EL PASO – Chocolates and romance may be typical fare for a traditional Valentine’s Day, but not at Café Mayapán where the words of strong Latinas were served up on Feb. 14 in a series of performances to raise awareness against domestic violence.
About 100 people attended the event, Tonantzín Rising, a part of the national One Billion Rising movement, sponsored locally by Wise Latina International and La Mujer Obrera. The event, in its third year, included traditional music, dance, and portrayals of famous Latinas, such La Malinche and Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz among others.
“We renamed it Tonantzín Rising because to us we are people of the Earth, and Tonantzín is mother Earth,” said Cemelli De Aztlan, one of the coordinators of the event. “We are all connected to the her. We want to remind people that in protecting women’s bodies, we also have to protect the Earth. We can’t survive without her.”
The evening began with a performance by Danza Matachines Guadalupana, spirit dancers. The dancers evoked passion, devotion and religious reverence as they preached through their intricate footwork by kneeling and and shouting “a Dios.”
Following the spirit dance, 15 actresses portrayed significant characters and mythical goddesses from Mexico’s past, including la Mujer Mexica, who was believed to be an Aztec deity, and a positive version of La Llorona as indigenous meso-american mother/goddess who grieves for her children.
De Aztlan portrayed La Llorona with an ankle-length flowing white dress and black braided hair, revealing a new interpretation of the cursed woman portrayed in folktales as a child-stealing ghost. De Aztlan presents her as a goddess figure that comforts mothers and guides children to the next world.
“I stand for more than the story shows! I cry for people who struggle to find themselves,” De Aztlan screamed out to the crowd. “I cry for women who die in silence!”
Each actress raised instances of violence and discrimination against Latina women throughout history.
“I was strong and independent way before my time,” shouted Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 15th century nun and poet. “My courage and my perseverance created an array of writings and biding poems … you stubborn men … so very adept at wrongly faulting womankind.”
La Mujer Obrera director Lorena Andrade spoke about the importance of women’s rights.
“When you hear things about us fighting against city hall, we are fighting for our children, (fighting) for our space for women who are here at the forefront of creating this new community,” Andrade said.
At the end of the performance, the actresses left stage to cheers of “que viva la revolución” and “que viva la raza!” They were followed by poetry readings by Chicana performers Yadira De La Riva and Viva Flores.
Calling themselves “The Rememberers,” De La Riva and Flores continued to stress the importance of women’s rights through poems accompanied by loud drums near an altar decorated with blue-and-white blankets and white candles.
“We are the women who remember morning ceremonies and greeting the sun with our stabs and beaded shawls,” De La Riva said.
Next came soul music by Shaka Toki and other musical performances during a traditional Mexican dinner of mixiotes in an area of the hall filled with decorated candle-lit tables.
After the dinner, De Aztlan spoke about how One Billion Rising is growing as a worldwide tradition and will be celebrated in El Paso every V-day from now on.
“We challenged the community to rise with us, and they rose to the occasion,” she said.