Saturday, June 26, 2010

We are now editing the Always Becoming film.

All the footage, interviews and music we've collected and shared with you over the past year in the blog are now being pieced together to complete the story of Always Becoming.

Our expected release for the one hour documentary is Fall of 2010, in the meantime we'll keep you posted on the progress.

For those of you who have been following the Always Becoming blog over the past year, we send many thanks for your interest and comments.

Thanks from the film crew of Always Becoming-

Dax Thomas
Jai Antoinio
Zak Naranjo Morse
Nora Naranjo Morse

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Our Brothers And Sisters


Tito Naranjo
december 2009
"America is great at trying to make other people in their own image..."

When I was young I thought indigenous people were a phenomena particular only to the United States. Public schooling reinforced all kinds of misconceptions, creating Natives as a discovered and quickly conquered race. And, that after the Mexican border, the indigenous population ended. I learned that historical figures like Christopher Columbus, Don Juan De Onate ventured into uncharted territories already inhabited, established a presence while carving an indelible place for themselves in American history. No one clued me to the fact that indigenous people were everywhere in this world and not only were they everywhere they had incredibly rich cultures, with specific world views, languages and ceremonies. No mention of the magnitude and influence these cultures had on our world, none of that existed in my education. Of course later on I learned differently. I intellectually understood indigenous people existed elsewhere, however, this information didn't resonate truly until I met and worked with the Morales family from Obergon Mexico. Working with the Morales family on Always Becoming paved the way for a new awareness that informed me of indigenous connections and relationships all over the world. This awareness continued when an opportunity took me back to Mexico recently. 


Guerillmina Ortega is a Totonac-Mexican woman who lives and works in the El Tajin area near Papantla, Mexico. Where is that you ask? El Tajin is in the state of Vera Cruz, 6 hours- by car- East of Mexico City. Vera Cruz, the port, is also a popular American vacation spot on the Gulf of Mexico. Back to Ms. Ortega. Guerillmina traveled to the Smithsonian three years ago, saw both the Always Becoming sculptures and the film while visiting the New Museum of the American Indian and decided she wanted to incorporate Always Becoming in a project. Ms. Ortega works at the Centro de la Artes Indigenas institute in El Tajin. The institute serves as a gathering place for several of the indigenous communities in the El Tajin region. The institute encourages a continuation of indigenous art forms and cultural knowledge through a number of programs and community oriented projects.Ms. Ortega and NMAI worked together to create a residency for me and twenty women from the institutes's House of Clay.The residency emphasized land and family- what that meant historically as cultural people and what it means to us now. Most of the people we worked with in the House of Clay were women who came from smaller, more remote communities in the El Tajin region.Because the residency was geared toward family, my daughter Eliza joined in this incredible project bringing a different voice which she used while working with Totonac children at the institute. Eliza and the children who's ages ranged from 6 to 13 years of age, painted portraits with clays from New Mexico and the land of El Tajin. They also picked up trash from the side of the roads, shared soda pop and learned words and sentences from each of their languages. At any given time during our residency there would be five languages in this group of thirty five or so people. There was one translator, but mostly there was a lot of pointing and guessing, mostly on my part. We spent 10 hours a day in a two room building made of bamboo and branches. We ate, we washed dishes and we made things out of the different types of clays. We shared clay techniques, cultural experiences and by day two, even though language was a challenge, we knew that gossip and laughing was a universal understanding. Each day we started off with prayers that the older women of the Clay House led, everyone seeking life in our own languages, asking for a good new day.


Athena Swentzell
March 2009
“Um, I felt like they were family right off the bat.”

