A couple of weeks ago I underwent a life changing experience. It was the culmination of a decade long path towards remembrance.
I began to dive into my indigenous identity while living in Hawaii. But I didn't feel like I was making progress until I visited the Dominican Republic in 2021. My pilgrimage took me around the country. I visited various places that were considered sacred by my ancestors. Spending time in caves, and at ceremonial spaces began to blur the line between my present life and the way my ancestors experienced my homeland.
Upon my return to NYC I sought out spaces where I could actively practice my identity. I found such a space in Union City, NJ. There Yukayeke Opia holds regular areitos (similar to pow wows it is a time of gathering and ceremony). During these my spiritual and physical connection with my ancestors has been nurtured. Practicing the dances of my ancestors, using our language, being surrounded by their medicine has accelerated my healing.
Areitos are an opportunity to celebrate our identity. Earlier this month I attended an areito dedicated to friendship on a frozen night. We invite our ancestors with each step we dance. After months of conversations the ancestors and cemis* responded. I was asked to take on the role of Tekina. Tekinas are story tellers, mediators, teachers, agents of accountability.
During the ceremony I was asked if I wanted to take on this responsibility. This was surprising because throughout my life I have taken on these roles, but I've never been asked. The next steps haven't been explained. The burden wasn't explained. Being told what was coming was unnerving.It meant I was making a decision with my eyes wide open.
This is probably why I cried as I accepted the role and the amber necklace I was presented.
This doesn't mean I didn't hesitate. It doesn't mean I am not scared. I was terrified. I continue to be afraid. I have always had high standards, for myself and those in my life. But this ask was coming from my ancestors, from our cemis. Now that I have accepted, everything is different. Even my name.
Tekina Guatu Ke Ini Inaru
*cemis are a deity or ancestral spirit, and a sculptural object housing the spirit