Tucson's spiritual heritage is a unique amalgamation of Tohono O'odham and Mexican Catholicism coexisting without the bloody subjugations that defined other regions of the American Southwest. It became further enriched as waves of Pascua Yaqui (Yoeme) Indians migrated from their homelands in Sonora escaping genocide by President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico, bringing their own earth cosmology mixed with Catholicism absorbed from Jesuit priests in the 1600's.
The master guardian spirit of the Tucson region, the one who was here first is I'itoi; the creator of the O'odham people and their ancestors the Hohokam ("the People Who Are Gone"). He brought the people up like children and gave them the gift of the Himdag, a set of commandments guiding them to live in balance with the world and interact with it as intended. A timeless entity assuming a number of powerful forms in tribal legend, he retired from the world and lives as a little old man in a cave beneath Baboquivari Peak - the original place of emergence from which he lead his people out of the underworld after a great flood. I'itoi's people have inhabited this land for over 10,000 years and they believe he watches over them today from his sacred home beneath Baboquivari Peak, which they regard as the navel of the world and the center of the universe.
I'itoi is most often referred to as the 'Man in the Maze': an ancient design in O'odham petroglyphs, basketry and jewelry. He is the figure at the top of a labyrinth: the symbol for life's path a person travels and the encounters that impact him and direct him to reach the center where he is blessed by the sun god before passing into the next world.
The O'odham have been stewards of the Sonoran Desert since before time was time.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Before the Spanish conquerors arrived on the shores of Mexico, the famous mother deity we know as Our Lady of Guadalupe commonly went by the Nahuatl names Tonantzin and Coatlaxopeuh to the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, in the Valley of Mexico. She was known in many forms: "Our Great Mother", "Honored Grandmother", "Mother of Earth and Corn", "Our Lady who emerges from the region of light like the eagle from fire", and “the one who has dominion over serpents”. The Aztecs built a shrine to her and other fertility goddesses on a hill they called Tepayac, and had long been worshiped her there. When the Spaniards arrived, the shrine was demolished and people were forbidden to go there.
The era of the Spanish conquests was drenched in blood and death. Appalled by the savage Aztec rituals of human sacrifice, the conquistadors ruthlessly crushed the Aztec empire of Tenochtitlan, decimated the population with smallpox, and pressed the masses into Catholicism. A short version of the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes something like this:
One day in the 16th century, a poor Indian Catholic convert named Juan Diego was passing by Tepayac Hill when he spotted a glowing apparition on its summit. Approaching, he saw it was a dark-skinned Indian woman with stars on her cloak, a crown on her head, the moon supporting her, the rays of the sun surrounding her-- and, she was pregnant. She told him that she loved the people very much and wanted to protect them, and she asked him to have a new church built for her on the site. Juan protested, saying that the bishop would never believe he had seen her. The lady pointed, and suddenly among the cactus grew roses, a flower foreign to the New World and the flower of the heart. Juan gathered the roses in his tilma and, going straight to the bishop, unrolled the cloak. Then an even greater miracle happened: an image of the pregnant indigenous Virgin Mary appeared with the roses on the rough agave fiber cloth. Truly, she was Queen of Heaven.
This Great Compassionate Mother offered a refuge from the new angry Christian God, and by extension the early Christian invaders. Adopted as Mexico's patron saint, she became a symbol for freedom and resistance to continued foreign intervention. The Virgin of Guadalupe came to the Pimaria Alta with Padre Eusebio Kino and the first Spanish settlers. Through the centuries, Guadalupe/Tonantzin has risen to become Queen of the Americas, and her compassionate embrace extends far beyond the Catholic Church. She stands for boundless love and the enduring rights of the marginalized and vulnerable everywhere.
