Cihuatlatokan: Indigenous Women Building Community
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Subject: Cihuatlatokan: Indigenous Women Building Community
FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE: WEEK OF JUNE 4, 1999
COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
INDIGENOUS WOMEN BUILDING COMMUNITY
In indigenous societies, women are regarded as the transmitters of culture.
Without an indigenous perspective, noted Sara Mendoza, community organizer
student of ceremonial "danza Azteca," many women of Mexican origin do not
believe they have a right to be in the United States, and they pass this on to
their families. It becomes a legacy of oppression.
She recently helped organize the four-day "Cihuatlatokan in Aztlan"
gathering in a forest in Southern California. Its purpose: "is to build a
newtwork of Indigenous Xicana women and to discuss issues affecting our
an indigenous perspective."
The work of the Cihutlatokan is to create a collective voice on issues
affecting our communities and barrios locally and globally. The women that
works with -- whether with the collective or with elders discovering their
indigenous roots -- "fight for sovereignty, with love of the Creator," she
Native people from North, South and Central America are today no longer
responding to attacks against them defensively. Instead, they are creating a
consciousness within these communities of their connectedness to the land.
"That's the foundation for organizing," Mendoza said. "It builds a spirit of
righteousness." In the indigenous Mexican/Aztec language of Nahuatl, Cihua
woman, Tlatokan means place of dialogue, and Aztlan refers to their northern
At last month's Cihuatlatokan gathering, a group of women, from elders to
teen-agers, explored how to build their communities as strong indigenous
Approximately 70 women gathered from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, and
of course, "Chicanas from Aztlan," said Mendoza. "We broke down borders of
It was also an attempt to understand the process of globalization. "Economic
globalization is a form of control over nature, people and culture," she said.
At the gathering, they agreed, said Mendoza, that Cihuatlatokan will be "a
network/union of free pueblos (peoples), communities and organizations." The
Cihuatlatokan gathering was also a prelude to the third international
of indigenous women in Panama in August. The collective will be sending 7
delegates to attend and represent the cihuatlatokan and present a human
rights report regarding Xicana Indigenous women in Aztlan. "Through the
Cihuatlatokan, we're trying to be human beings again," she said.
Intense political scapegoating this past decade against these communities
has dehumanized and thrown these populations off balance. Only by building
community, by reintroducing them to their original cultures can they heal and
regain their spiritual balance, Mendoza believes.
Despite hundreds of years of cultural colonialism, many of the people from
these communities do indeed yearn for what was once theirs, said Mendoza. This
past year, Mendoza helped bring back the Aztec tradition to one of Los
historic Eastside neighborhoods, the Aliso-Pico housing complex. There,
and children learned the dance tradition of their ancestors, culminating with
community-wide ceremony on December 11 and 12. "The community asked to be
taught the danza," she said, noting that they each created their own Aztec
Mendoza points out that her work "is to listen and to work to give 'palabra'
(voice) to her community. That's the key to community work -- understanding
knowledge is already in people. The objective is simply to bring it out.
"When you bring women together," she continued, "they share their strengths
and begin to heal. The culture of a woman is defined by interconnectedness.
we taught danza to them, you never had a woman dance alone; they brought their
children. We're all interconnected. That's the indigenous view. We reject
individualism. We believe that sovereignty is within every individual and that
our spirits are sovereign."
In explaining the importance and relevance of ancient indigenous ceremonies,
Mendoza related: "In the struggle to bring new life into our communities, we
reflect upon the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors to guide our journey."
All this is done with love, she said. And for her, the highest form of love
is transmitting her knowledge to her 4-year-old daughter Kelatztli. "The
Cihuatlatokan and all the other ceremonies I attend are for all the babies in
our community. We are laying a foundation for them to grow from. We are
redefining what a community is for us, since we have lost much of that basic
"One day my daughter will continue to redefine the Cihuatlatokan for her
generation and as an indigenous woman take a little more of our Aztlan back."
COPYRIGHT 1999 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
This is our prayer and honoring song for the women of Cihuatlatokan. We
encourage readers to support their most important efforts, particularly as
they prepare to travel to Panama. To be part of the collective,
Xicana/Indigenous women are encouraged to contact them at: SMTeenLC@...
Gonzales & Rodriguez can be reached at 505-242-7282 or XColumn@...
Gonzales can be reached directly at 505-248-0092 or PatiGonzaJ@...