CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Guest Blogger: Poet/Writer Christopher Carmona on "roots"
My story, like many
others, did not begin when Columbus landed on these shores. No, my story, like
many others, begins with my mother and her mother and her mother and my father
and his father and his father before that. It is a story of people, of
practices that my great-grandmother taught my mother and that my grandfather
taught my father.
My story has roots in
Europe as well as here, what we call the Americas. It has grown many stems and
many branches, but both come from the earth, nourished by the same rivers. This
cross-pollination has resulted in a new breed, a new fruit that mixes together
the qualities of the different seeds.
But my story, the
story of Latin@s in this land, has a very violent and vicious backstory. It is
a history we have had to deal with since our creation. The cross-pollination of
us has tried desperately to eradicate our native seeds through genocide, rape,
Wipe out any trace of
our native roots, and they will forget they were ever indigenous to this land.
“We are all immigrants” is the banner they fly over our heads. We don’t live on
reservations. We don’t know our tribal affiliations. We are not native.
How many times have I
heard stories of full-blooded Indian grandmothers locked away in little rooms
because their families are ashamed of their native roots? How many Chican@s
would rather celebrate Cinco de Mayo than remember Wounded Knee? How many
Latin@s believe that English is a colonizing language and forget that Spanish
has silenced just as many native tongues? We divorce ourselves from our native
pasts and embrace our Spanish heritage because we believe we have no claim to
our native roots, but we do…
Our blood is filled
with as much native blood as Spanish or other European. Our stories are filled
with as many native characters as European plotlines. Our poetry drips with as
much native imagery as Western forms.
But where our native roots show more than
anywhere else is in our practices. We still have amongst us curanderos and
wiseros and heuvos under our beds. We still talk about ojo and know the healing
powers of aloe vera. Tortillas, potatoes, tomatoes, and maize are still the
cornerstones of our diets, as they were thousands of years ago.
But we still
have a gap in our heritage, a vacancy that has been shoveled over with
different traditions, tongues, religions, and practices. We don’t have a
visible link to our stories and our practices because of erasure by beliefs
that call our native heritage pagan, barbaric, and superstitious. Forgetting
the fact that the Maya were practicing algebra, astronomy, and agriculture long
before many understood the world was round.
But my story is Your
story. They have the same roots.
The Latin@’s history
shares the same roots as the native peoples of this land because, as Joy Harjo
once told me, “We are all cousins.” We are all family estranged from each other
because we have chosen to believe that imaginary borders can divide a people.
The Rio Grande, the river that I have known my entire life, has never stopped
me from crossing its waters: Fences and men with guns do. We create these
boundaries mostly because we are told they are important, but these boundaries
never serve our people’s interests. They do more to divide us than to protect
us. But we are just as much to blame for these divisions as those who created
these divisions. It is up to us to change things; it always has been and always
In many ways, we share
more in common with native peoples all over the Americas then we do with anyone
else. Ironically, the food that is synonymous with Native peoples tells our
story better than any other.
Corn (maize) has a
unique history because it has never grown in the wild; it has always been
cultivated. The only known wild plant that has a link to maize is teosinte. Now
teosinte doesn’t look like corn, nor does it behave like corn in any way, yet
it shares almost its entire DNA with corn (maize). Teosinte, a Mexican
wildgrass, and corn (maize) can even be crossbred naturally, and they will grow
and prosper without the aid of gene therapy. What scientists have been able to
conclude about the origins of corn (maize) is that corn (maize) retains four
out of the five genes from teosinte and that these genes have been relatively
unchanged since corn’s (maize’s) creation.
Corn (Maize) is unique
because it is able to cross-mingle its origins and still maintain a dual
identity, which causes subtle changes while retaining its native genes. These
strains become different species of corn (maize), yet they still retain their
native wild plants in their genetic memory. So even though corn (maize) is one
of the only plants engineered in nature by man, it still remembers its wild
roots and is still vital to its evolutionary process.
Our mestizaje, our
native and European ancestry, operates in the same way; we still remember in
our genetic code our native roots, but unlike corn (maize), we have to remember
and practice our native roots as deeply as our Spanish heritage.
My Chican@ story is
your Native story. We have the same roots.
--excerpted from I Have Always
Been Here, Otras Voces 2013.
DESCRIPTION & COPYRIGHT INFO
1 Christopher Carmona website logo.
2, 4, 5, Copyright by Christal Cooper
Christopher Columbus is shown landing in the West
Indies, on an island that the natives called Guanahani and he named San
Salvador, on October 12, 1492. He raises the royal banner, claiming the land
for his Spanish patrons, and stands bareheaded, with his hat at his feet, in
honor of the sacredness of the event. The captains of the Niña and Pinta
follow, carrying the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella. The crew displays a
range of emotions, some searching for gold in the sand. Natives watch from
behind a tree. Attributed to John
Vanderlyn, the first American painter to be trained in Paris. Vanderlyn worked on this canvas for ten years
with the help of assistants. Public
Dat So La Lee demonstrating basket weaving, 1900. Public Domain.
Don Pedro Jaramillo (Birthdate
unknown – died in 1907)is a curandero,
or faith healer from the Mexico-Texas region. He is known as "the healer
of Los Olmos" and "el mero jefe" (English: the real chief) of
the curanderos. Public Domain.
"Las Tortilleras": women making
tortillas, early 19th century Mexico. Hand-colored lithograph. Original size
between neat lines: 43.6×30 cm.
Lithograph by Frederic Lehnerb after a drawing by Carl Nebel
(1805-1855). Public Domain.
Carmona. Copyright by Christopher
Maize: (a) Lower part of the plant (b) top of plant
with male inflorescense (c) middle of plant with female inflorescenses (d)
ear/cob: (1) two pollen grains of a male inflorescense (3, 4) female flowers
(5) female flowers with stigma (6) fruit bottom view (7) fruit side view (8)
fruit cross-section views. Attributed to
Franz Eugen Kohler, Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen. Public Domain.
An image depicting Teosinte, Maize-teosinte hybrid,
Maize. Attributed to John Doebley. CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License.
Variegated maize ears. Attributed to Sam
Fentress. GNUFD License 1.2 and CCA-SA