Yoeme / Pascua Yaqui
The Yaqui Indians, or as they call themselves, Yoeme (The People) are a Uto-Aztecan speaking indigenous tribe who inhabit the valley of the Río Yaqui in the Mexican state of Sonora. Following Mexican independence in 1821, the regime of Porfirio Diaz attempted to seize control Yaqui farm lands and, for ninety years, Yaqui guerrilla fighters resisted attacks by the Mexican government. The Mexican army finally defeated the Yaqui at the battle of Buatachive in 1886. Many Yoeme fled into Southern Arizona and settled in small colonias (communities) around Tucson. Those remaining in Mexico were systematically selected for genocide through slavery or direct extermination, and their population dropped from 20,000 to less than 3,000.
Today in Mexico, what's left of the impoverished Pascua Yaqui struggle to survive and although they have finally been acknowledged by the AMLO government for historical injustices, Hermosillo, Sonora's capital, continues to drain their precious river (and only source of water) the Rio Yaqui, dry-- without compensation. For their protests, they live under constant threat and key leaders are murdered.
On this side of the border, the Yaqui achieved official tribal status in 1978, along with a small reservation southwest of Tucson, and continue to live in their original barrio communities around Southern Arizona as well. They keep the Yoeme culture alive with the same pride and resilience that has defined them as a people.
The heart of Yoeme cosmology lies in five enchanted worlds that mirror the natural world in which we live. These mystical realms are an integral part of everyday life for the Yoeme people. One of the most important worlds is the Sea Ania or Flower World. The flowers of the Sea Ania unite the Yoeme and connect them to their past. The deer dance is an important ceremony that lets Yaqui people communicate with the Flower World. It is performed at Easter, as well as other times of the year. In the deer dance, Saila Maaso (little brother deer) leaves the Flower World to visit the Yoeme people. Hummingbirds are especially sacred to the Yoeme and are revered as messengers from the spirit to natural world.
Much Yoeme ritual is centered upon balancing these worlds and eliminating harm that has been done to them, especially by human beings. The Yaqui have combined these beliefs with their unique practice of Catholicism, and believe that the existence of the world depends on their annual performance of Cuaresma (Lent) and Pascua (Easter) rituals.
The Yoeme continue their traditions of stewardship and prayer for humanity on this side of the border, with the dedication of surviving cultural teachers like Pascola mask carver, Louis David Valenzuela. The roses in this image are to honor him.
Padre Eusebio Kino
No one has left a more lasting legacy in the Pimeria Alta than Eusebio Francisco Kino, the Jesuit missionary "cowboy" priest. Father Kino's era was relatively short--from 1687 through 1711-- but over those 24 years he covered over 50,000 miles on horseback, interacted with 16 different indigenous tribes and founded 26 missions. It was Padre Kino who worked with the already agricultural indigenous native peoples, introducing them to cattle, sheep and goats, the Spanish Barb horse, and European fruits, seeds, and herbs.
Kino opposed slavery and compulsory hard labor that the Spaniards forced on native people, causing great controversy among his co-missionaries--most of whom adhered to the laws imposed by Spain on their territory. He viewed native peoples as human beings and treated them as such; leaving a legacy divergent from the one of violence and subjugation the Catholic Church is known for in Mexico and the Southwest.
Kino built missions extending from the present day states of Mexican Sonora into present-day Arizona, where Mission San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson is still a functioning Franciscan parish church. Little remains of most of the others, but a few are still standing, such as the Mission at Tumacacori, 25 miles south of Tucson, now a historic national monument. (Seasonal open-air binational masses are held there, along with regional celebrations and fiestas.) Kino also constructed nineteen rancherias (villages), brought the first cattle to the region, and became known as the Pimeria Alta's first rancher. He also introduced European grains and seeds that provided Northern Mexico with wheat and the old world herbs we all enjoy today.
An advanced cartographer for his time, he followed ancient trading routes established millennia prior by the natives. These trails were later expanded into roads. His many expeditions on horseback covered over 50,000 square miles, during which he mapped an area 200 miles long and 250 miles wide. Kino's maps were the most accurate maps of the region for more than 150 years after his death. Many of today's geographical features, including the Colorado River were first named by Kino.
