Click here to view this post in editorial view (see preview below)
Earlier this year, Urban x Indigenous: III “Keep Pushin’” aimed to explore the ways in which marginalized peoples push to uplift and resist through the expression of Hip-Hop. We were inspired by the strength exhibited in the unique stories and experiences shared by artists of different backgrounds at UxI: III. However, during these times of intensified tension in today’s societal climate, every mover, shaker, and creator cannot stand alone in the face of the oppressor. Now more than ever, it is of critical importance that we combine the strength of many voices to construct one powerful, multi-faceted, multi-cultural, yet collective message. This need for allied action called upon us to embark on UxI’s latest mission – to Unite the Tribes.
Though UxI: IV “Unite the Tribes” lies eight months away (mark your calendars for June 15 – 17, 2018!), our dream team’s visioning process began on the weekend of September 23 – 24, during UxI’s first ever retreat. Our dream team set off for a weekend of reflection, productivity and dialogue.
Re(calling) Our Ancestors
The weekend began in the home of Leny Mendoza Strobel – elder, thought-leader, wisdom-keeper, and (for which we are eternally grateful) our mentor. Ate Leny, known to many for her work through the Center for Babaylan Studies and as well as published academic work, facilitated our dream team’s thought process as we reflected on the definition of “Unite the Tribe.” She gathered us around an altar of sacred objects, and asked each of us to invite an ancestor into our thought circle. In order to move forward, Ate Leny reminded us of the importance of looking back. In calling upon our ancestors and remembering their legacy, we began to create a vision for the medicine we hope UxI IV will be for our united communities.
The following day, our dream team made our way to meet Ras K’dee at The NEST, which, after the completion of its construction, will be the first ever sustainable Indigenous-led arts center in California, a space and resource for future generations to harness. The NEST’s official website welcomes you with a simple invitation, “This is a space for healing, good vibes, and creation of art. If you’re about that life, slide thru.” Needless to say, we slid thru. Following a shared breakfast around a sacred fire, Ras offered us song and thought as we further contemplated our connection to land, and the land’s claim to its indigenous peoples.
To help with The NEST’s construction process, the dream team laced into our work boots, grabbed a few shovels, and got down to work. The mission of the day was to dig up a section of the property to level the land for what will be the foundation of The NEST’s main building. After shovel upon shovel, we stumbled upon a thick tree root that needed to be excavated. We took turns working and pulling at the root, it’s strength requiring us to muster up our own in order to complete our mission. It was as if the land was reminding us that we must dig deep and connect to our roots, so that we can lay the foundation for future generations.
For our third and final location of the weekend retreat, the dream team made our way to Bindlestiff Studio, where we met up with Melanie Elvena, Artistic Director at the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. Our group dialogue functioned as a process of weaving together the moments and stories of the weekend, into a cohesive, actionable vision. Additionally, we used this space and time for a couple of our dream team members to facilitate group activities. In one activity, we meditated upon the sensory memory of our pasts. In another, we flexed our creative muscles to construct the story of ourselves told through the storytelling conventions of mythology. Sharing the story of ourselves seemed to be the perfect way to wrap up the story of our weekend, and begin the story of UxI IV.
In what was essentially a 24-hour retreat, our dream team managed to absorb and exchange a lifetime of learnings. Escaping our individual lives for a weekend of collective reflection was a necessary step in uniting our team, our thoughts and our vision. Over the next eight months, the takeaways from this weekend with our mentors and friends will will carry us towards our mission to Unite the Tribes.