Mutual Nurturing

Reweaving Community with Our Elders.

Digging In

Digging In: Facilitating Dialogue and Action
Key Themes and Terms
  • Crianza Mutua
  • Elders
  • Thinking/Feeling
  • Creation Stories
  • Rituals
  • Four Directions
  • UniTierra
  • Zapatistas
  • Grandmothers and Grandfathers
  • Individualism
  • Autonomy
  • Milpa
  • Compost
  • Alux and Sakab
  • Henequen Hacienda
Catalyzing Connections

  • Description: What stories are told? How did you feel reading them?
  • Personal Connection: Does this story connect to your personal experience or stories in your family?
  • Common Themes: What social issues/themes are raised in these stories? Is there a common issue shared across contexts?
  • Social Analysis: What are the historical and social processes that created this situation?
  • Planning for Action: What can be done? What can I/we do?

  • Discuss the key concept this photo essay introduces: crianza mutua (in Spanish), which we roughly translate as ‘mutual nurturing’. Angel and Valiana suggest that “everything is nurtured: human beings and mother earth have an interrelationship that allows us to exist and survive.” In what ways is that relationship explored in the essay?
  • The notion of crianza mutua challenges western notions that we exist as individuals and that we are separate from nature. Consider how the following quote challenges a western world view: “Don Toño (would be) working in the milpa and telling us: ‘we have to add nutrients to the soil to heal it! And if the soil needs healing, why shouldn’t we heal ourselves too? If the milpa is described as an ‘us’, why do we continue to think only as individuals?
  • What are some of the Mayan rituals described in the essay, which reinforce this relationship of respect between humans and other elements of nature?
    For example, the quote below suggests a ritual of asking permission for human use of the land and other beings.

    “We use a large bucket to dissolve the dough in water and add honey, which is then offered in gourds to the four directions. To the heart of the sky and the earth, to the winds, to the animals we ask permission to work the land with no problems and so the harvest can grow.”

    What worldview and values are reflected in this ritual?

  • In what ways is the ‘milpa’ a way of life for Angel and Valiana?
  • How is the corporate food system a threat to the Mayan way of life?
  • How is the idea of autonomy explored in the photo essay?

Intergenerational and Intercultural Dialogue

This essay emphasizes learning from our elders, yet ‘mutual nurturing’ implies that they can also learn from us. Can you identify any examples of that kind of reciprocal intergenerational relationship that you’ve observed or experienced?

The authors suggest that “Our elders are not telling us what we have to do…they move us by their example and not through their discourse, like often happens in universities.” What are the values of this approach to teaching and learning? How does it compare with pedagogies in schools or universities you have seen or attended?

In working for food sovereignty at the level of practice, what kinds of things have Angel and Valiana learned from Doña Yolanda and Don Toño? What kinds of things have they learned from Gustavo and Nicole? Compare the different strategies of survival of Don Toño and Doña Yolanda, on the one hand, and Gustavo and Nicole, on the other.

Discuss this quote: “For many Indigenous Peoples sharing food with family is the most sacred, it’s what makes us siblings.” Also see photo essay “Cooking and Eating Together” for more on the social aspect of sharing food.

Compare the Mayan perspectives on reciprocity with Navajo Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s notion of our sacred responsibility to protect the earth.

Individual and Collective Action

Angel and Valiana are critical of the individualism of western culture which they describe as “a blindfold that forces us to keep depending on a system that sickens us, that invalidates us, that makes us dependents, that makes us deaf, that prevents us from mutual nurturing.”

Don Toño and Doña Yolanda, the campesino elders who have taught Angel and Valiana about closed loop farming, “have resisted their whole lives and have refused to depend on an employer. They are autonomous. What they call ‘work’ is actually a way of life they are passionate about.” What aspects of this work are they passionate about? What pressures are there on subsistence farmers like them to change?

How is the patio or garden seen as a pharmacy in the communities described here? What natural medicines can you buy in your area? What do you get from the pharmacy in your neighbourhood that you might be able to grow yourself?