Kino practiced other crafts and was reportedly an expert astronomer, mathematician and writer, authoring books on religion astronomy and cartography. Kino remained among his missions until his death. He died from fever on 15 March 1711 at age 65, in what is present-day Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. His skeletal remains can be viewed in his crypt, which is a national monument of Mexico.
Apart from the usual monuments and street names, Padre Kino's presence and imprint is everywhere here. Most well known is the annual binational pilgrimage and fiesta at Magdalena de Kino, in Mexico in early October. Catholic Mexicans, Tohono O'odham, Yoeme, and even tenacious white people walk (some ride horseback) from Sonoran Arizona to the church where his remains are buried and pay homage to Kino's patron saint, San Xavier. There are also binational cabalgatas (pack-horse camp rides) retracing Kino's original trails in devotion to his cause for sainthood. (See Por Los Caminos de Kino)
Good read: Riding Behind the Padre
by Richard Collins
Note: I welcome corrections to any of these interpretations... I get brain-farts trying to cover such enthralling subjects by throwing words at them. - LMV
When day comes, we ask ourselves,
Born Edward J. Brooks, a black man who had faced adversity all his life, he wanted a place where everyone was welcome - from immigrants to city folks who stumbled off the beaten path. An Army Ranger who fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, Ed Keeylocko started his own town southwest of Tucson after his cows were rejected at a local auction when it was discovered he was black.
Keeylocko was his own unique brand of rancher who understood the interplay and connection between all living things and bred his cattle accordingly. He was a U of A graduate with a degree in agriculture and was concerned about how the lack of foresight and degradation of the natural world would sustain a growing population. He was a proponent of environmental education, and built a little research library that contained out-of print books about ancient civilizations around the world. (A man after my own heart!) He considered himself to be a steward of the land as well as a cowboy:
Now, here’s the thing that you have to remember about a place like this. You’re the curator for everything that lives, breathes on that range. Anything that moves, yells, swims, hunts. You’re the curator. That means birds, bees, skunks. There are beehives on my range, but when there are no blooms and there’s no flowers blooming, they get hungry.
Nicole Santa Cruz in the Seattle Times, 2010:
"Keeylocko was born in South Carolina in 1931. Abandoned by his mother, he was rescued by a woman who gave him the name Keeylock (he added the O later). He left home at 14 and traveled America as a hobo before serving in the Army for 23 years.
He then attended the University of Arizona, earning degrees in agriculture, because he wanted to breed aggressive, well-armed cattle that could protect themselves on the range. (“Give them back their horns,” he says.) After experiencing discrimination at a cattle auction, he decided to create his ranch.
Keeylocko’s life is as unpredictable as the Wild West. He’s an ordained minister. And he has traveled the country, giving lectures on black cowboys.
“There are people that believe that people like me only play basketball, football, dance or maybe play the banjo,” he said. “What they don’t know is, there were black cowboys long before there were white cowboys.”
His life has made him open to welcoming anyone in his town, regardless of color, or as is the case in southern Arizona, regardless of citizenship. He’s known for chasing the Border Patrol off his property.
“I tell people that Cowtown Keeylocko doesn’t choose who comes here,” he said. “That’s the real West.”
Those he welcomes include illegal immigrants who come for water — from the U.S.-Mexico border, less than 50 miles away.
On a recent afternoon, Keeylocko continued to nurse his tequila at the bar, sweating slightly. Aside from the faint hum of a fan, which didn’t provide much relief, the only sounds were insects chirping. Keeylocko’s eyes became soft...
A person has to go back to the land,” he said. “It creates thought.”
I first learned about this remarkable man from an old episode of Arizona Illustrated and fell in love -- then, as usual, life happened. In 2018, when I heard of his passing I did an extensive web search, gathering articles and photos and watching videos of him and his life, and vowed to do a painting of him. Then the Trump War on Asylum Seekers sucked up national oxygen and my attention turned elsewhere.
