When topics of sustainable living, environmentalism or wellness arise, mental images of tree-hugging white hippies come up with them. The face of the Green movement is ivory, a construction that enrages La Loba Loca because it erases the long, and demonized, history indigenous communities across the Americas have with these so-called “new age” practices.
Loba, a Los Angeles-based queer Peruvian migrant artist, full-spectrum doula and facilitator, exposes this whitewashed history by remembering and reclaiming ancestral teachings on life and medicine that she describes as abuelita knowledge.
To the sudaca, abuelita knowledge includes the “bodies of knowledge that have been oppressed, stolen, silenced, gone underground, hidden themselves in between spice jars in kitchen cabinets, locked away but remembered and restored when necessary.”
They’re the consejos, or life tips, your grandmother passed down to you, the intentional practices your tia carried out when gardening, the medicinal traditions native to your home tierra and the non-academic, non-commercialized information passed along in your new communities.
(Photo Credit: La Loba Loca)
“It’s a tool and a threat to this current system because it decenters whiteness and Eurocentric ways of knowing. It invites us to re-evaluate what knowledge is considered important and what source is considered valid,” Loba, 26, told us.
Loba doesn’t want abuelita knowledge to be confused with indigenous medicine, however, though she notes there are similarities.
“I see how other folx use indigenous medicine in a similar way that I use abuelita knowledge, but I feel that the latter term better fits my lived experience as a mixed person: indigenous, Afro-Peruvian and white through settler colonialism,” she said. “I grew up in South America and understand the privilege of being read as mixed/mestizx. It is important to recognize that.”
In short: Abuelita knowledge is the magic European colonizers deemed inferior when performed by brown femme hands and the brilliance that their capitalist descendants now cull from, repackage and sell while its indigenous founders, and their Latinx progeny, receive no profits.
These wisdoms and exercises are being appropriated, with dominant U.S. culture fetishizing and commercializing customs like llikllas, the hand-woven, rectangular shoulder cloth worn by Quechua women of the Andes region in Bolivia and Peru, traditional birth practices like midwifery and even foods like chia seeds and quinoa.
“Colonization did a great job at separating us from medicines that now are sold in high-end health stores and expensive workshops taught by white people who have no idea of the sociopolitical implications of traditional practices,” Loba said. “I have heard people talk about quinoa thinking that it was white people’s food. Quinoa is an Andean ancient grain. How is it that white supremacy makes us forget that?”
Hoping to remember these knowledges as native, as well as reclaim and sustain them, Loba facilitates shares in schools, universities and community groups in her area. However, the andina’s style of teaching, like the lessons themselves, aims to decolonize education.
“I do not call myself a teacher or healer because I consider myself a facilitator and life-long student,” she said.
A seed-saver and gardener, Loba’s gatherings often center on herbal medicine. Instead of standing in front of a class, she invites her guests to be a part of the sharing by ensuring that they are all seated in a circle and are able to see one another. She then begins her discussion, sans the textbooks or laptops found in standard classrooms. Loba shares abuelita knowledge as she learned them: through narratives.
(Photo Credit: La Loba Loca)
“An exercise that I have done with people and with myself is closing my eyes and remembering home, remembering people who took care of me and remembering medicine that they used to make me feel better. There is so much medicine hidden in the everyday life, hiding in the dark corners of our brain, tucked away in between bones and muscles,” she said. “The body is also a great place to recuperate lost memories and possibly bits of information.”
Dreams and, for those with access, returning to one’s homeland are other sources for acquiring abuelita knowledge. But Loba insists that this isn’t a learning that can be forced.
“I am saying this because deconstructing my student self had a lot to do with understanding that I will get the information, teachers and knowledge in time. I cannot rush this process,” Loba, who has been studying midwifery for fours years, said.
Most of the people who attend Loba’s sharings are, like herself, migrants or children of migrants.
“I think so many of us migrant folx feel a lot of shame around sharing our remedies, secretos de abuela and practices because we have been brainwashed to aspire to colonial and capitalistic white supremacist ways of knowing. It is affirming to know that this is a collective body of knowledge, and that this knowledge is valid, sacred and must be protected,” Loba said.
The peruana wants Latinx people to view the teachings of their elders as precious, valuable and useful, because, as she says, there is magic and power in them.