Interview with Joana Cruz
Organizer, Seeds & Soul Cultural Exchange and Festival
By Christine Joy Ferrer
On October 24, 2015, in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, Dancing Earth and the Audiopharmacy Prescriptions Collective organized the first ever Seeds & Soul Indigenous Cultural Exchange and Festival at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. The free festival brought together about a thousand people and harnessed the power of the arts and indigenous cultural exchange with Bay Area communities, centered around culture, music, art, food, and relationship-building as tools for social and environmental change. Featured artists and presenters included: Corrina Gould (Indian People Organizing for Change); Leny Strobel (Center for Babaylan Studies); Capoeira Ijexa, Namorados Da Lua, and Bangka Journeys. Joana Cruz is a lead organizer for Seeds & Soul and the operations manager for Audiopharmacy Prescriptions Collective.
Christine Joy Ferrer: What motivated you to put together the Seeds & Soul Indigenous Cultural Exchange Festival?
Joana Cruz: For me, Seeds & Soul is an organically evolving vision that is still creating itself. Maybe six or seven years ago, the demographics of San Francisco started really changing. Most people of San Francisco are open-minded, willing to bring in something new to the city. It’s part of the city’s charm and appeal. When the tech industry revival happened and made its base in the Bay Area, it brought people and policies that promote capitalistic initiatives that cater to them. Rent and cost of living have sky-rocketed, gutting the city of its diverse culture and displacing thousands of people, mostly the elderly, families, artists, and people of color. I rapidly started to understand gentrification, its roots and history, how it manifests issues about racism and classism, and I realized displacement has been a part of this capitalistic model of society. I learned more about the original people living in the Bay Area prior to the colonization of the mission systems and urban sprawl. And I realized that this lack of acknowledgement and respect for existing cultures in making way for the needs of the colonizer is a cycle that needs to be addressed and changed.
As a decolonizing Filipina American, I’ve come to learn that not only do I have to re-learn and re-connect to what it means to be Pinay, I also have to learn how to be a dweller in this land my family and I now call home. Part of that learning is re-educating myself on California history by having a better understanding of local Native history and experience. This place where I reside, now called the San Francisco Bay Area, is Ohlone territory. The Ohlone people, a diverse group of indigenous people with various languages, customs and practices, live up and down the coast of Northern California from the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula down to Big Sur in the south, and from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Diablo Range in the east. The Spanish colonization by means of the Catholic Mission systems, then the Gold Rush and creation of the state of California, systematically worked on erasing the Ohlone people and their existence. Many people even call what has happened to the Ohlone, genocide.
But they are still here. Breathing, living, working, raising families, creating, and fighting hard every day to revitalize their culture, to preserve their sacred sites, and to protect and sustain the environment. There are rich histories, varying from tribe to tribe, of the Ohlone peoples that our schools dare not share with the masses. There are indigenous teachings practiced to this day that prioritize the importance of living in harmony and in balance with the land. There are teachings connected to the importance of being healers of the land, ourselves and each other. The colonial past that our text books and our current society glazes over actually works against us today. The lack of recognition of these people, their experiences and struggles, as well as their ways of living and ideas on how to sustain the land we call home today need to be brought to light.
There is so much happening all over the world—overt and covert wars, kidnapping, slavery, genocide, natural and unnatural disasters, climate change, water rising and drying simultaneously, natural resources being extracted by companies that create more and more waste and destruction—and I can’t help but think about what’s going to happen to our world and to future generations. It must be the Mama in me. But even with this dirty laundry list of negative human impact, what’s hopeful is that I’ve seen how people are activating to be more aware and conscious of our interconnectedness and working to create more balance. People all over the world do live in harmony with nature and have a powerful connection with the manna of the land. Times are changing fast, and we need some ingenuity to reconnect with the land—lands that heal and are vital to our collective survival.