On the 10th of September 2003, while protesting outside the WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, farmer Lee Kyung Hae sacrificed his life by stabbing himself. That tragic incident exposed the destructive effects of WTO on the lives of millions of peasants globally. In memory of farmer Lee and the continuing struggles of peasants in resisting the neo-liberal agenda of WTO, La Via Campesina marks September 10 as the International Day Against WTO and Free Trade Agreements. How can Angel, Valiana, Don Toño, Doña Yolanda, Nicole and Gustavo seen to be part of this international peasant movement?

Continuing the Conversation

Continuing the Conversation
Monique Mojica

Toronto-based actor/ playwright, Monique Mojica is Guna and Rappahannock which means her Indigenous roots are in both North and Central America. Her artistic practice includes land-based, embodied research towards creating Indigenous dramaturgies that place Indigenous Knowledge in the centre of her process.

“Of Bodies Born from Stardust and Cornmeal”

I am responding to the photo essay on “Mutual Nurturing (La Crianza Mutua)” from the point of view of a performer and playwright engaged in activating and animating land-based, embodied dramatic structures for the purpose of telling Indigenous stories theatrically. Many things in this essay resonate with my artistic practice, a practice that spans six decades and four generations. It is itself a process of retrieval of culture and language, reclamation of identity and reconnection with kinship, land and place. The “reweaving” of the self and the community is conceptually similar to the Storyweaving technique of building organic theatre that I inherited from my immediate elder generation, Spiderwoman Theater. Presencing and embodying the warp and the weft of the weave, the knots and the umbilical cords that tie us to our origins, the layers of encoded meanings within textiles, effigy mounds and earthworks complexes or the abstraction of iconic forms in petroglyphs, pictographs or patterns on ceramics all provide guides and pathways towards reinventing the “real us”. In this way, stories re-enacted within earth cycles and a space-time continuum reflect a mutual nourishment rooted in the interrelatedness of the human body to land, waters and the non-human world because as much as we “perform” the earth — the earth performs us.

Corn. The Three Sisters. Many Indigenous nations are linked by these primary sources of sustenance.Through Corn Mother we are relations. Our bodies are formed from her substance mixed with the ashes of extinguished stars. Our kinship ties can be traced to Corn Mother’s long ago migration North and to the many stories, songs, dances and ceremonies enacted and re-enacted across these lands now violently dissected along geo-political borders. I am reminded of when my son was a sullen, crabby 15-year old and I brought him with me to visit Chiapas in the years just preceding the Zapatista uprising. Oh, he scowled at everything — except maybe caldo de pollo. But then there was a transformation. We were high in Los Altos in the community of Chenalhó when my scowling boy looked up and saw corn stalks growing at odd angles out of the rocky mountainside. He said to me, “I know this, Mom. They grow corn — these are my people.” He located himself on that land through corn.

We carry Corn Mother in our DNA. What happens, then, when corn is so altered by pesticides and GMO practices that we can no longer turn to her as a source of nourishment? It seems to follow that the genetic modification of Corn Mother’s DNA must alter us humans in profound ways. About 20 years ago, I was told that I am allergic to corn. That was a very emotional moment for me. I cried. I grieved the loss of Corn Mother. I can occasionally eat corn from unaltered, original seed grown in Indigenous territories, but only ever her “real self”.

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper: Resources for Further Research and Action
Websites

This website contains many publications, videos and updates on the struggles of peasants in more than 80 countries:

Organizations

La Via Campesina is an international movement bringing together millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world.

“Of yellow corn and of white corn its flesh was made; of corn dough its arms and legs were made…only corn dough made up its flish…”

– Popul Vuh (fragment of creation story)

To sense ourselves in a weave

Our grandmothers used to tell us stories about a hidden trunk in the Mayan community of Maní, south of Yucatán. The trunk contained the rope of life that united communities. When the Spanish came, they cut the rope. Since then it has been our duty to re-weave ourselves, meaning, reuniting the threads of Kuxan Suum (the living rope).

The world we know is unravelling in our hands, knots of threads are detaching and falling. It has become urgent to find ways, paths, roads that can weave us back together, even though we are aware that the resulting weave will not be the same as the original one. We feel that one of the main prerogatives now is to regenerate that weave.
To achieve this, we think we have to collectively heal ourselves first. That healing must be rooted in our elders, our grandmothers and grandfathers, learning from their paths. They have left us with the task to walk our paths while healing.

