When the Europeans reached the Americas in 1492, different cultures met and ways of living changed forever. Even though many things were adopted such as the Catholic religion, other things were also lost. Many indigenous traditions coming from the Aztec and Mayan empires as well as from other indigenous tribes disappeared and from all of this, a nation of mestizos (of Spanish and indigenous blood) was created in Mexico.
Even after years and years of change, we continue to be connected to our indigenous ancestors in many ways and without even knowing continue to practice activities that reach back to these ancestral times. These activities and traditions connect us back to our ancestors and remind us that these indigenous culture are not really gone at all.
Women of all ages share their story of how they keep in touch with these indigenous cultures and stay connected to their roots everyday.
Kayla Angela Alamilla,age, remembers and stays connected to her Mayan ancestors through the Day of the Dead celebration. She explains that in Yucatan the Mayans called the Day of the Dead “Hanal Pixan” and her family goes every year to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to celebrate this day with other Latin Americans, and at home, various preparations also take place.
” At home, we make sure our house is clean the day before. The reason for this is because we want the ghost of our ancestors to feel welcome. We tie red ribbons on the children, so our ancestors won’t accidentally take them when they leave. We also set their favorite foods on the table, which often includes traditional Mayan cuisine, like chimole, tamales, tortillas, arroz con frijoles, and spicy hot chocolate, next to beautiful altars dedicated to them. ” said, Kayla.
Day of the Dead or as Kayla calls it Hanal Pixan, is a holiday celebrated by many here in the United States who have Latin American roots. These traditions are passed from generation to generation so they can never be forgotten. Day of the Dead is dedicated to honor those who are no longer with us and in Kayla’s family they honorher mother’s brother, her great-grandmother who taught them these traditions and her pet bird Kiwi who have passed away. This is how she stays connected to them and her roots.
Gabriela Prieto has found other ways to stay connected to her indigenous roots. For her, being involved in the Danza Azteca, medicine ceremonies, and other spiritual and celestial ceremonies, is a way to stay connection to past generations.” The feeling that I get out of being a part of ceremony and other cultural practices, is a sense of profound self-understanding, humility, and an always growing devotion to my community,” said Gabriela. “I get a feeling of being deeply connected to generations that passed before me and generations that will come.”
Her own community is who taught her to stay connected to her roots and everyday she carries out activities that bring her back to these as well.
“My community taught me how to conduct myself in ceremony, but I taught myself how to pray and keep daily mindfulness of the profound lessons I have been given over the years. If it weren’t for the Indigenous community, I wouldn’t be who I am today and I doubt that I would be as confident in my individuality,” said Gabriela.
I think it is important to stay connected to our indigenous roots as Latin@s/Xican@s because the Indigenous being is half of who we are as Mestizos. “I think it is time we celebrate our Native American roots and honor the history of the ancestors who laid claim to the Americas long before any other human being stepped foot here.”
For other women, being connected to the indigenous culture has always been part of their lives, they grew up learning how to appreciate this ancestral past and they continue to be connected to it in every aspect of their daily lives.
UTEP professor and Director of the Museo Urbano, Dr. Yolanda Chavez Leyva shares that her father is the one who taught her about their ancestors and their culture.
“I think it started with my father, my father’s grandmother was Raramury,” said Dr. Leyva. ” So he always raised me with the idea that we were indios and he was super proud of his abuelita…so it was something I always felt was part of us.”
She has now made a career out of staying connected to her indigenous ancestors. In her museum exhibits and Mexican American classes she always tries to include something that will show others how we are all still connected to out indigenous ancestors. She participates in danzas and matachines and the Danzantes del Sol as well as in sweat lodges, an indigenous tradition. Dr leyva also mentions that she lives a spiritual life where she does daily prayer in the indigenous languages.
She explains that she sees the indigenous culture everyday in life even when many don’t notice it. “I could see it in the words we would use. I saw it in the foods that we ate.” said. Dr. Leyva. “I tell my students, I ask them, how do you say grass in Spanish, everybody says zacate! Zacate is an indigenous word so you’re still using an indigenous language.” Dr. Leyva adds. “The Mexican Spanish and border Spanish is very indianized, so a lot of the words we use, we think are slang are really words in Nahuatl.”
She finds that it is important to know where we all came from.” I want us to have very firm roots of who we are, ” said Dr. Leyva. ” It helps us understand that we belong to this land. To me, these practices or this acknowledgement, it helps us to have a sense of belonging.”
To be connected to your roots means to hold that place where you came from in your heart. Even when being miles away from it or in a place where not everyone practices that culture, the everyday activities you carry is a way to stay connected to your roots and to feel that place nearby. It is up to you to maintain it alive and as long as you keep practicing these traditions, they will never die.