"All I was trying to do was get home from work."
Growing up on a reservation in New Mexico that was historically
matriarchal, my role models in life and culture were women. My father
spent most of his time outdoors so much of the day to day governance
of home was directed by a woman I knew as Jia. Jia means mother in the Tewa language. My mother was a combination teacher and drill sergeant with a world view strongly dictated by Pueblo tenets, although Jia was a mother first and foremost. Pregnant for almost eight years of her life, Jia raised nine children as well as several non biological children during her lifetime. She navigated through long days
multi-tasking with a skill impressive to me even today. Jia's children
knew what it was like to hike up a hill before dawn to gather clay
then, come home to skin and butcher an elk later in the day. This kind
of work day scenario was not uncommon, the same sort of day played out at my aunt Carma's house and in fact, every other households in the
village, if the sun was up, the there was work to be done, not only in
the family, but the community. These women were role models who taught basic survival skills as well a sense of community and placement within the environment we lived.
Pueblos before European contact were matrilineal in the truest sense
of the word. Women in the communities were an integral part of the
ceremony, rituals and daily governance. In addition, they plastered
the walls, made pottery, raised children and helped grow food. In many
tribes women created the stories from which tribal members established their identity and confirmed their place in the order of things. The empowered cultural coding these strong women modeled reinforced a sense of self that carried through to daily experiences, building as time and experiences shaped a life full of struggle and joy, ritual and work, family and community.
Junaita Espanoza is one of those strong women. Ms. Espanoza is the
Executive Director of the Native Arts Circle Inc. and the manager of
the Two Rivers Gallery for MIAC (Minneapolis American Indian Center). Juanita is a single mother of three and clearly a remarkable presence in the Native urban community in Minneapolis. Easily engaged, Juanita speaks eloquently on the issues of Native women, Native urban life and the center she is responsible for running. Juanita's experience in community activism gives her an insight into contemporary Native life, this in turn helps her construct programs for the Indigenous urban population in the twin cities area and beyond.
Why was Juanita interviewed for the Always Becoming documentary? In the sculpture competition process, NMAI Smithsonian went about choosing selectors who would offer a variety of knowledgable art, community and cultural insights. In interviewing other selectors, there was a consensus that the women on the selection panel brought to
the table an impressive amount of experience and, a sophisticated knowledge of indigenous and non indigenous histories. Pooled, these assets helped to build the protocol of selection and ultimately the message NMAI wanted to reflect.
For the women who have worked and continue to work on Always Becoming: selectors, mud mixers, navigators through administrative complexities, supporters, producers, women who give loving hugs when needed, all of you, know this - our aunties, mothers and grandmothers would be proud of what we have done and continue to do.
Next Month: His Connection To The Earth
(Part two and three of the three part series on "Strong Women" will
continue in October)