Doña Rosa shows Valiana how to weave a hammock

“Among the Mayan peoples, grandmothers raise us, share creation stories, show us the rituals, the language, the dances, the food, the ways of the community.”

The weave makes reference to hammocks, which is where our bodies can rest. However, to make a hammock we have to make knots as well. That is why we say we are knots in networks of relationships, that is what forms community, what makes us into a “real us”

To walk in the footprints of our elders in different geographies

The weave makes reference to hammocks, which is where our bodies can rest. However, to make a hammock we have to make knots as well. That is why we say we are knots in networks of relationships, that is what forms community, what makes us into a “real us”

For the Añú people, as we learn from José Ángel Quintero Weir, elders are our footprint. They are our past, our present and our future. Our life would not have meaning without those footprints, meaning their steps give direction to our steps, with the possibility of opening new paths that will offer footprints for others.

Among the Mayan peoples, grandmothers raise us, share creation stories, show us the rituals, the language, the dances, the food, the ways of the community. They show us the way to relate to the world, with all the animals and beings of the natural environment. Our grandfathers teach us to walk in the natural environment, to explore it and see ourselves in it. Through this, they teach us to see our land and defend it, because the natural environment is our sustenance. All of these elements keep our peoples alive, despite the strategies of death that the system has wanted to impose on us for over 500 years.

One of the legacies left to us by our elders is a small gap that allows us to see and understand what our people are – this is where we say our elders have left footprints and those footprints are the past and the present at the same time.

Our rituals, legacy of our elders

One of the rituals that we are taught when we are little is to ask permission of the mountain or the natural environment before carrying out any work. The grandparents prepare the Saka’,2 made by cooking corn by itself to make the dough that is to be brought to the mountain. We use a large bucket to dissolve the dough in water and add honey, which is then offered in gourds to the four directions.

Gourd filled with Saka for ceremonial offering

To the heart of the sky and the earth, to the winds, to the animals we ask permission to work the land with no problems and so the harvest can grow.

For the Mayan peoples, it is not frowned upon when a young person leaves the community. They are leaving so they can walk their own path and experience other places. In all of our ceremonies we speak of the four directions, which represent the world for Mayan people.

Both of us had the curiosity to leave and to come to Oaxaca to learn about the experience of other communities. When we made that decision, we asked our direct grandmothers and grandfathers in the Yucatán to accompany us in our hearts, in our way of resisting and existing. We invoke their memory in our day-to-day life and thanks to them we are able to keep on existing despite barriers we face along the way.

In the ritual of Jeets Meek that Mayan people perform for babies a few months after they are born, is that the child is gifted a needle and thread. Children are told that it is so they can learn how to knit, be it clothing or relationships, that needle and thread accompany us throughout our journey.

Previously when we travelled within our territory or visited other states with other Indigenous Peoples, when we speak to other sisters and brothers we find that it is not just what Valiana and Ángel think about the world. Rather, what our elders have seen and have left to us from their own path is manifested through our words. We have found that the way of thinking of our people coincides with other Indigenous Peoples: the way of seeing life, of experiencing the world, of listening and sensing it coincides with ours. And we could not know or experience this if we were not these knots or nodes in the networks of relationships that we are. This is the result of the shared lived experience of our elders.

What has pushed us to walk our path is the quest for knowledge, but also to recognize and reconnect ourselves with other lands and geographies regenerate who we are. That is how what we do and what we live is meant to help us return to our home and share with our elders what we have learned, and in doing so we root ourselves even deeper.

Mayan people measure their time not in years, but in cycles: we open and close cycles.
Another element that is given to us in the ceremony of the Jeets Meek, are keys, precisely keys to open and close cycles. In a sense this is what brought us to Oaxaca: opening a cycle of knowledge that is getting to know and learn from the communities and also to know more about UniTierra in Oaxaca (https://vimeo.com/172681670). We did this so we could propose in our own community to build a space of learning where young people can walk with us in order to be able to regenerate the community weave that is disintegrating more and more every day.

Mayan people measure their time not in years, but in cycles: we open and close cycles.

