14-16 Sept. In Sickness, In Health

This week we discussed the many ways in which three female figures are associated with fertility, race, religion, gender, motherhood, marriage, nature / earth, more-than-human entities and environments: La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Oshún, and Pachamana.

Today we wondered how these female figures represent not only icons to be adored from without, but how they may be or are, indeed, present in our surroundings, in our lives, even when we do not invoke them or name them. We also discuss how, in their being of love, they represent the matter of ancestry or precursors.

Write a blogpost in which you meditate on how reading, discussing, and learning about and from Cachita, Oshún, and Pachamana help you answer the questions a) where is the more-than-human in my life? and b) who are or where are my precursors? You do not have to answer these questions (life quests, after all), but write up a comment on how these readings and ideas we discussed this week help you seek some answers in thinking about those question.

Try to post your blog entry by Saturday at 8 PM. Happy dwelling, thinking, writing with these three fabulous womanly figures!

14 replies on “14-16 Sept. In Sickness, In Health”

The more-than-human in my life is found at the Chattahoochee River next to my house. The cool, flowing water rushing past my bare feet and the wind-carrying aroma of fresh algae brings to mind the fact that water is my life source. I cannot manufacture it, but it structures the fundamental make up of my being—it is a part of “Pachamama.” As I see the water flow, as it should, I am also reminded of the fact that this river is actual dammed by the Buford Dam; that which is more than human is constricted by structures very much human.

Despite the ideal of living in a more-than-human world, humans try to restrict that which is beyond-human. Rather than coeexist, they try to exploit and exercise power over the water, over the trees to which becomes lumber, over the soil which becomes foundations of cities. They often restrict that which sustains their very lives.

My precursors are (as far as I remember), Korean. My parents are the first to move to America. However, in the town of Suwanee where I live, for centuries, it was the land of large Shawnee, Cherokee, and Creek Native Americans. Suwanee is a Creek word for Shawnee or a word for “echo” (perhaps the name of our town now is a mere echo of the one that flourished before mine). After learning about the heritage and implications of Pachamama and La Cachita (La Caridad), I realized that it is important to remember the icons that shape a culture and the history of peoples because it brings awareness to the relationships at work in the present.

Cachita, Oshún, and Pachamama especially really caused me to think about where the more-than-human is in my life. Lately, as a result of everything, I feel as if I have been out of touch with nature. However, my safe place in nature is any mountain where I can sit to meditate on my life. Specifically, this mountain that overlooks a city view, allowing me to observe the hustle and bustle of daily life from the outside. Oftentimes, these moments of reflection help me gain purpose. In class, we discussed how this is exactly the effect of Pachamama. Pachamama is the pondering of one’s position in relation to nature.
Another manner in which I witness the more-than-human in my life is how I feel obliged to nature. This is responsibility in the sense that humans owe nature, essentially, the gift of life. Without its necessary resources such as oxygen, water, and rich soil to harvest food, humans would not be alive. Therefore, the more-than-human is manifested in the daily efforts to return only a small portion of what I have been gifted: whether it be cleaning nature or helping its preservation. Of course, there are a variety of ways to view the more-than-human in one’s life. However, I hope all people can one day learn to recognize it truthfully.
As far as my precursors, I have known for them to be from Spain. My great great grandfather was one of the men involved in settling the part of Mexico where my family is from. However, this also means that I have Indigenous roots from my great great grandmother. As far as I know, my origins should be from the Chichimeca Indians. Allegedly, Mexico keeps a record of all families within this book. One day, I would love to look at my ancestors through a written record.

