Maestra Patricia Chicueyi Coatl, Founder of Calpulli Huey Papalotl and organizer of the event
Huchiun (also known as San Francisco Bay Area), the land of the Lisjan/Ohlone people, is a place where millions of us guests have found refuge, a home, a land that protects us and cares for us. Millions of us guests are femmes surviving, trying to find a better life for our families, children, and ourselves. But being in survival mode seldom allows us to gather and sit together, as our abuelitas did around the tlecuil, the kitchen fire, where they would “echar tortillas,” or make handmade tortillas, and cook, talk, share, laugh, and cry.
With the beautifully healing opening prayers of Corrina Gould, the Chair of the Lisjan/Ohlone people, this is one of the few occasions, if not the first, when three femmes from very different backgrounds, guests to this land, have sat together, virtually, to share their experiences, words, backgrounds, and tears—as their abuelitas did—finding so many similarities between them, despite their different backgrounds.
In the following transcript, you’ll read highlights from the gathering, including talks by Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Patricia Chicueyi Coatl, and Pepe Santamaría. Let us femmes continue gathering so that we can share from our hearts!
Photos courtesy of Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Patricia Chicueyi Coatl, and Pepe Santamaría. Collage by Ofrenda Magazine.
Highlights from “We Are the Medicine!”
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of selected portions of the event, which took place on October 30, 2021. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. If you’d like to listen to the entire event, you can find links to contact Patricia Chicueyi Coatl, the event organizer, here and at the end of the article.
Welcome everyone to the session about the feminine power to heal our communities. We’re so happy that you are here this evening with us. ... This is a healing event, an event where we ask you to listen and feel deeply. We are the medicine, and what a powerfully healing medicine we feminine hearts have. However, Western tradition has taught us to distrust that power. It has taught us to belittle our own medicine, and it hasn’t been easy for us to walk the path of reconciliation with our own healing power, which comes from generations and generations of strong, intelligent, and decisive women and femmes. [...]
What is the feminine legacy that we have inherited? Where are we now? Where can we go from here? Today, we will explore these questions. So the voices that you will hear today will share their visions, their hearts, and their healing words.
Corrina Gould, Tribal spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone
Good evening relatives. It’s so good to be here with all of you tonight. And it’s so wonderful. What a beautiful gathering of our hearts tonight. I’m so honored to have Maestra [Patricia Chicueyi Coatl] ask me to come and do an opening prayer for this event. [...]
We all come from our own special places. Our ancestors come from places maybe far, far from here, but as we begin to tie our relationships together, and we begin to live in reciprocity with one another, as we begin as women and femme-identifying people to begin to weave ourselves together on this land, we learned that we have a relationship that is interdependent of one another. And so we’re going to offer to bring in some of those spirits today, and I’m going to say a prayer.
Grandmothers and Grandfathers, Creator, and Ancestors, we thank you for this beautiful day. We thank you for this time in our lives when we are able to gather together with other human beings, to sit and talk and to share our knowledges together, our way for us to open up our hearts, we give great thanks to our Mother Earth, who provides us everything that we need.
We ask, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, for us to work as human beings to stop the destruction of our Mother Earth, to stop the destruction of our Great-grandmother, the ocean, to help us to come back into right relationship with all that is created. We ask our ancestors right now to come into this space with this, to open up our hearts with us, and to sit and to listen, to laugh with us, and to cry with us, to continue to bring us good dreams of strength and resiliency. To remember that we come from those places of strong women who were able to survive, who were able to survive. [...]
We celebrate the sacred femininity, the giver of life.
We ask, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, to continue to bring us our cloud relatives who bring fresh water for the next seven generations and beyond. We ask for that good water to come down and to nourish our plant relatives, our medicines, and our foods, so that they continue to grow for the next seven generations and beyond, so that our Mother Earth’s body is healed. So the nutrients come back into those medicines and those foods we asked for special blessings for our relatives that fly in the sky and those that crawl under the ground and help us in different kinds of ways. We asked for good air for the next generations and beyond. We ask, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, to take care of our elders, our people who hold our medicines, who hold our languages, who hold our ceremonies. [...]
We thank you for this feminine energy that you bring here, that we remember the matriarchs of our lives, the mothers and aunties and grandmas, the sisters and cousins that we create in this lifetime, those that we were born to, and those that come along, that we celebrate the sacred femininity, the giver of life, the wonderful mysteries of all of the work that we have done. We ask that all of this come back into right relation. And we remember our original teachings that we stand on the shoulders of strong ancestors. We thank you for this evening and the work yet to be done. Oh.