Another element that is given to us in the ceremony of the Jeets Meek, are keys, precisely keys to open and close cycles. In a sense this is what brought us to Oaxaca: opening a cycle of knowledge that is getting to know and learn from the communities and also to know more about UniTierra in Oaxaca. We did this so we could propose in our own community to build a space of learning where young people can walk with us in order to be able to regenerate the community weave that is disintegrating more and more every day.

Arriving in Oaxaca implied learning collectively and getting involved in “mutual nurturing” (or crianza mutua). This is an expression we adopted from our Andean siblings. They teach us the notion that everything is nurtured: human beings and mother earth have an interrelationship that allows us to exist and survive. Without this relationship life itself would not be possible. Now we use the expression “mutual nurturing” to describe the ability to learn from others’ lived experiences and to allow ourselves to be mutually raised. This means learning from others in order to then continue on our path and in the struggles of our communities.

In Oaxaca we have remained involved in community life to continue being true to ourselves. It has allowed us to become rooted here and to heal. Our growth would not have been possible, and in fact is never possible without the teachings of our elders. Those true elders who have built a life, who have shared with us and from whom we can learn to build a different life for ourselves as well. We listen to the joy and the sorrow in their life. Their pain in seeing and recognizing that a world they once knew is no longer, the pain of this world unravelling. It seems like we do not know where we are headed but deep inside they know and hold within their hearts that way of life that can re-weave us together again. This however requires not just listening to them, but to carry out the work and to heal.

Doña Yolanda and Don Toño were the first elders who opened the doors of their house to us when we arrived in Oaxaca. They are from San Agustín Etla, the first community we visited when we arrived. Doña Yolanda and Don Toño have a farm with some cows and they grow a milpa and vegetable gardens. They have resisted their whole lives and have refused to depend on an employer. They are autonomous. What they call ‘work’ is actually a way of life they are passionate about and that they have managed to build throughout their lives. For us they are an example of how to build community: their way of relating to one another, to the community, to the farm, to the animals, to their vegetable gardens, while they work on their milpa.

Don Antonio with his compost pile
Doña Yolanda in the milpa

Doña Yolanda and Don Toño have a painful history. Like in many communities in Mexico, women are not taken into consideration by their father to inherit land. This is the case of Doña Yolanda, who since a young age observed that taking care of the land and working the land for sustenance was a way of living with dignity. With a lot of effort and dedication, after a few years, she was able to buy a piece of land together with Don Toño. It is also a joyful story because they have cared for the land and grow food with no agrochemicals. They produce cheese from their cows’ milk in Oaxaca’s traditional way and they grow their milpa every year. They are proud of their work and their way of life. They watch the world today with concern, they look around them and notice that young people are no longer interested in working the land. They ask themselves what will happen when they can no longer work the land. We see this also as our duty and responsibility. Not to simply sit with them through this but to build our lives trying to recreate that which has been lost.

We ask ourselves: Despite all the difficulties, how do we form our path and build that “us” that we are talking about? Without depending on the state, on institutions. For many, that “us” doesn’t exist anymore. Instead people only care about themselves as individuals, and through this individualism, they abandon that love for the land and that love for growing our own food, for sharing food with others. For many Indigenous Peoples sharing food with family is the most sacred, it’s what makes us siblings.

Knitting together the life experiences of Doña Yolanda and Don Toño with the experiences of our Mayan elders, we found each other as family. That leaves us with the responsibility of figuring out how to heal the family tree of pain that they have lived through and how we will walk alongside others while we build “us”.

This includes what we have learned with Gustavo and Nicole, grandparents of UniTierra, from Oaxaca and Marseilles, France, who have embraced us over the past five years. They arrived at San Pablo Etla to a piece of land on a hill 30 years ago. They had lived in Mexico City for 50 years. When they arrived, the land was completely depleted; a peasant that sold them land that has been a pasture of his goats. For us they are role models, since they represent the regeneration of life.

Visit to Gustavo and Nicole’s house with Deborah

Nicole had tried growing her own food in Mexico City in small spaces, the ones found in city homes. When she arrived in San Pablo Etla she started creating her own compost and adding it to the soil. She then tried different types of vegetable gardens and milpa. Gustavo is a deskilled intellectual who has dedicated the last few years to writing and reflecting on the state of Indigenous Peoples alongside them. He has also closely followed the trajectory of the Zapatistas, and developed a radical critical analysis of the school system.

