Stories of Culture and Identity
written by Maileen Hamto
Creating space for an intergenerational and multicultural gathering requires intentional and heart-led effort in building trust, rapport, and community. With the goal of uplifting the stories and voices of the Pueblo, Hispano and Filipino communities in New Mexico, long-time CfBS leader Mila Anguluan took to task and delivered an unforgettable experience of kinship and alliance.
For more than a year, Mila and partner Rusty Barcelo, Ph.D., former president of Northern New Mexico University, worked with the Española and Albuquerque communities. They focused their energies on relationship-building, follow-up, trust-building, potlucks, parties, and attendance at various events.
The culmination of their efforts was the gathering held on May 28, where more than 30 community members, storytellers and CfBS members attended “Stories of Culture & Identity.” The event featured the personal and collective narratives from a wide spectrum of tribes and communities along the Rio Grande. The historic storytelling event is among a series of community-building and fundraising events to support the Third International Center for Babaylan Studies Conference in Vancouver, B.C.
“Each of the parts we played made possible a wealth of exchange. It gave us a chance to understand each other more, and to never stop dreaming what is possible when we come together with one heart, amidst all the changes and challenges surrounding us,” says Mila.
CfBS founder Leny Mendoza-Strobel led a touching opening ceremony that featured a 5-foot garland of “Cadena de Amor,” which represented the symbolic passing-on of traditions from elders to the youth.
“Cadena de amor means a bond of love, which is what kapwa is all about, a reaffirmation of an interdependent community nurtured in love,” says Mila. “With Leny’s help and the rest of those who participated, it was indeed a moving testimony of intergenerational legacy building.”
Elder-storytellers provided historical context and shared their wisdom around addressing issues of cultural identity, settler colonialism, and the importance of revitalizing indigenous traditions and languages. Storytellers include: Patrick Aquino (Ohkay Owingeh), Rusty Barcelo (Xicana), Ted Jojola (Isleta Pueblo), CfBS founder Leny Mendoza-Strobel, and Kathy Sanchez of the Tewa Women United.
Stories shared by young people focused on their own lived experiences in a multicultural society where strong Puebloan, Filipino and Latino identities cannot fully take root. The undercurrent of isolation and search for belonging is punctuated by cathartic moments of connection, spurred by community. Youth who shared their stories are: Ariadne Bito (represented by Kristina Gordon); Jessica Garcia; Melissa Montoya (represented by Ashley Martinez); Robert Nelson; and Andy Romero.
The gathering was held at the University of New Mexico Indigenous Design and Planning Institute (IDPI), whose director Ted Jojola, Ph.D., (Isleta Pueblo) is recognized for his active involvement in the New Mexican Filipino community. Along with his wife Dely Alcantara, Ph.D., he is a founding member of the Filipino American National Historical Society – Rio Grande chapter. At the event, both Ted and Deli shared personal stories of immersion in each other’s cultures — in the Philippines, New Mexico and Hawaii — and finding common threads in the rich tapestry of Filipino and Pueblo experiences.
“Gatherings remind us that there are more important things, e.g., friendships, reconnecting with ourselves, remembering that we are more similar than different, and, at the end of the day, we are all part of one universe. We hope to continue what we have started and meet again in the very near future,” Dely says.
Mila envisions that the connections created and seeds planted at the event will undoubtedly actualize more partnerships in the future.
“We hope that such legacy building will also benefit the communities in other states, and other places, as we, CFBS volunteers and the core members, move to new areas of our life journeys, always learning and interconnecting as kapwa, whether inside or outside of CFBS,” Mila says.