“HOW DO YOU say ‘all my relations’ in Nahuatl?”
A dear friend of mine, a relative who has followed the path of the Sundance Ceremonial life for more than twenty years, asked me this question not long ago. With only these nine simple words, this dear relative touched so many deeply complex and profound aspects of what a lot of us Mexican/Chicanx practitioners of our Indigenous cultures experience every day here in “el gabacho,” “el Norte,” “gringolandia,” “America,” “the land of the free” (free to develop a whole range of consumeristic addictions, mind you).
Axcan nican tichantih. We now live here. Yes, many of us now live here in Xučyun (Huchiun) Territory, unceded Ohlone Land, also known as the Bay Area, California. We came here uninvited; uninvited guests in this sacred land, we are. Most of us came running away from violence, whether physical, sexual, or economic—or all of the above. For others of us, the horrific wound called “border” crossed our lives, leaving separated families with members on each side of that wound.
Some of us who are Nahua people brought our full Nahuatl language, culture, and cosmovision along, which has given us strength. Others of us, unfortunately, carried only vague memories of a forgotten Nahua ancestry.
All of us, however, came looking for work, for a better life. All of us dedicated ourselves to learning as much as we could. All of us worked hard to survive. Most of us were confronted with dehumanizing work conditions that, in some cases, allowed us to send much-needed funds to our families on the other side of the wound. Long hours, long shifts, long days, over and over again. Exhausted and depleted on the outside, but with peace of mind on the inside, we worked, knowing our work was helping our loved ones survive. This knowledge brought some much-needed comfort to our wounded souls.
Sometimes, however, when we came back home exhausted, painfully craving our mother’s tortillas de comal, hechas a mano, when we were painfully yearning for our pueblos, our old towns, for the beautiful, delicious smell of the soil when it’s raining, one of those days when the only thing we could do was to cry, alone, we were heavily confronted with that very present or long-forgotten ancestry. To different extents, whether we were practitioners of our Nahua culture or thought we had forgotten it, we all felt like orphans. Orphans of our culture, we felt naked and vulnerable while having to face the monster of capitalism, a predatory monster that engulfed our lives, our sanity, our health, our bodies, and ultimately our souls, our spirits, our willpower.
Fortunately, that’s exactly when some of us, lucky enough to have paid attention, lucky enough to have opened our eyes and hearts, found the “All My Relations” philosophy, or Aho Mitakuye Oyasin in Lakota. Or should we say that All Our Relations found us? We were then no longer orphans in front of that monster. We knew pretty well that we were not Lakota, but that didn’t matter because we knew we were their kin. We felt it, we loved it, and we appreciated it.
This kinship saved countless of us from both horrific physical and unbearable spiritual deaths. Without consciously knowing it, we had opened one of the doors to nepantla, the middle, the in-between, and we walked in—this time, though, joyously invited.
This kinship saved countless of us from both horrific physical and unbearable spiritual deaths. Without consciously knowing it, we had opened one of the doors to nepantla, the middle, the in-between, and we walked in—this time, though, joyously invited. We had found a home far from home, one where, if respectful of the Traditions, we would not only be respected in return but, most importantly, taken care of, supported, listened to, attended to. In reciprocity, we offered our hearts, our work, our loyalty. And, when given permission, we offered sacred copalli, Nahuatl healing cantos, and Nahuatl prayers. Some of us, a lucky few, were allowed to offer Cauhpohualli, the Nahuatl Counting of Time and Space. Some of our people started being trusted among our hosts, who then gave us important ceremonial cargos, or responsibilities. “Nepantla characterizes a particular kind of process or activity: one consisting of middling mutuality and balanced reciprocity,” as scholar James Maffie* points out.
And then, after decades of living the Sundance Ceremonial life, some of our Mexican/Chicanx relatives started verbalizing long-held questions, such as, how do you say so-and-so in Nahuatl? Do Nahua communities also do so-and-so? Always eager and hungry to know an equivalent in the Nahua Tradition, they were trying to find “mirrors” of each recently learned or long-practiced ceremonial movement, element, or prayer.