Then the triple-header of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George Floyd ripped my life foundations out from under me.
Now; I was raised with a set of values that promoted diversity (albeit as God's Christian soldiers) and I did have racism awareness growing up and plenty of first-hand witness to Arizona's brand of bigotry. But the depth and insidiousness of nation-wide systemic racism revealed itself in new ways to me everywhere. It is inescapable and we white people have no idea how deep it runs, by design. America's Original Sin is still very much who we are. It's just more sophisticated and socially acceptable now. I felt physically nauseated.
But then I witnessed something incredible: after 400 years of colonial control, a great reckoning seemed to be stirring within many Caucasian Americans as wave after wave emerged from all corners of the country, calling to end the perpetuation of violence and inequality towards black people-- indeed, all people of color on this land we share...
All the while, the covid siren was growing louder. The 45th president plugged his ears. It bounced off MAGA hats and unmasked faces, long guns and battle gear. It fluttered with "patriot" and confederate flags and claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives unabated. Conspiracy theories and racial vitriol flooded social media, stoked by the president-- creating real-life threats and incidents. Violence and victim-blaming was now "Patriotism", and collective survival assistance was now "Radical Left Socialism". It was mind-boggling.
So I shut down my Facebook and joined the real world through the peace of covid sequester in my home. The events of 2020 and the George Floyd murder spurred me to take a cathartic look at my own life experiences of sexism and double-standards and the hypocritical stew I was born and raised in.
Here finally, after months in the making, is my vision of Ed J.B. Keeylocko. I brought out his "swamp" green eyes. Above him is his signature Blue Dog Saloon. I include his pinto horse, Jazz, who seemed to be a good fit for this painting. He was an incredible man and led an incredible life. I am sorry our paths never crossed in this world. For those who had the privilege of knowing him, I hope this portrayal of him comes close to doing him justice.
As old wrangler, this man and painting has a special place in my heart.
(Horse nerd note: registered pintos have dark bluish bands around their white markings.)
I'm happy to donate the digital files of my work to 501(c)3 non-profits for fund-raising and historical/educational/cultural preservation. This includes Mr. Keeylocko's Legacy. Feel free to contact me.
This piece of normalized recklessness and profiteering jumped out at me recently. A July pictorial in The National Geographic about Trump's border wall captured the essence of why guardian spirits like La Corua and ancient gifts from I'itoi (O'odham Elder Brother) are meaningless to those who "take no responsibility".
Beautifully written by Douglas Main with powerful imagery by photographer Ash Ponder, I share snippets that speak to the heart of the Living Being that is the Sonoran Desert and the decimation of both land and culture that its guardian people, the O'odham, now face. I hope you will follow the link to view and read the whole thing... It speaks to a critical tipping point for an area that exists nowhere else in the world. When it's gone, it's gone. And for what? To make a few white men rich and feed an emperor's vanity.
A classic, wretched old story...
White Man's ignorance is a dead-end road. We are already there.
But we are a stubborn bunch. As long as there is mud in the pond, we will continue to scrape.
"On Each side the people hold it together, to share M Himadag, O'odham"
There's a fabulous little treasure of a book to learn about the O'odham Children's Shrine, their sacred mountain--home to I'itoi, Their legends and creation stories, the Yaquis (Yoeme), Native Christianities, La Corua, and other rich stuff:
Beliefs and Holy Places - A Spiritual Geography of the Pimeria Alta,
by James S. ("Big Jim" ) Griffith
Fear and victim-blaming has been a wildly successful political weapon throughout history, especially in Arizona--and each generation to breeds new sets of eager, vulnerable ears. Enter the Trump brand of nativism and by 2019, it's a whole new ballgame. This Christmas, I didn't need to reinvent the wheel-- just add some ammunition and realities we'd rather not think about. I DO want to remember that the Nativity is really about the Human Spirit. Regimes come and go and although the human spirit is ephemeral, it finds a way. Always.
- Linda Magdalena Victoria