Faces of Milpas

A lot of these youngsters are walking around with this film on their eyes. They can't see what's really going on. With these (Tonatierra) teachings, it's wiping that away and we are able to see clearly what's going on around here. . . . So we are able to understand what it is we are doing wrong, and we are changing it. That's what I did for myself.

NT: How did you accomplish this?

RM: Well, it took a long time. I've been coming seven years, eight years that I have been involved with Tonatierra here. It's going to ceremonies, learning about your history, learning the truth about what happened in this country. When you go to school, they are going to teach you about European history, a little bit about Asian history. They teach you about American history, your forefathers and all this, and when it comes to my people, our history, they give you about that much. (He holds his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.) Very little of what truly happened to our people.

Joe Romero and Myra Rosales with their children (from left) Vanessa Rosales, Joeanna Romero, Evonna Rosales and Benjamin Romero.
Paolo Vescia
Joe Romero and Myra Rosales with their children (from left) Vanessa Rosales, Joeanna Romero, Evonna Rosales and Benjamin Romero.

So they touch base about all the other things. When they came to that chapter (on the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs) they talked about it in one day. . . . Most of it was all negative. Incas had llamas. Mayas were a lost civilization and the Aztec's were bloodthirsty warriors who sacrificed to the gods. . . . Pancho Villa was a bandit and he fought and killed and murdered and raped innocent women and children.

This was what they said I was. This is where I came from. I said, "Wait a minute here, man. All these other guys had these outstanding forefathers -- Abraham Lincoln and Washington and the cherry tree."

They didn't do nothing for me. Right then and there, I said, "Hey, man, I must not be anything. My people didn't do anything to contribute to society, you know?" Here I am walking around with all these other people, all their history is so grand and great, and me, I'm just a nothing. So this is what I got here, so this is what I'm going to go for. You know? So that's basically how I seen it.

NT: How old were you at this time?

RM: I was 14, 15, going to school. After that I was like this with school (he waves dismissively). Before that I was pretty much a straight-A student. I did great in school. But once I seen that, I was like, man, I wasn't interested no more. After that, I learned the street. And I learned everything I had to do with that. That's the culture. When I came out of the joint, I started learning about this, it touched me so deep inside man, that what we are doing out there is basically the same thing we did before, but it's twisted. It's more negative than it is positive.

NT: Describe the twist.

RM: The twist is, is that here we are as a people, we still have some of our culture, some of it is still there. But they took big chunks of our history and our culture out and placed graves in there. We are not really a whole. We are only like a quarter of what we originally were. So that's that twisted mentality that we have. We don't have our purpose anymore. We don't have that understanding that we had before. One of them was the understanding that we had to live with the earth. Before we lived with the earth in harmony. We rolled with it. The earth turns this way and we were turning with it. Now we are not doing that anymore. We are trying to go back this way. You know? You can't do that, man. It just throws you off.

They (schools) teach us about all these things that have nothing to do with reality as we know it. But these teachings (Tonatierra), it's something. It teaches us about compassion, it teaches you love, it teaches you understanding, it teaches you to care for all living things. One of the main ones is compassion for life. To be able to look at one another and say, "You're my brother. That's my sister. That's my brother. We all have a common relationship."

We all come from a common beginning. But with them (gangs), oh, you come from there, we come from here and there is a separation. We have so much separation.

NT: How do ceremonies help the teachings?

RM: The ceremonies for me got me focusing on myself, which really needs to take place in order to have an understanding with anybody else. You have to understand who you are and where you fit in this old cosmos we are sitting in . . . the more you are together, the more you are understanding and complementing each other, the stronger you will be as a people and the more focused you will be with your surroundings, and it will be all harmonious and it will be all one wavelength."

NT: Describe the ceremonies.

RM: One of the ceremonies would be the sweat lodge. Eventually, what it does, is give you peace. Before I'm like this (defiant) man. I'm walking around, "I'm Mr. Indio, muthafucka." You know? "Don't fuck with me. I'm Mr. Indio." Well you go in for a sweat lodge man, Mr. Indio goes into a sweat lodge, and they bring all these elements in there and that has Mr. Indio on the floor laid out . . . ready to throw up and he wants to get out.

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