Last year, the killings of Mike Brown, Alex Nieto and Eric Garner, and other people of color (Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant) in past years brought the realities of police brutality to the forefront, as also our nation’s divides. When Ferguson stepped up and was like, “We’re not taking this anymore, we demand that black lives matter! We want to change the institution, demonstrate and do what it takes!” I was so inspired to see young Black women and men stand up and fight, supported by allies from different cultures and backgrounds in the U.S. and beyond. It made me ask myself, what am I going to do? How do I help? What movement am I a part of? I want to help in a way that’s working in collaboration with others in a sacred and loving way. During Ferguson, I’ve been giving support by staying as conscious as possible and supporting friends who are frontline activists by providing outlets for creativity and healing in my home. I’ve also been teaching my kids about what’s going on, in a way that’s appropriate. But despite trying to stay grounded in loving actions, I started to get consumed with anger and even started to experience second-hand trauma from my activation and information downloading. I had to pause, meditate and ask myself, “Now what?” What do I do with all this information and lived experiences?
The one thing that was clear to me was that you can’t fight the damage our corrupt systems have produced with anger. There is a lot of pain and trauma across the board but we can heal by taking the time to rejuvenate and work together to make that happen. My own awareness and activation has heightened and a deep desire to learn more about what can bring more unity, cooperation and respect started to find its way into my creative work with Audiopharmacy. These are the beginnings of Seeds & Soul. Ultimately, the way to change what’s happening starts within us. That’s powerful, that sense of self-worth is powerful.
Ferrer: What is it like to reimagine a world that supports this idea of indigenous-led, women-led projects harnessing the power of music, performance art, nourishing food, and respectful cultural and knowledge exchange to strengthen bridges between indigenous peoples of the Bay Area?
Cruz: It’s a lot of talking, drawing and brainstorming; a lot of living to be able to think about these things actively, consciously and in the moment. It’s healthy team-work and collaboration. There are no rules but our expectations and standards are easily communicated and the team, consisting of Rulan Tangen, Javier Stell-Fresquez, myself and so many others that believe in this work, it’s been one of the most amazing collaborative experiences I have ever had. We are aligned in so many different things but our roots strongly intertwine in our belief in art, music and dance as a way to share stories and activate people to bring the healing on.
With everything that’s happening in this world, it’s important to focus on healing ourselves. Supporting each other in this process will heal the collective. We looked at what’s culturally appropriate. We created an advisory board of people from this area with diverse indigenous identities and looked to them for participation in decision-making on various aspects of the festival. The hope was to create a space to bring people together to talk and share—just as we’ve been able to do as two organizations/collectives—while having a good time, listening to music that elevates our vibrations and heals our souls, dancing to connect us to our indigenous bodies, eating good food and drinking good water. It’s about creating a space for an open discussion about connecting the arts and diverse and indigenous cultures to policy and transformation.
I’m also drawn to and inspired by what’s been happening in Native American communities. As the original people of this land we now call America, they have a deep understanding of the cycles and rhythms of our planet, locally and globally. I feel like they’ve been trying to get the message out that Mama Earth needs to be heard! We need to learn from their traditions and intentions, and work with them to create our solutions.
Making something like this is living my own truth. For the past 10 years, I’ve been working on my own decolonization. It’s taking that long to believe in my intuition and my ability for ME to make a difference. And it’s really because I’ve been blessed to be able to experience inspiration every day from different beings and experiences, in different ways. I try and connect with my ancestors and see them and myself and the future generation of my family in a different way than my colonized mind did before. Believing in this change doesn’t happen overnight but if you want to make that change, happen it will. I want people to experience that. I think having these reflections and holding space for folks so they can create their own moments, ideas, conversations, visions, and dreams is the key.
Christine Joy Ferrer is a contributing editor at Reimagine! This interview has been edited and condensed from the original. To learn more about Seeds & Soul, visit seedsandsoul.org. Dancing Earth spins, stomps and spirals into life on the world’s dancing grounds as a collective of intertribal indigenous dance artists, under the leadership of internationally respected choreographer, Rulan Tangen. Audiopharmacy Prescriptions Collective is an international art collective and live world hip-hop ensemble that has been making community-minded art and music together since 1994.