The article by Radcliff on Pachamama depicted the symbolical connection of a female figure to transcend geopolitics and the protection of nonhuman agency. Pachamama evokes renewed spirituality to the people who want to relate harmoniously with the Earth and the land. She enables the mobilization of people to express reclamation of land and to continue learning from the land.
I’m interested in studying alternative medicine practices used by native inhabitants in South America and Asia in both herbal medicine and natural therapeutics. I think it is crucial to preserve these cultural practices and strategically maintain the natural life that we have left. In the beginning of the year, I experienced some health issues that were aided by acupuncture and herbal teas. I realized that I have disconnected with the natural goodness of the Earth, and it took a pandemic to force my attention to the elements of life. Through this pandemic alone, the reduction of air pollution from cars has been credited for a global decrease in anticipated premature births over the last six months.
While reading La Caridad del Cobre last weekend, I was also celebrating Ethiopian new year on September 11th as observed on the Julian Calendar. Young girls in Ethiopia collect yellow daisy flowers (called adey abeba) on New Year’s day and go door to door offering it to elders in exchange for gifts. This custom is called enkutatash in the Amharic language, and yellow daisies are customarily used because they represent rebirth/new beginnings and happy blessings. These particular flowers are used again at the end of September for Meskel, which is an Ethiopia Orthodox Chrisitan Holiday in observance of finding the Cross. I kept thinking about the correlation of the high value placed on yellow flowers offered to Cachita by the Cuban people and those used in Ethiopian customs. Oshun and La Virgen de Caridad regarded yellow flowers as symbolic for fertility. I would hypothesize that my native people along with those native to Yoruba land and Cuba must have cultivated yellow daisies and sunflowers to find them useful for fertility and other human health benefits.

When looking for the more-than-human in my life, I found myself a bit stuck because I live in a city. Urban jungles just don’t always have as much open space or greenery and it can be hard to find this idea. However, I began seeing little things I would do subconsciously that connected me with the more-than-human. Things like rolling the window down and moving my hand with the breeze, walking through the grass in my backyard and feeling the dew on my ankles, and sitting down by my window sill to feel the sun and watch the sky. After our discussions and learning about Cachita and Pachamama I began to notice that even as humans, we search for that more-than-human aspect in our everyday lives (whether through nature, love, devotion, etc.) more than we even realize.

In class, I was able to share a bit about my precursors in a way I never had before. When I was in elementary and middle school I remember any opportunities students had to talk about their personal histories and ancestries were very limited to where you or your parents were born and the language you speak. As I shared in class, many people of Uruguay share this idea of “garra Charrúa” regardless of their ethnic and racial backgrounds. Yet, many individuals who have tried to reclaim their true Charrúa/indigenous roots have found themselves being ignored. They are received with comments such as “they do not exist anymore” or “how can you be [such tribe] if they have no language”. I think it can be disheartening because people are consistently denying and refusing the existence of a people and to a certain extent of an individual person. Despite this, I think the indigenous people of Uruguay relate to the idea of “garra Charrúa” more than anyone and continue to fight for their place in their lands.

The readings this week and focus on Cachita, Oshún, and Pachamana made me think about the absence of the “more-than-human” in my life and how my existence, despite having this absence, is part of a more intricate matrix of the spiritual and the non-spiritual. Reading about the importance of the Cachita to Black and Indigenous people, and marginalized peoples in general, had me think about how I don’t really have an active connection to the “more-than-human.” The followers of Cachita, and, in extension, to Oshún, have a certain type of belief in the “more-than-human” that affects the way in which they live and perceive the world. Having Cachita in one’s life is a source of light and hope, especially for marginalized folk who experience varying systems of oppression on the daily. While she acts as a coping mechanism for such people, her existence depends on the appreciation and worship from the marginalized as her ability to inverse the social/colonial order is dependent on the existence of these marginalized peoples. This intimate relationship is one that I wish I had in my life. Regarding who are and where are my precursors, reading about Cachita also made me realize that I don’t have a strong connection to my ancestors or their cultural practices and beliefs. While I know the basic ancestry of my mother’s side, I don’t know my father’s ancestors, the ancestors on my Latinx side. I know my father is Indigenous Guatemalan and I learned that after hearing him and my tias speak in a throaty language that sounded nothing like Spanish, but that’s all I know. I feel like a part of my life that I haven’t really focused on is missing as I’m not aware of my ancestral connection and, thus, not in-tune to my spiritual and “more-than-human” connection. Therefore, these readings made me realize how central Cachita, Oshún, and Pachamama are to the lives of those that worship or appreciate them and how each provides everyday people with a personal connection to their ancestors (through the same belief of each of these women that their ancestors had) and to the “more-than-human.”