Every morning before heading out to the Centro de la Artes Indigenas Institute, we crossed El Centro - the plaza area of Papantla - to get a cup of coffee. The community is small enough that it's easy to walk the town's length and after a couple of days it's very possible to keep running into the same people. Of course El Centro is where everyone gathers to sell food, shoe shines, catch taxi and a lot more, it's the heart of the community. As Eliza and I sat in a booth at the town's only coffee shop, two elderly women turned around and waved to us. We waved back and 30 seconds later they were at our booth chatting away. It didn't seem to matter that my Spanish is at best, poor. That we looked different, that we were obviously strangers, none of that mattered to these two women or anyone else in Papantla. By the end of our visit with the ladies at the coffee shop - they had to leave for work- we were on a first name basis as they hugged us and wished us a blessed day. This kind of interaction was an on going phenomena. Affectionate and chatty.Curious and open. Kind and unbelievably giving the people in Papantla and the other communities embraced us and allowed us a place at their table.


Tito Naranjo
December 2009
“We've made everything un-sacred. Uh, we have made everything profane. And profane means that is just a tool we use that has no special meaning, when we're done with it, we throw it away, you know. Uh, the sacred, you don't do that to it. The sacred you preserve.”

The sacred is in the land. In those rich, green hillsides of Mexico that bear witness to fertility and continuity. The sacred is in the people who create lives while making vessels and homes, farms and ceremonies.They are the brothers and sister, aunts and cousins we've missed knowing because we've been taught to think they do not exist. We are like them in many ways. We are coiled from the same earth and spirit. We breath and die under the sky. In Tito Naranjo's interview, he spoke about the sacred and about seeking life.The sacred is here with us, still. It's in the small communities tucked along the hillsides of Mexico. The sacred is on the plains where Comanches gather to celebrate, in the arid landscape of the Dineh and the cold white of the Antarctic. The sacred lives in the elders who prayed for us at El Tajin. It's in the cultural knowledge we are meant to use as a foundation for our lives now. The residency in El Tajin wrapped up the filming phase for Always Becoming, now we begin the process of using all the information we've gathered over the last year to tell the story of how a community oriented project became an even larger story about culture, the land and people.



Next Month: Connecting the Dots

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Glimpse

"Of this our true individual life, our present life is a glimpse, a fragment, a hint, and in it's best moments a visible beginning."
- Josiah Royce

Next month: Our Brothers And Sisters

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Watch It: An Interview with Tito Naranjo

"Etching a new beginning from old songs.
Ancestral sounds navigating steady and sure
Across a celestial canvas with prayer bundles in hand
Singing welcoming chants.
It is the beginning of a simple
Wondrous gift called life."

- From the poem, Always Becoming

In all the interviews we've done over the year of filming one thing is clear, as Native people our spirits are connected to the earth. This earth conscious world view echos across Indian country with a simple and yet profound imperative, stewardship for the land we live on. From voices far and near - a Native Architect living in Seattle or an elder from Santa Clara Pueblo - this thread of earth consciousness has cultivated culture and re-enforced a sense of self among Native people. Through these voices we've begun to weave together a unique cultural story significant in it's contribution to our communities and the world. As Mr. Naranjo so eloquently stated, "seeking life" as our duty in order to create a balanced and whole life for ourselves and our communities.

Tito Naranjo is a Santa Clara Pueblo elder who teaches Native studies at the college level in Northern New Mexico. Naranjo is clear about who he is. He is a seventy year old Pueblo man who grew up roaming the mountains in Northern New Mexico looking for food to help feed his family. As a college professor, Tito generously shares his cultural knowledge with both Native and non-Native students with the understanding that cultural knowledge is a tool that has great importance in seeking that life of balance.

Mr. Naranjo's certainty about who he is, is why he was interviewed him for this film. Understanding land, culture and community inspires that certainty of self and has been a central theme in conceptualizing both the Always Becoming sculptures and now the film. As indigenous people enter a new decade, we are looking at issues that often times are at odds with our identity and that connection to earth. How do we hold onto cultural knowledge and use this information to navigate through our life singularly and as a community? Mr. Naranjo like many elders on the reservations and in urban areas are significant cultural anchors, they speak from their experiences offering a plethora of knowledge to future generations.

As the sculptures of Always Becoming start to dissolve, revealing layers of new textures, we are reminded of the voices of our ancestors who modeled a strong cultural foundation inspired by the earth we walk on.

Next month: A Glimpse