They left their life in the city to go live in a rural community and to create UniTierra with other Indigenous organizations as part of their lives. They have regenerated the land and cultivate vegetables, raise chickens and grow their milpa. Their little house is made from adobe (soil and clay), with no-flow toilets, gray-water filters and rainwater-catchment tanks. Opposite to the mainstream development model, they believe that the art of inhabiting a place does not necessarily mean using expensive or commonly called “good quality” materials. Their path has inspired many people who have come through UniTierra throughout the last 18 years. It has been the same for us; we live by their example and follow their advice.

The footprints that open the roads of autonomy

Sometimes we talk about switching nouns with verbs. We see that in everyday life the elders are doing it. Our grandmothers never talked about going to the doctor when they had an illness. Rather, their patio/garden is a type of pharmacy that heals. When somebody has a stomach ache, a fever or a bruise, they head to the patio/garden and bring “medicines” such as a twig of rosemary, sagebrush, spearmint, peppermint, etc. Each plant can heal us, that is the true art of healing. Within the art of eating, grandmothers possess a large repertoire of recipes with the same ingredients: corn, beans, squash, chilli, tomatoes. If one talks to a grandmother about these ingredients, she can name within minutes 100 recipes that they know how to make. Similarly, we can say that in the art of inhabiting Mayan houses, they use around 15 different types of wood that are found in different parts of the bush or forest.

"Our grandmothers never talked about going to the doctor when they had an illness. Rather, their patio/garden is a type of pharmacy that heals."

When we walk with them, our grandfathers show you while they walk and explain “this wood is good for a roof or as a beam, etc”. And they always mention “we have to ask for permission before cutting any wood, otherwise the alux3 can take you.”

It isn’t something new, this individualism has been imposed upon us for a long time. It’s like a blindfold that forces us to keep depending on a system that sickens us, that invalidates us, that makes us dependants, that makes us deaf, that prevents us from mutual upbringing. These legacies we are receiving are allowing us to build a different “us”, to recuperate the idea of an “us”. It is urgent to rebuild that “us” so we can keep living in that world we want.

Don Antonio Mukul in Maní blessing the seeds for the milpas

Our elders are not telling us what we have to do, they are not telling us each day where we have to go. And there is no need since we can see for ourselves what world we are living in. What they do is inspire us, they move us by their example and not through their discourse, like often happens in universities. Their actions are a way of living and feeling the land, the milpa, the wind and the rain. It is in that practice of the milpa that we see ourselves and we feel a part of that “us”.

The Milpa

The milpa is our way of life. It’s comprised mainly of three elements or three sisters: corn, beans and squash. At different times within one same cycle one can also grow yuca, macal, jicama, tomatoes, chiles, flowers, other beans, etc. It begins in January or February by one walking through the land and finding a place to offer the sakab’. At that time one asks animals to stay away, such as snakes. If the land has alux, that is when they need to be nurtured so they are able to work the land. Next is weeding or cutting down trees in the land. If the land is big it can take a longer time, and it can be done collectively.

In March/April the seeds that will be planted are collected. At this time the winds have died down a little and one can burn the land. This practice is important because it allows any plagues that are in the soil to die and it also helps fertilize the soil. This is also a good time for a ceremony asking for rain and for a generous harvest.

At the end of May the first rainfalls are expected. It’s important to check that the land is well-watered before planting the seeds. The planting can be a collective activity for men, women, grandmothers, grandfathers, girls, boys, everybody. The corn takes different amounts of time to grow, between a month and a half to three or four months. The first corn is offered to the four directions, the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth as an appreciation. Similarly, from all the meals that are prepared, a small portion is offered to the land to return part of what we are eating.

At the end of May the first rainfalls are expected. It’s important to check that the land is well-watered before planting the seeds. The planting can be a collective activity for men, women, grandmothers, grandfathers, girls, boys, everybody. The corn takes different amounts of time to grow, between a month and a half to three or four months. The first corn is offered to the four directions, the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth as an appreciation. Similarly, from all the meals that are prepared, a small portion is offered to the land to return part of what we are eating.