A Story of Tongan Traditional Medicine
Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Tongan Pacific Islander/Oceania scholar, storyteller, and community organizer
Editor’s note: Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu opens her talk with stories of humility, vulnerability, and strength. She introduces Oceania, and then describes her research on racialized violence. Where this excerpt begins, she is explaining the focus of her scholarship, which ties racialized violence and the violence against women to the colonial desecration of the Tongan sacred—specifically, the “supplanting of indigenous cosmologies with the colonial institution of heteropatriarchy.” She follows with a story of healing through Tongan traditional medicine, which was marginalized and criminalized at the time it took place.
So relatives… [this story] is actually about my beloved grandfather, Siaosi. He is a man that I respect so much. He was a Western trained doctor, an M.D., and he was also a well-respected Methodist preacher. And at this time in Tongan history—this is in the seventies, when I was born—my grandfather, who was a revered doctor, was celebrated throughout Tonga. He’s in fact, the doctor who brings me to this world, and he brings so many children into the world, especially during the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties.
And at the same time, I also tell the story about my grandmother, my beloved grandmother, Vaimoana. Because at this time, too, she’s practicing medicine; she’s practicing a Tongan traditional medicine, and yet in Tongan history, her work—like the work of many other Tongan women healers—is often not celebrated, and in fact, her healing work is often criminalized. The Othering and criminalization of Vaimoana’s healing work are changes that are brought by Western religions and imperialisms, and they are all a part of the colonial goals of desecrating the Tongan sacred. Thus, in response to all these changes, and the resistance to her work, Vaimoana is forced to go underground because the knowledges and the work that she does are marginalized. It’s often erased even within our own family history.
Editor’s note: Here, Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu reverently and poetically introduces the story about her grandmother, Vaimoana, who receives a visit from an elderly man suffering from blindness. The man arrives at the grandmother’s home, accompanied by his daughters and grandsons. They arrive from a great distance after petitioning the Moana, the Great Mother Ocean, to heal their collective pain.
You see, relatives, the elder man carrying the suffering body was a distant relative. He was once a renowned fisherman known throughout the Tongan islands, but he lost his vision many decades earlier in a ghastly accident during a tumultuous storm that took place in the deep ocean, the Moana. The accident not only took the fisherman’s sight, but abruptly took the lives of two other men who were like brothers to him. The insufferable losses that took place drastically altered the fisherman’s relationship with the Moana. The fisherman began to fear and loathe the Moana. And for the first time in his life, he became afraid of his vulnerability and his smallness. He suddenly became afraid of the large body of salt water that had encircled him, and he angrily denounced and severed his relationship with her because of the sufferings and losses that she represented in his life.
The fisherman also changed his livelihood, and he attempted to become a farmer and to make a living by working on the land. He raised animals, such as pigs, and planted root crops, but these goals never came to fruition. In fact, his family claimed that he failed at being a farmer. The Moana was his first and perhaps greatest love. And the loss of his eyesight was a daily reminder and metaphor of his suffering and of his severed relationship with her. In addition, his suffering was not a burden that he carried alone. It haunted his daughters, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and everyone on the island.
Editor’s note: Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu shares that in a series of dreams, the fisherman’s ancestors instructed him to go on a pilgrimage to visit his relative, Vaimoana, the healer, and to ask her to please share her medicine, repair his relationship with the ocean, and heal his vision. At first, the fisherman resisted; he did not want to face his pain and greatest fear. But hearing the prayers and cries of his children and grandchildren persuaded him to seek the healer’s help. The story continues that his party arrived at Vaimoana’s (the healer’s) house. They had a large meal, exchanged gifts, and then, after the meal, went behind the house to take part in a Ceremony, and to share in the exchanges of Tongan traditional medicine.
Vaimoana earnestly looked into her blind relative’s eyes to assess the problem. And then she slowly bent to the ground and pinched bits of earth into her forefingers. And with the spit from her mouth, she kneaded a small ball while she recited a chant, a long prayer, taught to her by her ancestors in a language that was unknown and not allowed within the boundaries of the Christian Sunday school, or even within the boundaries of her home.
Our Moana is the heartbeat, the steady rhythm. She’s always here. She grounds, nourishes, and heals their Tonganness.
