Excavating Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica

Photo courtesy of Thelma Uranga

 I pray for your book, the way I pray for my people.  -Doña Augustina, Oaxacan Healer

At the beginning of the year, writer and Renaissance woman Paloma Martinez-Cruz kicked off our Proyecto Latina Reading Series. Her book Women and Knowledge In Mesoamerica: From East L.A. to Anahuac had just been published. In this long over due interview, I’m happy to have finally carved out the time to revisit my conversation with Paloma about the importance of her book and share it with you.

Whether you’ve seen Paloma read her writing, doing a performance piece or whipping out her guitar and singing at Proyecto Latina there is no doubt she is a blazing creative bonfire and her book is a reflection of this.

Paloma is originally from North East Los Angeles and resides in the Pilsen neighborhood and has always been drawn to philosophy and letters. When she was a student at the university she wanted access to ideas and theoretical work on Mesoamerican knowledge traditions but couldn’t find a place for it within her educational experience. Writing the book according to Paloma is, “a way to decolonize who I am.”

The book’s focus is on Mesoamerican knowledge traditions and why don’t we have access to them? “It’s important to know ourselves as knowers and not always having to cut and paste from European traditions and values. It helps us find our alignment and have a connection to our past,” says Paloma.

Photo courtesy of Mike Travis

In school, she didn’t want to study a body of Mesoamerican people in an anthropological way where traditions are categorized as folkloric or as Paloma says sarcastically, “Oh, how neat that they do that or let’s look at how they are different from us.” Paloma wanted to look beyond that narrative and she says, “ I don’t want to learn about them, I wanted to learn from them, about their philosophical traditions and ways knowledge is communicated and shared.”

Through performance studies she was able to begin exploring this idea of knowledge traditions. Her chapter Women Healers of Tenochtitlan was born in a performance and conquest class led by professor Diana Taylor at New York University. She then traveled from New York to the highlands of Oaxaca to research and study with Oaxacan healer Doña Augustina. On one particular visit Doña Augustina gave Paloma’s book a blessing by saying, “I pray for your book, the way I pray for my people.”

What Paloma discovered in her research was that in Mesoamerican knowledge traditions there is a different way to value knowledge and share it with the community. The spiritual connection to nature is put in higher esteem than the self.  Things like ambition and ego are considered pathology within these communities.

I asked Paloma how she manages being a professor, a writer and a mom and with that marvelous laugh of hers she says, “I managed it como loca!” Having a son you are always a mother even if your child is not in the room. It’s the same when you’re working on a book.  You’re always working on a book even if the book isn’t in the room with you, you’re always kind of processing it,” says Paloma.

Academically the book paves the way for other Latinas in higher education trying to document and create conversation of knowledge traditions along with its impact on today’s generation. It’s a must have for anyone an interest in gender, Chicana, Latinas, Women, Mesoamerican traditions. Read more on Women and Knowledge In Mesoamerica: From East L.A. to Anahuac.

(Also, in the interest of full disclosure, Paloma is now part of the Proyecto Latina team! She is taking the lead on a special project that she will be telling you about herself in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!) Read more on Paloma…

One Response to “Excavating Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica”

  1. Fabiola says:

    Muy chido!

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