The corn can be harvested early to make atole, iswua, new dough bread, etc. Then the corn is bent so it can dry and later be harvested. When harvest time arrives, many communities still practice a ceremony called wajicool. At this ceremony, a large meal is prepared and offered to the land as a sign of gratitude. This is around October/November, when we are preparing for the fiesta of the dead. This is also the season for ibes (white beans), spelón (the beans that are eaten young), of jicama, of marigolds, of tangerines, etc. These are all harvested from the milpa, and meals and offerings are prepared. The land then rests for December and in January, the cycle of the milpa begins once again.

We always remember Don Toño working in the milpa and telling us: we have to add nutrients to the soil to heal it! And if the soil needs healing, why shouldn’t we heal ourselves too? If the milpa is an “us”, why do we think we are individuals?

We are in this circle with our elders who have shared their life experiences, their way of living and surviving in this world. It has been vastly enriching, all this learning, all this mutual upbringing, all this listening. We are at a point in the cycle where there is no choice but to fight to keep and maintain this life that they have shared with us.

When we talk about eating, we see the threats to corn like GMO corn, such as corporate patenting of seeds, herbicides, agrochemicals that damage the land. We see the future of Indigenous Peoples and their way of life affected by these threats. They have fought all their lives to maintain the diversity of life: all that can be planted, all that can be built, every living thing with whom we can relate. Speaking of “good eating” is not just defending food but also to keep growing it.
When we talk about the world unravelling it’s because we are trying to liberate ourselves from a war against that “us”, a war against our ways of living and feeling. This is where our elders’ teachings come into play. Learning from their mistakes implies healing and taking responsibility for the things we do as well as the things we do not. What are we doing and not doing and how do we take responsibility? How do we do that, learning from them again?

The milpa is our way of life. It’s comprised mainly of three elements or three sisters: corn, beans and squash. At different times within one same cycle one can also grow yuca, macal, jicama, tomatoes, chiles, flowers, other beans, etc. It begins in January or February by one walking through the land and finding a place to offer the sakab’. At that time one asks animals to stay away, such as snakes. If the land has alux, that is when they need to be nurtured so they are able to work the land. Next is weeding or cutting down trees in the land. If the land is big it can take a longer time, and it can be done collectively.

In March/April the seeds that will be planted are collected. At this time the winds have died down a little and one can burn the land. This practice is important because it allows any plagues that are in the soil to die and it also helps fertilize the soil. This is also a good time for a ceremony asking for rain and for a generous harvest.

At the end of May the first rainfalls are expected. It’s important to check that the land is well-watered before planting the seeds. The planting can be a collective activity for men, women, grandmothers, grandfathers, girls, boys, everybody. The corn takes different amounts of time to grow, between a month and a half to three or four months. The first corn is offered to the four directions, the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth as an appreciation. Similarly, from all the meals that are prepared, a small portion is offered to the land to return part of what we are eating.

At the end of May the first rainfalls are expected. It’s important to check that the land is well-watered before planting the seeds. The planting can be a collective activity for men, women, grandmothers, grandfathers, girls, boys, everybody. The corn takes different amounts of time to grow, between a month and a half to three or four months. The first corn is offered to the four directions, the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth as an appreciation. Similarly, from all the meals that are prepared, a small portion is offered to the land to return part of what we are eating.

The corn can be harvested early to make atole, iswua, new dough bread, etc. Then the corn is bent so it can dry and later be harvested. When harvest time arrives, many communities still practice a ceremony called wajicool. At this ceremony, a large meal is prepared and offered to the land as a sign of gratitude. This is around October/November, when we are preparing for the fiesta of the dead. This is also the season for ibes (white beans), spelón (the beans that are eaten young), of jicama, of marigolds, of tangerines, etc. These are all harvested from the milpa, and meals and offerings are prepared. The land then rests for December and in January, the cycle of the milpa begins once again.

We always remember Don Toño working in the milpa and telling us: we have to add nutrients to the soil to heal it! And if the soil needs healing, why shouldn’t we heal ourselves too? If the milpa is an “us”, why do we think we are individuals?