And after some time, as the prayer came to a closing, the grandmother carefully placed small amounts of meticulously measured earth mixed with warm spit on the man’s eyelids. And then after some time, when she was ready, she used her forefingers to wipe the medicine from his eyelids. Then she slowly moved his eyelids open, allowing him to bear witness to the luminous and bright world around him. And for the first time in decades, he was able to witness the benevolent and crying faces of relatives that surrounded him.
As the story is told, relatives, the fisherman looked at my grandmother and everyone around him and wept large tears of joy. And when the tears fell into his mouth, and into the flesh of his tongue, he tasted the Moana, the saltwater, intimate in its taste. And once again, his memory awoke, and started to tenderly unfold.
And he began to remember. His heart began to open, and he breathed in the memory that he never forgot. He fell in love once again with the Moana, the facilitator of his healing, the Great Mother. And, of course, he thanked the Great Mother, our beloved Pacific Ocean, the progenitor of their shared relationship that connected him to the webs of lifelines that sustained him and his ancestors. The Moana’s love is without end or beginning. Oh, it was abundant! It cannot be mapped by Western cartographers or contained by the fear of Christian male missionaries and their language of progress. Our Moana is the heartbeat, the steady rhythm. She’s always here. She grounds, nourishes, and heals their Tonganness.
Coatlicue, The Mother
Maestra Patricia Chicueyi Coatl, Founder of Calpulli Huey Papalotl
Editor’s note: Maestra Patricia Chicueyi Coatl opens her talk by welcoming in the grandmothers, imagining that the grandmothers of each of the participants and speakers would certainly understand each others’ stories, despite coming from different parts of the world. She then transitions to a talk about several powerful women and femme leaders in Mexica stories and cosmology, pointing out how the stories and imagery were misinterpreted by European colonizers. She explains that the women and femmes in Mesoamerican thought, culture, and cosmology were much stronger than today’s popular stories would lead us to believe. They were leaders, not followers. Where this excerpt begins, she is explaining the true nature of Coatlicue, one representation of Mother Earth.
Coatlicue is a mother. This is a representation of how we Mexica people see our Mother Earth. From the European perspective, they call her the monster. Well, I would say to the Europeans, “No, no, no. My mom isn’t a monster. My mom is beautiful.” Don’t you see this beauty? This is a beauty.
See, why does she have a skirt of snakes? If you have ever taken an airplane [from California to the East Coast], and if you look down, you’re going to see, for instance, the Mississippi. The first time I saw the Mississippi River, I was like, “Wow. Now I understand why Mexica people call them snakes.” It looks like a snake, right? So any of you may notice that those are really their rivers. Those are the rivers.
And we might ask ourselves, well, how did the Mexica people know? There were no airplanes at that time, there were no satellites at that time. How did they know? Because they had a connection with Tonanzin, with her Mother Earth. That’s why they created this representation. She’s wearing her skirt of snakes, which are the rivers.
And she has two pairs of hands. And it’s not because she’s a monster. It's because when we are born, she catches us. [If you are a midwife], you need to catch the baby with your hands, right? [...] That’s why Coatlicue has two pairs of hands. Because with one pair of hands, she catches the baby when the baby is born. Like all midwives, she uses her hands.
And then the other pair of hands is for when we transition. Tonanzin or Coatlicue takes us when we are ready to transition. She is a mother; she carries us. She takes us with her. So that’s why she needs two pairs of hands.
Life and death, they’re always together. We’re always connected with our dead, always. And for us Mexica people, we honor our dead; we honor our loved ones. If we don’t honor the dead, we won’t be able to honor life. We won’t be able to honor ourselves and those who are here with us…
No, Coalicue’s not a monster. Definitely not. She’s a beauty!
Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl: One Earth
Pepe Santamaría, Xicanx poet and artist
Editor’s note: Where this excerpt begins, Pepe Santamaría is introducing their talk on the idea of gender expansiveness and the sacredness of our queer kin. The talk includes both a discussion of ideas and a reading of poetry.
I took liberties with our title [about the feminine power to heal our communities]. I want to emphasize queers being the medicine and all of the contributions that our queer kin have made. I’d like us to really think about how we can embrace our gender-expansive nature. I think it’s very natural for all of us. And if we take a look at a lot of the cultures around the world, we realize that the binary that has been presented to us, that we’ve been indoctrinated with, really doesn’t make sense. And it hasn’t been here for very long. So I’ve prepared this talk so that we can have the opportunity to reflect on the question, “How can we embody our own gender expansiveness?” [...]
