Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Gris Muñoz: I’m very honored to be able to spend an afternoon listening and sharing with Maestra CC. She’s an incredible [Ofrenda Magazine] contributor and lifelong medicine person here from the Southwest.
My name is Gris Muñoz. I’m a poet, writer, and curandera who practices here on the border. I just wanted to let you all know how extremely honored I am to be sitting here.
I wrote a collection called Coatlicue Girl. It took me about thirteen years to write, and it has been doing well. In the foreword, Luis Alberto Urrea, another abuelo, who doesn’t like to talk about how he’s an abuelo curandero, called me “the rock and roll curandera.” And it came to my attention that there was actually already a “rock and roll curandera,” and I got to know about Abuela CC and felt absolutely—a little embarrassed and humbled, but also connected because I saw that this abuela was also Apache, and we shared that Chicana-Apache lineage. I started following her and really resonating and seeing a lot of my own path in her incredibly wise posts and in her contributions to Ofrenda Magazine. She’s just been such an addition to Ofrenda, y la queremos mucho. So that is my short and very long intro with the Abuela CC.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: Well, tlazocamati, Gris, for that introduction. Yo soy Cuauhtli Cihuatl y Itsa Izdan. That is my traditional name. I do have a Christian name that I no longer use. It’s been many, many years. Many people can’t pronounce my whole traditional name, so I go by CC. I am Lipan Apache on my paternal side, from south Texas. I was born and raised in San Benito, Tejas. But I crossed the border a lot with my abuelita and my mom. I am very grateful for being raised by my grandmother, my Abuelita Casimira Rocha Sánchez, and that’s where I learned all my ceremonial and traditional teachings. They were from her, from very chiquita (since I was little). She passed away when I was fourteen.
But my siblings and I would cross the border. I mean, there was, there really wasn’t a border at that time. I remember we’d go back and forth to Tampico and then back home to San Benito. I picked cotton desde chiquita. We were migrants, hard workers. My mom was the only one of four siblings who came to the United States—[undocumented] at that time. But then again, there were really no restrictions during that time when she crossed over, like there are now. And she worked hard. She has worked hard. She worked for almost sixty years as a waitress, a nanny, and gave us a better life.
I moved to New Mexico many, many years ago. I fell in love with a soldier, and we moved to Belen, New Mexico, and raised our children. We divorced, and I stayed. And I really felt like New Mexico opened up my heart and my soul around finding myself as a Chicana Indigenous woman. Even though I lived between two borders in Tejas, I felt like New Mexico just opened this wealth of knowledge. My biological mom always says there’s something about the Land of Enchantment that just brings that out in you.
And so I stayed. I raised my children and went to school at UNM and NMSU and got all these fancy-wancy degrees [a J.D., M.S.W, and Ph.D.]. But still, I always returned back to the medicina. Always the medicina. Somehow weaving that, like a rebozo, into my regular jobs. I have been very blessed to have had job opportunities where I could share the medicina with clients, with organizations, and in the community. I have never really separated that. It’s always been a balance of bringing both worlds together.
Ofrenda Magazine has a big part of my heart. I’ve been asked many times [in the past] to share my thoughts or my words, my writings. But it just never felt right. And there was just something about Ofrenda Magazine, opening it up to Chicanas, Latinas, gente. So the very first time I reached out, I was a little apprehensive, like, is this good enough, you know? Will they take it? And they did. And I was like, oh my God, you know, I’m going to get my stuff printed!
I’ve had a lot of opportunities along my path to have my work published, but it’s just never really worked out. If my corazón doesn’t feel it, then I just move on. Ofrenda gave me that opportunity, that platform, to be able to speak from my heart and share the wisdom from my abuelitos and abuelitas and my ancestors, and so I’m very grateful for what Marcy’s doing with that magazine. It’s given us a voice. It’s given us a voice.
So that’s a little bit about me there. I mean, my story is very eclectic. Those who follow me [on social media] know that I am a bisexual queer woman in my sixties. And I was in the military at one point, as a drill sergeant. I have a huge family. My co-parenting person and I have six sons together. And now I have my life partner, who is a transgender man. So my life is a little “historia,” you know? But I feel like we all transform and transmute as we evolve from our past. The hijita that was fourteen, you know, being raised by her grandmother and her amá, has evolved into a more firme (strong), confident woman. I speak my truth, y me vale. Me vale (I couldn’t care less about) what people think, because if we don’t speak our truth, we are not being authentic to ourselves or this path.
The Medicine Path
Gris Muñoz: You mentioned that you came across the medicine path through your abuela. Can you tell us a little bit about that and maybe about the medicine path itself? It can be full of signs everywhere, and it’s kind of like you have to be very aware of doors that are opening and closing.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: Well, my mom’s mom was very Indigenous in her ways. She would rise with the sun, and she would be grateful to the moon. There was always a cycle of rituals and ceremonies, but it was just everyday things, you know? It wasn’t called ceremony; it wasn’t called ritual. It was just la vida, the way it is.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: So, from very chiquita, I learned to honor las plantitas, and honor the moon, and honor water, and fire, and earth, and wind, and all that. But it wasn’t a trendy thing or “vamos a hacer una ceremonia today” (let’s do a ceremony today). It was just the way it is. And, you know, we would be outside with las plantitas. She loved roses, so we always had roses, and she would talk to me about her rosas, and she would tell me what they were good for—but it was just part of life.