While reading about La Caridad del Cobre and Oshún, my first connection was to La Virgen de Guadalupe because my family is Mexican. Even though we were never the type to go to church, the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe has always existed somewhere in my home. In Michelle Gonzalez’s piece, she talks about how Cubans view La Caridad del Cobre as an example of “God’s preferential option for the marginalized” (79); she is the mother of the marginalized the same way that La Virgen de Guadalupe is viewed as the mother of the marginalized. The idea of these mother figures protecting the marginalized made me think about who my precursors are. La Virgen de Guadalupe protects my precursors but I’ve always been curious to know more. My parents and many generations before me, grew up and lived in Mexico for large portions of their lives. I must have some Spanish and Indigenous precursors but what if there’s more? They could have even been from other parts of South America but I don’t think I’ll ever know completely. That’s one of the reasons why I absolutely love that we learned about three female figures that define Latin America because I find someway that they relate to me and my life.

Such was the case with Pachamama. I will be the first to say that I was never really about the outdoors during my childhood. I lived in Phoenix and the “more-than-human” in my life was the desert and the pool. But as I grew older, and as I got to travel more, I learned that the “more-than-human” in my life means more to me than I thought. I was able to experience Pachamama in Ecuador myself when I went on a hiking trip there. I just remember constantly being surrounded by trees, fresh air, and the light sound of rain every morning. The peace that I felt there was indescribable and it’s a peace that I have learned to appreciate every time I step into nature.

Being born and raised in the city, I never really registered the idea of enjoying the sense of real nature or the “more-than-human” side of things. However, with Covid keeping me in the house all day it did allow me and my brother to be more cognizant of the time we spend outside and appreciate it. Specifically every Sunday we go out and bike to Orchard Beach. From there we sit by the quieter side of the beach that offers a calm silene, gray blue waters and peace of mind. I never really thought about those Sundays in a religious or spiritual sense, but after our class discussion it makes me feel more connected to Pachamama. I really do enjoy the goddess Oshun and what she represents. Beyond just the idea of a romantic love with a partner, but a family and friend sense of love. As with Pachamama, these calming waves that float on by Orchard Beach that I share on Sunday mornings resonates with me like Oshun.

I will be the first person to admit that I don’t have many connections to nature. Ever since I was a little girl, I preferred to stay inside in my room and read rather than go play outside with other kids. However, as I thought about the nature and the more-than-human aspects of my life, I realized that I cannot truly dismiss nature altogether. I grew up in small, cramped apartments before we moved to our current house, but my parents and grandma always made sure to invest in their own pocket of nature if they could not have it “naturally.” Every single year, my family would spend hundreds of dollars on plants, flowers, and fertilizers to invest into the earth. At first, I didn’t understand why my parents would do this: we have struggled for money all my life, and what spare money we did have, they often spent on gardening. Then, as I grew older, I came to appreciate the little gardens my parents would create. There was always something beautiful in nurturing life and greenery. I hope that this is a practice that I can continue on later in my life too.

I have very mixed feelings when I think back to my precursors. Like Camila, I am from Uruguay, a Latin American country with a very unique history compared to its neighbors. As far as I know, both sides of my family come from Spanish and Italian descent with no traces of indigenous ancestry. I believe that’s pretty standard for Uruguayans: most of our indigenous people, the Charrúas, were killed off throughout our history. This fact is something all Uruguayans have to contest with. How can we celebrate our “garra charrúa” when the majority of us don’t carry that ethnic background? I have always struggled with that aspect of my identity as an Uruguayan and in a greater scope, as a Latina.