What I noticed with this gender binary is that there’s a polarization. And it really doesn’t make any sense. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the colonial mentality of the gender binary lacks logic. It doesn’t stand up to par. A lot of the indigenous knowledges, wisdoms, and ways of looking at the world—of making sense of and understanding the logic of the world—are really derived from observing. From generations and generations of observations of the natural world. And the spiritual world, which is embodied through the natural world.
True nature, if we look at it, encompasses and embraces divine dualities and multiplicities. Nature doesn’t have these polarities that are mutually exclusive. We can look at animals. We can look at insects. We can look at so many different elements in nature that embody masculinity and femininity—and even embody a multiplicity of expansive energy that really isn’t just tied down to one thing or the other.
One thing that came up for me when I was reflecting on this topic earlier this week is that the earth is a divine and really powerful, massive energy that I love connecting with—as I’m sure many of you here also love connecting with.
And the presence of these two together made me think: It’s the same earth. It’s the same earth.
And I was thinking about the story of el Popocatépetl and la Iztaccíhuatl, the mountains and the mythology. I feel like almost every Chicanx person has seen this image of the warrior man and his warrior princess who looks like she’s dead or all passed out and dainty, just laid across his arms, right?
In the distance, on those images, you’ll usually see where this mythology comes from: you’ll see the mountain, the “Sleeping Beauty,” la Iztaccíhuatl, and you’ll see the volcano, el Popocatépetl.
When I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Mexico city, I had a really good view, and I noticed that la Iztaccíhuatl is often covered in snow—a very cold energy. And she’s a volcanic mountain. You can even see her little feet at the end, all delicately covered with the snow cap.
And then there’s el Popocatépetl. My family is from a nearby area, and they were telling me stories of being really scared: sometimes he’s rumbling, and he’s smoking, and he looks like he’s about to explode with lava. And people are like, “Dang, are we gonna survive this?” You know, it’s a very humbling thing to notice the power of nature around you.
And the presence of these two together made me think: It’s the same earth. It’s the same earth. Both of these energies are of the same earth—this strong, masculine, volcanic, active energy that can really lay to rest a lot of the things we hold dear and our short little lives, and then this sleeping woman. And, of course, the story of love that unites them. There’s really not a mutually exclusive polarity happening between these two energies. They come from the same earth energy. That metaphor might help us ground this work. [...]
Get a video of this event and support the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust!
We’ve published only a very short excerpt of this powerful, healing talk. There is so much more to learn and share. If you would like to receive a full-length video of “We Are the Medicine,” email Patricia Chicueyi Coatl. She is sharing the video for 30 days as a gift to those who donate $50 or more to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust—an Indigenous-women-led land back organization.
Patricia Chicueyi Coatl was born in Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the original name of Mexico City, and comes from a lineage of Nahua temazcaleros, pulqueros, growers, and protectors of huauhtli (amaranth), tlaolli (corn), etl (beans), metl (agaves). She is the founder and leader of Calpulli Huey Papalotl, a danza Mexica cultural circle in Huchiun, Berkeley, California. She is also the founder of Calmecac Tlalocan, a Nahuatl higher education institution with the purpose to share, cultivate, and nurture the knowledge of the Nahuatl ancestors. She teaches year-round at Calmecac Tlalocan and has been invited to teach at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, California College of the Arts, City College of San Francisco, as well as several Native circles and other institutions in the U.S. and México City.
Dr. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Ph.D., is a Tongan/Pacific Islander/Oceanian scholar, storyteller and community organizer. Her research and community work center issues of climate and environmental justice, ending violence against women, prison abolition and restorative justice, as well as building radical solidarities with California American Indian tribes to protect Indigenous Sacred Sites in the Pacific/Oceania and here in California. She is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow and Facilitator of the Oceania Research Working Group in the Department of Native American Studies at University of California, Davis.
Pepe Santamaría is a genderfluid, queer Xicanx creating art and poetry to document and uplift queer and system-impacted communities. They enjoy designing and facilitating collective spaces for people to tap into their creative powers for liberation and healing.
Corrina Gould (Lisjan Ohlone) is the tribal spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. Born and raised in her ancestral homeland, the Ohlone territory of Huchiun, she is the mother of three and grandmother of four. Gould has worked on preserving and protecting the ancient burial sites of her ancestors throughout the Bay Area for decades. As a tribal leader, she has continued to fight for the protection of the Shellmounds, uphold her nation’s inherent right to sovereignty, and stand in solidarity with Indigenous relatives to protect sacred waters, mountains, and lands all over the world.
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.