Sweet Smelling Flowers

This past week, I started reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s Pleasure Activism, which is based on this question and idea: “How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?”

Already, I am practicing more observation and reflection around what experiences feel generative, which spaces and relationships feel replenishing, where I feel excitement and momentum, and how I can base more of the work I do in the world on pleasure, abundance, liberation.

And I believe this experience of pleasure connects directly to my ability to learn more about who I am. When my humor, love, and sense of belonging is engaged, I arrive to wisdom and greater understanding about myself, community, and the Divine in a full and abundant way.

I had this experience when I was listening to the Latinos Who Lunch podcast on the episode of La Virgen de Guadalupe. There is a lot of heat for me right now as it relates to goddesses in pre-Hispanic Mexico, the introduction of Catholicism by Spanish missionaries, the creation of La Virgen de Guadalupe, and symbolism/storytelling in Latin American Catholic sacred icons, specifically as it relates to indigenous imagination in the origination of these patron saints.

Scholar Patrizia Granziera says:

“Mary’s association with flowers, gardens, trees and water made her compatible with the Nahua’s views of sacred power. When the Spanish invaders suppressed the Nahuas’ public religion and offered the cult of their mostly venerated ‘Immaculate Virgin’ in exchange, Mary became the most important sacred female available for indigenous adaptation. Coming from a tradition in which female divinities were significant players and the sacred was conceived in terms of deified forms of the cosmic human and vegetal cycle, Nahuas were predisposed to grant importance to the only major female figure presented to them by Christianity.”

From Coatlicue to Guadalupe: The Image of the Great Mother in Mexico

There is a lot of juicy historical and cultural context around the symbol of La Virgen that I’m continuing to dive into. What felt pleasurable about the Latinos Who Lunch episode specifically was the sense of belonging I felt from the podcast hosts. And it started when they began talking about coffee.

I felt in the know because of their Latinx colloquialisms and the feeling that I was being lovingly hosted by abuelas and tias. Their unapologetic queerness. Humor and calling out North American pop culture bullshit for what it is. Belly laughter at the way cartoons and popular narratives have depicted “Aztec society.” The way Spanish flavors their accents when they speak English, the way they use Spanglish, and familial language as a way to teach and educate on Latinidad. The way they reference sensory experiences of growing up Latin American.

I believe a person’s sense of humor, love, and belonging is most fully experienced in community. Like sweet smelling flowers in pre-Hispanic Mexico that Grazniera references – engaging what is pleasurable and familiar and playing a critical role in re-imagining sacred symbols during colonization.

This sense of humor, love, and belonging shows up in the role of oral history and storytelling – a pedagogical technology ancestors used for interpersonal skills, comprehension, and culture keeping. Dakota Camacho expresses this in their blog when they say:

This important difference in opinion highlights a necessary discussion about how we define cultural truths as we move forward with our cultural restoration. Otherwise, we risk misinforming the next generation and creating spaces for future fabrications.

We have lifted Puntan and Fu’una out of the ethnographic records but it seems we have left behind one of the most important cultural activities recorded in those same documents, Mali’e — our ancient art form of improvised song, oral history, and debate.

Mali’e played one of the most important roles in our traditional communities because it was the place where we playfully formed our community’s collectively held agreements. One Mali’e would stand up and say, ‘Things happened this way (Tumaiguini)’ and another would stand up and say, “no no… it happened this way,” and it would continue as a debate until the quarrel was resolved.

This practice demonstrates how the ancestors valued our knowledge of our oral history, language, and an ability to contest each other through playful, cunning, and open-hearted creativity.

Often, we veer away from these difficult conversations for a host of reasons: we don’t want to make our friends and family angry because Chamorros are too passionate about our beliefs, it’s too hard to change what we know because Chamorros are hard-headed, and/or we don’t want to continue to create divisions in our community when we have so much we already disagree about.

Yet it seems the more we walk away from participating in disagreement and debate, the less we practice the skills we need to advance our self-understanding. If we don’t create the space to test the truth of our beliefs, the less we practice explaining why and how we interpret the truth. If we don’t discuss how we arrive at our conclusions about what the Truth is, the more we encourage ourselves to passively accept things as they are, and the deeper we sink ourselves into cultural confusion.

On Why I’m No Longer CHamoru

Humor, love, and belonging, and culture keeping requires community. And I felt at home with my Latinx podcasts hosts who have my experiences, home and heart languages in common. Knowing my culture, feeling rooted in and fully seen for my Latinidad is pleasurable. When my humor, love, and sense of belonging is engaged, I feel completely at home and satiated in my soul. And this frees up my heart and soul to thrive in memory, wisdom, creativity. Like the fragrance of sweet smelling flowers as they bloom.

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