Luckily, I have had a long and enjoyable relationship with nature, as some of my earlies memories are spent outside my house running around and playing various games with my sisters. We also heavily explored the woods behind my house, and a old hunting deer stand would become my secret spot, one I would retreat to often. I still believe that I have a strong relationship with nature, as I feel more comfortable outside in the middle of a heat wave, rather in the comfort of my own home. When I was 6, my father and I started a garden, where we grew and ate various peppers, tomatoes, and spices, along with roses, tulips and daisies. I feel as if this process alowed me to appreciate the usefullness of nature, along with the inate beauty that it possess. This was a fun time, and a tradition I still carry on, however I now grow super-hots, I listed a Blog link of me eating some of the worlds hotest peppers that I have grown, , along with my ever expanding flower garden, fingers crossed I can get my hands on some azelias.
Thinking of my precursors is something I don’t think of often, as both of my parents are second generation Americans, and my grandparents on both sides immigrated through Ellis island. I feel close enough to my ancestors, howeve I don’t feel a stong cultural identity with either side of my family, as I feel as if both my parent have stiffeled their foriegn influence on me. It angers me that I cannot speak Sicialan to my Grandfather, as we struggle to communicate in English, as well as understand my father when he’s on the phone with his cousins in Helsinki.

Reflecting on this past week’s focus on the three female figures La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Oshún, and Pachamama as well as their associations between fertility, race, religion, gender, motherhood, nature, among others, there are connections between a more-than-human in my life and closeness to my precursors. Drawing from the theme of nature and Pachamama’s connection to nature, I can identify my more-than-human in my life as the shoreline of lake Michigan. Early in the mornings, I would run alongside the lake as the water lapped at the cement edge. I felt peaceful to listen to the sounds of the water and the water’s edge surpassing what the eye can see on the other side. This openness of being at the lake is a central aspect of how nature has influenced the more-than-human in my life with its additional connections to our historical discussed figure Pachamama and her ties to the beauty of appreciating nature. The association between calmness and openness in nature is an aspect that I believe many of us humans crave to feel among the business and tumult we face in society and our daily lives. Additionally, I believe this to the symbolism of Cachita, who not only represents a connection to appreciation, our ancestor’s and worship, my knowledge of my ancestors is limited to the extent of knowing and visiting my father’s family in India and my mother’s in South Korea. My ethnic background is one that in the future I hope to expand and learn more about. Until recently, especially with our class discussions and readings, I have grown more hopeful and determined to learn more about my precursors as I have not thought much about it before. Aside from the stories about my grandfather escaping from North Korea and crossing the border on my mother’s side as well as the stories of my father’s parents growing up on rural farms in India, I am interested in learning more about my precursors and ancestors the extend and build off from the stories that have been passed down.

Identifying the more-than-human in my life is extremely complicated for me. I lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil up until moving for college, and unlike many big cities in the US, Sao Paulo is a very ‘green’ urban space where the more-than-human exists directly in and around human constructions. I’ve realized that it is difficult to separate the more than human in my life from the ‘human’ since both are so intertwined. I find the more-than-human on subway rides, at parks, and in my home where birds (and recently monkeys!) come and go. When I’m living at Emory, I find the more-than-human on late night drives, on hikes, and especially in my girlfriend’s cat, who I spend a lot of time around.

My precursors are murky. My family is not a family that has a ‘history’ as far as I’m aware of, making finding my precursors difficult. I know virtually nothing about my mother’s side of the family – she was born in the US and moved to Brazil as a teenager, and has lived there since. My father is Brazilian, but my grandparents are Italian (grandmother) and Ukrainian (grandfather). I have been told that my grandfather escaped Ukraine as a child (due to Bolshevik persecution) and fought in WWII, yet this may not even be true. Reflecting on my precursors has made me realize how much this is dependent on orality – telling stories, passing them on and creating a lineage for families that extends back, and beyond in time. Maybe not knowing my precursors is my precursor in itself?