It was like regular school, right? You know, you went to school, you learned history and English. And then at home, this is what we would be learning. Anytime somebody was sick—one of my siblings would be sick or myself or somebody—she would get out her pomadas or her liniments or whatever. So I would learn how to do that. And my sisters also learned, but they didn’t really continue with it. You know, it just seemed that I felt it more. It was connected to me. I’m not sure why. But that’s just the way it was.
I think the most meaningful time was when I had a dog named Samantha. She got sick, and my abuelita was telling me, “tú vas a curar a su perrita” (you’re going to heal your puppy). You know how to do it. And so, I would just lay my hands on her, on the perrita, and do sobadas and all this stuff. And the perrita got better. My abuelita was like, “You have the don. Tienes las manos para curar.” (You have the gift. You have healing hands.) So with that support, it just kept evolving and evolving.
Then when she died, I was pretty traumatized by her death. She had been the life force for the elements, and for nature, and for how to walk sacredly. I don’t think even my siblings and my biological mom knew how much my grandmother meant to me. And so between fourteen and seventeen, I kind of had a wild side and lost a little bit of track of the medicine. I found myself at that young age, just questioning where I was at. I didn’t fit in with the regular teenagers, the regular high school people, or at that point it was junior high. I was quite a loner in my own world around plants and crystals and stones and all that kind of stuff.
I joined the military because I felt it was my way out of the barrio. We lived in a barrio, and there was a lot of poverty, even though at that point, I didn’t realize how poor we were. I joined the military for that, but at the same time I joined the military because it was another form of ceremony, another form of ritual. You know, no matter what the political thing is out there about the military for people, for me, it was that we rose up in the morning to be in formation; we were up with the sun, and then at the end of the day, it was the moon that was taking us to bed.
Gris Muñoz: Oh, I’ve never heard anyone make this connection with ceremony and the military, so I’m just amazed here, listening to you.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: Well, that’s the connection that I felt for me. And then there was a lot of marching in the woods, in the forest, in the bosques. And for me, connection with nature. You know, I was young, I was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. I could march for hours. Miles and miles of just being in the forest. I was a runner, and I always felt so connected to the forest—all the flowers and the trees and the bushes and that connection. So for me, even though it was military, there was a little bit of connection with nature, you know? My basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It was covered in forest. So I just loved it.
I really excelled in the military, and I think it was because I had this internal schedule of rising, and then giving gratitude in the evening, and being in nature. Of course, there were all the details with the military and things like that. But even now I think about—and I know this is gonna sound a little out there—but even the lesson of breaking down and putting together a rifle. The whole routine of what is next, what is next, what is next? Breaking it down, putting it together. And, to me, there was a ritualistic kind of process with it. I know it sounds far out there.
Gris Muñoz: You are blowing my mind.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: It was just the whole mechanical, put it together, this thing, take that apart, you know? So yeah, even something simple, like as shining your boots—there’s a meditative state when shining your boots and making sure that the top of the boot is all nice and shiny, and you can see your reflection, and then spending hours going round, and round, and round, trying to get the thing shining. It’s meditative.
I’m very grateful for my time in the military. It gave me structure, ritual, and ceremony. Pero through time, people would figure out that I had some type of medicine, and they would ask me, “Sarge, do you know how to do a limpia? My hijito, I think he’s got ojo.” [Mal de ojo is negative energy thought to be caused by other people’s envy.]
Of course, in the military, you couldn’t talk about that stuff. And I would tell them, “Ah, I can’t talk to you about it right now, but maybe we can meet after, and I’ll check on your hijito.” It was the Puertorriqueños, the Hispanos, Latinos who would reach out because it was kind of—I don’t know—they had a sense, I guess. And so they would seek me out, and I would do that on the sly, and I started to do that a little bit.
I ended up leaving the military after a really traumatic thing happened in Germany. It changed my world quite a bit.
Then I got married, had my children. I went to school, and, still, in the community that we were part of in Belen, New Mexico, people would come and ask me for help. I mean, people just showed up at the door: “I hear that you can do sobadas. I hear that you can do a limpia.” I never advertised. I never told people. People just seemed to find me.
UNM Curanderismo Program
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: In 1989, I met Elena Avila [revered curandera and author of Woman Who Glows in the Dark]. She was doing a blessing at UNM. At that time, it was called Hispanic Student Services; now it’s el Centro de la Raza. We just gravitated toward one another. She looked at me and said, “Ah, tú sabes la medicina” (you know the medicine). And so we connected.
For about sixteen years, we were in each other’s lives on and off as maestras with students and as friends. She taught me a lot, you know, basically the stuff that I had learned from my abuelita, but it became more profound or deeper. I was very blessed by her guidance and her truth. And her regaños (corrections), too.
