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I was three hours from Standing Rock, faced with a difficult decision. Mook’s and my road trip from Michigan to Guatemala had, through Listening and Following, led us to the Unity Concert in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where mostly people of the Lakota Nation (and an open invitation to all) had come together to strengthen each others spirits. The main purpose this year was to then go to Standing Rock to protect the land and water from destruction and pollution. I healed with medicine women, attended a spirit/sweat lodge, danced to powerful music, laughed, cried, and went off to have a private ceremony with the forest. We were so close to standing for justice, in a place I’ve always loved, with people who have my deepest respect.

We eventually decided to stick to the plan, the only plan for the whole trip: to get to dia de los muertos on time, to a place that honors this moment of the year in a traditional way. In addition to remembering ancestors in this way, and honoring death, I felt my energy was needed here. With so many people thinking that cursed wall is a good idea – with anyone even considering locking a person who looks Mexican in a porta potty and dropping said porta potty off across the border as a real idea – I needed to go do some seeking and some sharing for myself, for my peace of mind and heart.

Last year, I met a man in Nicaragua who had come to USA legally. He was a gardener. I love gardening. I know many people in USA who do not. The job still needs doing. That man was approached one day by police, at a moment he wasn’t carrying his papers. He was locked up. They insisted he was Mexican and took him to a jail on the Mexican side of the border. It took years until an amnesty group came across his case and helped him return to Nicaragua, where he now works as a tour manager for one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of canyons.

He spoke about as much English as I spoke Spanish. I want to work on Caoba Farm in Guatemala, and learn what it’s like. Is that so bad to go somewhere, learn, sustain, experience, grow?

I wanted to gather some solid evidence of the beauty of latino/latina culture for learning purposes, as well as personal interest. I came here with stereotypes, knowing I had stereotypes, intending to break those stereotypes, and succeeding. These places are complex. There are riches that can’t be counted in dollars. There is love, and joy, and spirit, and vibrant colors, and passion for life. And the food. Si.

And, whew, this next episode of Vecinos is almost done. I hope you’ll watch it. Que lindo.

Last night we created an ofrenda on top of our van-home. As I stood there, I smiled with tears in my eyes, and remembered the spirits of the people I miss. I wrote their names in purple, a color that should be included on the alter. As also customary, this honored the cardinal directions, and earth, air, fire, water. There were food offerings in case the spirits were hungry from their long journeys. Our ofrenda was made with love and respect, knowledge of tradition, flowers from the market and me fumbling through Spanish to purchase them from their grower. It was incredibly healing. I miss my loved ones. I can’t hug them any more. I don’t think I’ll get over it completely, and I don’t feel I have to. Why should I have to get over love? This is one reason I’m drawn to the ways of dia de los muertos. The memories stay alive.

I still feel torn about physically abandoning Standing Rock when we were so close.I love clean air, clean water, and any movement toward environmental and social justice for all. ALL. Plant, animal (not just human), air, water, land. In my eyes, all land is sacred. Anything put there that doesn’t honor pachamama makes me uncomfortable. But I usually keep quiet because I don’t know the whole picture, the whole story, and there are reasons for everything.

Still, I’m a dreamer. And I’m not the only one.