We are in this circle with our elders who have shared their life experiences, their way of living and surviving in this world. It has been vastly enriching, all this learning, all this mutual upbringing, all this listening. We are at a point in the cycle where there is no choice but to fight to keep and maintain this life that they have shared with us.

When we talk about eating, we see the threats to corn like GMO corn, such as corporate patenting of seeds, herbicides, agrochemicals that damage the land. We see the future of Indigenous Peoples and their way of life affected by these threats. They have fought all their lives to maintain the diversity of life: all that can be planted, all that can be built, every living thing with whom we can relate. Speaking of “good eating” is not just defending food but also to keep growing it.
When we talk about the world unravelling it’s because we are trying to liberate ourselves from a war against that “us”, a war against our ways of living and feeling. This is where our elders’ teachings come into play. Learning from their mistakes implies healing and taking responsibility for the things we do as well as the things we do not. What are we doing and not doing and how do we take responsibility? How do we do that, learning from them again?

"There are many problems: young people are leaving the community, the older people are no longer working the land."

Hopes, dreams: Creating our own space of learning in the Yucatán, in Sinanché, Yucatán

While in Oaxaca, we nurtured the dream of creating our own space in the Yucatán. Two years ago, we spoke to our family about the possibility of returning to our community. In that moment the grandfathers agreed that they would give the community-ejido4 rights of over 10 hectares to Valiana. This was because every day tensions grow over what will happen to the community when the next generations abandon the land completely. Many former ejidos have been privatized or rented to companies to construct wind farms and other uses.

The land also has a history. In the 1980’s there was a henequen hacienda, with large plantings of henequen monocropping, an agave plant that is used to make textile fibres. This devastated the natural environment and since then there has been an intention to regenerate the land and the community weave through the formation of an ejido.

We returned to the Yucatán in October 2019, to begin constructing our dream. We decided to settle here in Valiana’s hometown of Sinaché, where there is a strong weave among the community. There are many problems: young people are leaving the community, the older people are no longer working the land. This project has to be born with the abuelos/as, the young people, with the com. We never thought of doing this alone. It even includes people who are not here, but people who know about the project.

Cultivating hennequen in Sinanche, Yucatán
Mayan sculpture in Ticul, Yucatán

This was an opportunity to heal not just the land, but also the pain that was caused in the community by the hacienda. Our project needs to be a space to denounce all the death that is being sown. This includes struggles against the Mayan train,5 corporate wind power projects, solar panels and the threats against our seeds being patented by companies. So our project is not isolated from the other battles of our people..

Angel and Valiana forging a path in the family land that will become their centre outside of Sinanche, Yucatán.

We hope it can generate strategies that will help the Mayan people remain alive. This conjuncture is our final battle. If we don’t resist the wave of megaprojects, we could lose our autonomy, our ways of living, our language…and this includes la comida, water, the ways we relate to the land and each other. We’re thinking about how to construct autonomy with others. To speak our language, to respect the land, to prepare our ancestral food that our abuelos taught us is part of this autonomy.

Valiana working with school children to plant a community garden in Sinanche, Yucatán.

We are trying to create a space where we can grow our food and provide an alternative way of life and inspire young people to return to the land. For us that means returning to our ways of eating, healing and inhabiting. We want young people to learn freely about different societal tools that will allow them to return to the community and apply what they have learned in a way of life full of joy.

  1. We form a part of the Mayan peoples of the Yucatan Peninsula, of the community of Sinanché and Ticul respectively. Our way of experiencing the world is rooted in the Mayan way of thinking/feeling, which our elders have shared with us and which has been the legacy that they wish to leave for us.
  2. Drink made of non-nixtamalized corn, water and honey.
  3. Alux is a type of dwarf that lives in and cares for the wilderness, that the elders set in the wilderness to take care of the fields. Every once in a while they have to be fed the sakab’, that is their food.
  4. Type of communal land ownership focused on agriculture
  5. The Mayan Train is a proposed train through the Yucatan peninsula, the largest infrastructure project of President López Obrador’s National Development Plan, with multiple ecological and social impacts. https://towardfreedom.org/story/the-tren-maya-and-the-remaking-of-mexicos-south-border/