I'm an aging gavacha with enough ability left to use in devotion to the splendor of what remains of the Sonoran Borderlands and its people. Butchered, mined, drained, scraped, walled off, it manages to endure -- magnificent, mystical, 'full of sound' to those who listen. In this searing corner of the universe, the threads of prehistory are woven with today and add to the wonder of this semi-tropical desert that exists nowhere else on earth.
I am also old enough now to have witnessed my own snapshot of history, and because of its relevance will share it.
I was born and raised in a conservative Christian movement called Moral Re-Armament (MRA) headquartered on Mackinac Island, Michigan - followed by its scion, Up With People, in Los Angeles, through the turbulence of the 1960s. It was like living beneath a freight train rumbling overhead. The realities of real life were a shocking contradiction to the God-centered, anti-communist vision I had grown up with, and suddenly all our defenses rang hollow.
The neighboring community of Watts went up in flames triggered by one law-enforcement assault too many. Its people were blamed for the riots. The Viet Nam War devoured hundreds of thousands of Americans in its meat-grinder. Up With People stood patriotic. But the body bags kept coming home - as did the boys who didn’t have a choice about what parts of themselves got left in Viet Nam.
On top of the assassinations, state-sanctioned white brutality occurred everywhere across the country but especially in the South. The horrors were something new and unconscionable to me. Beatings, burnings and bombs were standard modus operandi. The FBI continued to spy on all Americans it deemed a threat to ‘The American Way of Life’. Our family, long devoted to MRA/Up With People and the American Way, thought there was no answer stronger than the energetic “God-first” message of UWP performances challenging protests and counter-culture movements. At home I'd sing and play Joan Baez's There But for Fortune in the quiet of my room.
My love of Mexican culture began as a young child at Olvera Street in downtown LA, then later the rich multi-racial Low-Rider car culture of south-central LA. As an artist, I fell in love with the bright colors and fantastic and passionate images mixed with spiritual elements. The concept of art as a voice for justice began there. SoCal in the 60’s was one of the many battlegrounds where black and brown communities, simmering under generations of police control, clashed over the most basic human rights while shouldering the blame. Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez unionizing California’s enslaved farm workers was nothing short of a miracle, inspiring Fillipino laborers to do the same.
My love of Native Americans began long before that, as a very young child on Mackinac Island. There was a deep connection in my bones I didn’t understand but I felt it most strongly in the woods and out on the lakes around the island... building mini-long houses in hidden spots, bicycling "no hands" the circumference of the island, swimming in frigid waters clean enough to drink. Standing beneath the dancing curtains of the Northern Lights in winter. Once, skating out into the the straits I paused on a frozen plate of glass to stare below at great boulders with long strings of moss and the occasional sturgeon moving to the rhythm of the current. I was truly in my element and the wild became a survival tool I would value the rest of my life.
Northern New Mexico shepherded me through the 70's into the 80’s. This 'enchanted' land was a like a silent guardian watching over me. It sure felt good to give the middle finger to the hypocrisies of my past… I was living it up and living a lie and forgot everything. It did seem like the dust had settled and the country had evolved out of White Supremacy, Commie-hunts, J. Edgar Hoover and the relentless stalking of minorities and their leaders. Ronald Reagan and his "Moral Majority" made me laugh. The 90's would roll in before I could find my way out of the lie and the addictions and trauma that fed it. "There but for fortune"...
Returning to Tucson (an old escape hatch in my youth), I remained relatively oblivious to the potency of the White Race Card until the 45th president slapped it on the table and called for action. Through the rise of AZ's border militias and "round 'em up" sheriffs and politicians to Tea Party hostility, I saw only parts of the elephant. All I knew was that hundreds of migrants died in our desert every year seeking better lives and were vilified for their trouble. The sadism was beyond me. When I finally saw the whole elephant, it had fangs. Big money, big tech, and big egos with big visions were tapped into the main artery of the Angry Anglo-American Bubble. The Supreme Court assisted by gutting the Voting Rights Act and campaign finance laws.
Surveillance Capitalism and social media took over the world and, by 2016, the Great Restructuring of America was well underway.
To me the 'American Way' has always been a one-step-forward two-steps-back dance at best, but especially since 2016 it has been a steady march away from our Constitutional Republic and into the arms of antibellum authoritarianism. Public trust in our democratic system has been intentionally eroded to a point where we seem to be in a suspended state of nihilism. Meanwhile, Nature bats last and we are at the bottom of the ninth. We cannot make honey without sharing in the fate of bees. "We have met the enemy and it is us."
Still, the eternal Human Spirit eventually gets its toe in the door. This time it was after the Jan 6th Insurrection in the form of a slender young black woman from Watts.
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it.
- The Hill We Climb, Amanda Gorman, American Youth Poet Laureate
So beautiful the vision. Visions feed our souls and collective will.
All people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.
You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream. -MLK
They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.
Today I cope by stepping back from the ever-expanding vortex of new masks on old devils to grasp for a higher perspective. It always seems the Human Spirit shines most brightly through the places it has been broken. It can be seen in people helping one another after mass shootings. And in survivors of violence and war who become wounded healers for others. And in those risking life and limb to reach for their truth... some survive, many don't. When everything is stripped away, Truth is the essence that's left. It is what brings people together. To me, Truth is where God becomes visible.
In an age of deadly disinformation and crumbling democratic laws, living a life with truth in it is what matters most to me. My family. My dogs. Wildlife in my yard, creative projects around my 40's hodgepodge house. The Serenity Prayer. Participating in the preservation of land and community. Being alone with nature again. The sweet desert air is kind to my joints. Arizona skies are as dramatic as the land and keeps me connected to our celestial address. For me, life is a learning experience on a planet magnificent beyond our knowing and how cool is that?
And, if one keeps digging, layers of Euro-domination bullshit fall away and it's a wondrous welcome home.
All life is holy, all life is one.