Gris Muñoz: Yes, she was taught by Tata Andres [Segura], right? And he was tough, from what I hear.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: Yeah. And another maestro from Mexico. He went by Ehekateotl. He just passed away a couple of years ago. [...] And yes, Maestro Andres was very tough, but she was very tough too. But it was a good tough, the kind that helped you to be on your path and not to get sidetracked from that. Because we tend to get sidetracked. But I did learn, and I was able to incorporate her teachings, and my abuelita’s teachings.
Then I met Maestro Laurencio [Nuñez] from Oaxaca. He has been one of the most incredible maestros of my entire life. Because, at that time, I really didn’t talk about being queer, bisexual. You know, it was all secrets. Maestro Laurencio was the one who said, “tienes que hablar tu verdad.” If you’re going to walk this path, you have to speak your truth. And so with him, I was able to unravel all those secrets and all those lies I told to hide who I was.
I met him in 2000, I believe, and we’ve been really close since then. He’s taught me a lot. I learned how to be a temazcalera from him. He helped me build the temazcal (sweat lodge) that I had at one point, and I had it for like almost fourteen years.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: So I [learned from] my abuelita, and then there were a few other brujas that I kind of grew up with—the neighborhood brujas. Doña Emma, and Doña Lola, and I think her name was Begonia. They were the neighborhood brujas that I would sometimes go and bug, and they would teach me something. And then, of course, Elena Avila and Maestro Laurencio have had a big impact on my life. And, of course, my compadre, [Dr. Eliseo] Cheo Torres [VP of Student Affairs at the University of New Mexico]. I’ve known him since I was like eighteen.
Gris Muñoz: Oh, wow.
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: He is a very gentle, kind man—very supportive. He uplifts so many people.
I met him in Tejas, right before I joined the military. He had found some scholarships for me to go to school, and I rebelled, and I didn’t take the scholarships. And then I joined the military. I lost touch with him, but we found each other when he came to New Mexico in 1995, I believe. He’s the padrino to my boys. And so we have this really amazing familia-comadre-compadre relationship, you know?
Cuauhtli Cihuatl: So that curanderismo class that started at UNM was him, me, Elena Avila, Sandrea Gonzalez, and Lola Robledo. Those are the five of us who sat around and discussed how to do this. The curanderismo classes—what [the program] is now is not what it was back then. The vision was very different.
The five of us processed and brainstormed and all that. And it became this beautiful exchange of medicinas between the eagle and the condor, basically from the curanderos of Mexico and the curanderos of the Southwest. In the beginning, there was no funding. It’s not what it is now. Cheo paid a lot out of his pocket. And so did the rest of us.
At that point, my husband and I would rent vans and go all the way down from Albuquerque to the border at Santa Teresa. And we would pick up the curanderos who would be riding in a bus for thirty-six hours from Cuernavaca. We would pick them up in those vans and have trailers full of their suitcases. And then we would house them within the community. There were no hotels or anything; it was all within the family. We did that for a long time. We would feed them, and house them, and all that. And it was beautiful.
Then I got sick about 2010, the middle part. 2011. I backed away from the curanderismo program. I got sick with my second bout of cancer. I had to take some time off, and other people came in and kind of took the lead of the class. And it is what it is now. But my toes and my fingertips have always been in the medicina, in one form or another—whether it’s housing people, or feeding people, or offering limpias, or just sitting and talking with them, it’s always been there. It’s just part of my path, you know?
Gris Muñoz: Absolutely, abuela. And, you know, it’s a commitment.
Continue reading Part 3 of “Maestra Cuauhtli Cihuatl: A Plática and Medicine Story,” or begin at Part 1.
CUAUHTLI CIHUATL, known as Maestra CC, is an Indigenous elder and founder of Kalpulli Teocalli Ollin in New Mexico. She is a Mexhika Huesteca, Raramuri, and Lipan Apache ceremonialist. She holds a J.D., a Ph.D. in public health and community education, and a master’s degree in social work. Now retired, she spends her energy on her Jardin Patzin. Her mission is to share her Abuelita's traditions, for “la medicina es para todos.”
Photo Credit: D'Santi Nava
Editor's note: We are saddened to share that our beloved contributor Maestra CC transitioned on December 14, 2021. We are forever grateful for the medicina she shared in Ofrenda Magazine.
Gris Muñoz is a frontera poet and storyteller. She is the author of the bilingual poetry and short-story collection, Coatlicue Girl, most recently named a finalist for the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry by the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has been published by The Rumpus, Bitch Media, Tasteful Rude, and The Smithsonian Latino Center, among others. She is also the co-founder of the digital map and storytelling project, GeoTestimonios Transfronterizxs, which aims to record the experiences of women living on the El Paso/Juarez border. She is Xicana of Apache descent.
Ofrenda Magazine™ explores Xicanx and Latinx spiritualities, earth-centered wisdom traditions, and healing arts. Our mission is to inspire holistic wellness, ancestral connection, social and ecological justice, and spiritual creativity.