer, meditation, and life experience, the realization finally came one day that I belong to the People of Ollin, original travelers of our American continent. In Mesoamerican cultures or in the Nahuatl language, “Ollin” means “movement.”
My tribe is a combination of all people of American mestizo and indigenous ancestry who feel and our committed to knowing and living our indigenous values. Core to our value system is recognition of our interconnectedness to all of life and our purpose to honor the ollin quality of our spirit. We are here to move or evolve the quality of our human nature to become more porvida – for life, love, and evolutionary change.
Most of us native descendants do not know our specific community or tribe of origin because of the mass destruction resulting from the Spanish invasion. Yet, the reality is that our ancestors, generations ago, became travelers of our American continent for adventure, to learn, teach, and/or survive.
In our travels through the generations, many of us have consciously or unconsciously held on to various of our indigenous practices. Now, we have a choice to ignore that occasional spirit pull that says, “remember your origins,” or to decide to connect to our indigenous origins to become more our full person.
I have chosen to recognize my tribe as the People of Ollin. If you ever feel so called, I invite you to open-up to your more expansive self, choose learning about your indigenous self, and consider your relationship to the People of Ollin as guardians of Mother Earth.