As I mentioned in class, the more-than-human in my life is in Cusco, Perú. I grew up in Lima, the capital city of Peru, and even though it’s located on the coast, the connection I felt between myself and the more-than-human was not the same as it is when I go to Cusco. Since I was little, I went to visit my dad’s side of the family at least a couple of times a year. I grew up going to my grandpa’s hacienda and to various Incan citadels around Cusco, such as Sacsayhuamán, where I would play in the rock slides that members of the Incan empire had built in the past. Since Cusco is located in the mountains, the altitude would always make my head hurt since there was less oxygen available, and my uncles and grandpa would always tell me to lay on the grass for “la Pachamama” to give me energy and strength, and every time I did it, I would feel better. Other than being connected to the Pachamama in Cusco, I also feel a more-than-human connection with my dogs back home and with the plants, I’m currently growing in my apartment here in Atlanta.
There are times where I think of my precursors quite often. The last time I did was when my girlfriend’s little brother asked her what I was because in his eyes I looked both black and white, but neither at the same time. She explained that I was from Peru, which would make me a Latina. From my mom’s side, my grandmother has European roots, and my grandfather had Afro-Peruvian roots. From my dad’s side, my grandmother was directly related to Incan royalty (indigenous) and Spanish, while my grandfather had Middle-Eastern (Lebanon) roots. Since most countries in South America are very multicultural, I always wonder what else is part of my lineage and what was lost with time. Some of my family members are part Chinese, Japanese, Italian, etc. which reflects how diverse but at the same time, intertwined/similar people from different cultures are.

Since moving to Georgia for college, and especially during this pandemic, I’ve tried to develop a better relationship with my surroundings and the land that I’m standing on. I’ve found that being in touch with nature helps me feel more grounded in my body, which really helps with my mental health and how easy it can get to rely on distraction in order to cope with stressful times. Although I’m slowly working towards having a better relationship with connecting to nature and appreciating the more-than-human in my life, I often think about my aunties on my mom’s side of the family, who were all farmers in the Dominican Republic.

Hearing my mom tell stories of the goats they would raise and the plants they would grow makes me feel really inspired because they were a group of women who not only depended on the land to provide for them, but also held a deep respect and love for the animals and land they occupied. Thinking of my aunts and my grandparents, and even the nostalgia that my mom feels when she tells me stories, makes me think of how systems of capitalism and exploitation have stripped Black and Brown folks (particularly Indigenous folks) from connecting with the land in their communities. Especially in urban areas and cities, how do Black and Brown communities connect to nature and ground themselves in their surroundings when so much of it is surveilled, exploited, or inaccessible?

These readings got me thinking about my more-than-human in my life and for a second it thought that I may have missed out on that part of spirituality in childhood. But upon further reflection: it hit me, the memories of the grass and the dandelions, as a child I was able to find the beauty of nature within a city of metal. From running through the overgrown purple and yellow wildflower backyard of the old lady next door to laying in the grass looking for four-leaf clovers with my siblings, I did have my more-than-human in my life. I also remember the tree outside the church I grew up in always provided a perfect seat whenever I needed a break during tag. After these readings, I also wanted to look more into my ancestors and where and who made me me. I know my father’s side of the family has Aztec roots, but I didn’t know my mother’s side of the family is part Purepecha as well as more recent European (Spanish) blood (great great great great great grandmother). Just like Regina, my family grew up with a strong devotion to La Virgen De Guadalupe, in fact, I would look forward to her feast day where I would get to pass out hundreds of roses to the people of the church. She is a source of strength for many Latinas, whole groups are devoted to praying to her and asking her for help. I feel a strong sense of connection with her but recently that has been slipping. I also want to mention that there is a movie on Netflix called Pachamama that’s a super cute story about a little boy and a little girls’ journey to recover a stolen artifact from their village. I think it’s a cute little glimpse/intro into who Pachamama is.

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