April 3, 2009
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Chicana/o Studies offers culture and tradition
Corn Mothers exhibit will be in the Tivoli Multi Cultural lounge after April 16.
The Chicana/o Studies Department at Metropolitan State College of Denver has seen a 172 percent increase in declared majors since Fall 2004. No doubt the attraction is due to the rich curriculum.
This semester the department offered its first curandero class and this month features a tribute to Corn Mothers. While not necessarily familiar terms in the community-at large, both honor legacies deeply rooted in the Latino community. A curandero is a healer and Corn Mothers represent Mother Earth.
Associate Professor and Chair of Chicano Studies Ramon Del Castillo has extensive experiences with both, having written about them in 1999 for his doctoral dissertation. He is excited about the learning opportunities for the entire campus community. “The Chicano Studies Department is committed to the president’s missions of preeminence and cultural diversity through the kinds of programs that we offer,” says Del Castillo. “These programs enhance students’ cultural sensitivity, awareness and knowledge basis.”
The Return of the Corn Mothers
“The Return of the Corn Mothers” symposium and exhibit, which features 18 Corn Mothers from the southwestern region of the U.S., will be held April 16 at St. Cajetan’s on the Auraria Campus.
The term "Corn Mother" is based on a Pueblo myth of two sisters who represent the givers of life and it also symbolizes growth, life, creativity and the feminine aspects of the world. Three years ago, Renee Fajardo-Anstine, curator and artistic creator of the project, revived the tradition of Corn Mother, providing a more modern view.
The ages of the featured Corn Mothers range from 29 to 89.
She refers to them as “caretakers of the world, community activists,” and women who can “offer something different than the original and clichéd version of success.” Although the Corn Mother’s roots are of southwestern descent, there are many women of diverse ages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds featured in the exhibit. Their age range is 29 to 89.
For Del Castillo, who will lead the panel discussion at the April 16 symposium, the exhibit is “an opportunity to honor women who give life, heal and take care of their families and communities. As a male, I am humbled they asked me to help lead the discussion.”
Funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Colorado Folk Arts Council, the exhibit is meant to “promote elder respect and reverence and to shift from a youth-oriented culture,” says Fajardo-Anstine, who was awarded a 2007-08 Rocky Mountain Women's Institute Fellowship to collect the inspirational stories of the modern Corn Mothers. “It is important to hear the knowledge these women have to give back.”
Curanderismo in the classroom
Affiliate Professor of Chicano Studies Belinda Garcia, recognized in the community as a curandera, debuted the class “Curanderismo: Holistic Healing” at Metro State this spring. Garcia is quick to explain how one is defined as a curandera. “Many people call me a curandera, but I don’t call myself this,” says Garcia, who has been teaching at the College for eight years.
Curanderismo is a traditional approach to healing used by many Mexican Americans to supplement Western conventional medicine. Literally translated as "healer" from Spanish, curanderos often use herbs and other natural remedies to cure illnesses, and are often respected members of the community.
Steeped in tradition, “there’s a lot of ceremony, honoring ancestors, based on mother earth and all the directions, east, south, west, north, above and below,” says Garcia, who has a lifelong history with curanderismo. “I practiced it when I was young. My greatest teachers were my grandmas and mom. They taught me how to be of service to others.”
Through a life full of trials, including the loss of her son and her husband, Garcia found a way to serve. Twenty years ago, she founded Sisters of Color United for Education (SISTERS), a Colorado-based, grassroots organization established to create health equity in underserved communities by embracing wellness in mind, body and spirit. It is the oldest promotora program in Colorado. “Promotora” is the Spanish word for a female “promoter.” In this context, promotoras are community health advocates, who are encouraged to draw from their own cultural wisdom, innate strength and comprehensive training to teach families, neighbors and co-workers about health promotion, risk reduction and health care access.
Whatever the setting, in her Metro State classroom or at SISTERS, Garcia says, “it’s about people beginning to take responsibility for their health.”