"I would see people in my community suffering. People would look to us for help. They always talk to us about their problems. Even when we didn't know who they were."
I was born in Guatemala in Xelajú, as it is known by most Guatemalans. Growing up, I was surrounded by nature. Surrounded by volcanoes, it was common for me to feel and hear the Earth shake and see plumes of volcanic ash tower over the city. Everywhere I looked I was always reminded of how fragile we were. Because of this, I developed a close relationship to Nature and its elements at a very young age.
I was born to a family of healers. My father, a surgeon. My mother, a nurse. I grew up learning how to heal others. In our home in Guatemala, my father set up a small clinic in the front part of the house, where our family would treat and heal people who had fallen ill. After his accidental death my mother built the “Casa de Salud” or “House of Health”, a small hospital in our backyard, in his memory. My Grandmother, also a healer, taught me the magical healing powers of music and honoring the other realms. In my youth we would bang on her piano with a lot of enthusiasm. And throughout my years I learned how to cleanse the home by placing spoonful of coals into a pot, burning on top of them a handful of herbs, and smoking every corner of the home.
Because of my past, I’ve embarked on a journey of healing and honoring the relations that we have with our Earth, the Sun, and the elements that make it possible for us to live. I have always known that one of my tasks in this life is to be of service to those in need. In the 1980’s I became a member of a small group that formed in Los Angeles who participated and conducted Native American Ceremonies in the Lakota tradition. But after many years of practicing in this way, our elders began to tell us, “I am not going to be around forever, so you better learn now”. As our elders passed away and the needs continued, some of us began to take responsibility for leading the ceremonies that were passed down to us. This would eventually take us to sharing them with different segments of Los Angeles.
Our work with the youth have been critical since the beginning. I have been invited to teach drumming at several detention camps run by the Los Angeles Unified School district and provide ongoing support for the local youth and men. In addition to that, for the past thirty years I have led sweat lodges for disconnected youth from the community. The positive impact of these lodges has been obvious from the start. Many of these individuals have been able to work through and heal many wounds and gain a sense of belonging and community. I am proud to know that many of these youth have gone on to become counselors, lawyers, social workers and mentors because of their long time participation in those ceremonies.
In the last five years, the severe rise in suicide rates in this country especially with Armed Forces veterans have caused me to turn my attention to the needs of veterans. The need for this type of ritual process in this community is immense. I have been invited to run lodges and retreats for veterans along with a Soldier’s Heart, the Great Mother, among other organizations. We have seen lasting impact of these programs and services to veterans, and veterans have expressed how palpable these ceremonies have been to their journey of healing and reintegration.
My mission in life is to pass on these traditions to our future generations, and to provide for a stabilizing presence in the lives of individuals who have been lost, forgotten or neglected. With Roots and Wings, it is my vision that our ceremonies, holding space, and services will create a sense of family, community and sanctuary for veterans and youth all over. And one day we can create a normalized understanding of healing and belonging that can hold the balance of life for generations to come.