death as teacher

my face grows long with the conversation between life and death 1990
sunday afternoon 1994


death. i have known death since before i could walk or talk. i have known death in my heart and my body. i have known death in my spirit and my mind.


i could have left death alone. i could have continued to pretend that she was not standing there next to me. i could have abandoned her in the desert. not offered a seat at the table, a hot cup of coffee. i could have been inhospitable, turned my back and pretended. there is only life.

but thankfully

i am mexican.

through my young life my father always taught me death. through the animals we raised. through his visions when his grandmother passed. through my own young attempts at dropping my body.

there is a tradition. there is a path.

pomegranate 1994
pomegranate 1994

death was patient and kind until i could see that i was already dancing with her and i could remember. we mexicans embrace our teacher, our guide, our dear friend. there is nothing to fear here. death is self. death is life. death is spirit.

family tree 2005

when i finally turned toward death with open eyes, my world expanded. i could more clearly see through my physical experience into the reality of spirit and eternity. these are uncomfortable lessons, but these are the lessons that make life LIFE.

rabbit gown 2005

befriending death does not make today easier. it does not take away the grief, the pain, the huge hole that seems to be vibrating in my chest. the vast sea below my feet that opens its giant maw and sings my name with every ghost i ever gathered intact.

death rattle 2003

i think when i first began my quest i thought it might. that i would somehow lift up into a different experience altogether. but no. i still have my body and my heart. when the family tree splits open and falls over, i am still there to feel the roots pulling against the earth.

my dear friend death teaches me the song of grief. teaches me to open my mouth and sing. open my skin and vibrate. open my heart and feel. she tells me how strong i am. how deep and true.

virgin and death baby 2002

i do not love the lessons death brings me. death is with me today. right this minute as i write. i just confirmed sadsad news. great loss. life altering. i could be devastated, but i have learned. i feel myself transforming even as i type these letters into words. howling. singing. typing. being. i am becoming something wholly more myself living my LIFE.

snake skull gown 2009

i trust that i will understand the purpose of this great loss someday.

i will endure and live to know how to greet death with greater and greater grace. how to invite her in. knowing that she is me and we are friends.

skeleton balancing on mushroom 2011

i live as if i am holding hands with death and we are walking gently on mamiearth, learning what we learn and being true.

through this season, my consciousness will expand. i will walk lighter. i will create. i will endure.

i will give birth to birds.

because i am sky.

and death told me stay.


switching rabbits/heart like a boat 2002
switching rabbits/heart like a boat 2002

rabbit teachers. rabbits have been by my side for as long as i can remember.

guadelupe standing on rabbit 2002
guadalupe standing on rabbit 2002

easter rabbits, bugs bunny, thumper, my childhood rabbit frederica, aztec rabbit in the moon, i am a water rabbit in chinese astrology.

rabbit teaches me about vulnerability, softness, running, hiding, burrowing underground, being prey, fear, night, moonlight, the unconscious. she has also taught me fierceness, fertility, relationship, creativity, productivity, survival, strength. rabbit represents deep lesson for me. complicated and layered.

kneeling with rabbit and wings/healing through series 2008
kneeling with rabbit and wings/healing through series 2008

when i was at one of my most vulnerable times in life, rabbit became a great teacher of tenacity for me.

bunny gown 2005
bunny gown 2005

rabbit taught me to survive physically while being infused with spirituality. rabbit taught me when to go in and when to come out. rabbit taught me about how fear functioned in my life. rabbit taught me to go into the fear and not run away from it.

the identifying phrase for rabbit in chinese astrology is “i retreat.” it is the most fragile and delicate of the 12 astrological animals. but rabbit endures. by more fully accepting my vulnerabilities and my fear, i have learned to be very strong and resilient.

rabbit and tree 2008
rabbit and tree 2008

rabbits appear in my work as aspects of my self or my experience. sometimes rabbit is a costume, sometimes a hood, sometimes part of my gown. rabbit is not all of who i am.

column skirt 2007
column skirt 2007

and ultimately i cannot live if rabbit is too much of how i identify. but if i deny rabbit, i also can’t live. rabbit is an ancestor. rabbit is the moon. rabbit is my heart.

bunny bride 2011
bunny bride 2011

opening up to rabbit  has helped me become true.

rabbit at throat 2001
rabbit at throat 2001

when rabbit shows up in my work, i pay attention. i do not call her. she comes to me when i need. rabbit’s like that.





South Carolina to San Francisco: the path we share

in-lak-ech-posterRecently, I spoke at two conferences over two weekends. In one week, I traveled across the expanse of land that is the US– but more specifically across the scope of experience that is the US. I traveled through time and space and culture to South Carolina for the Third Annual Latino Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Literacies Conference and returned back home to San Francisco for the Teachers for Social Justice Conference, 2 blocks away from my home, here in the Mission District, my hood.

Two events so close together, naturally spoke to one another. South Carolina to San Francisco. Right coast to left coast. 150 registered to nearly 1500 registered. Closing keynote to workshop presenter and vendor. What was interesting however, was not the differences, the contrasts, the vast space traversed, but moreover the similarities, the commonalities, and the profound intimacies that are created between people on the same path.

In Lak’Ech. A phrase that Continue reading“South Carolina to San Francisco: the path we share”

We are in the Process of Evolving!

my indie press is going through a shift

My whole life, may I evolve with the grace and audacity of a tree.
I trust my roots, so I risk reach.

I believe my trunk, so I ascend.
I know growth, so I surrender to expansion.

...the grace and audacity of a tree...
It’s all about getting bigger and going deeper, like a tree. This makes us strong.

When Matthew and I created Reflection Press in 2009, we did so with the firm intent to let it grow like a tree. Evolution. Naturally. Expansion. Creatively. We did not separate out art from life from work from spirit. But instead saw all things as one, united to support us in learning about the power of creativity from within and without. We had vision, but mostly we had presence. Through process and presence we published our first three books, Claiming Face, Gender Now and Gender Now’s school edition.

Resourcing children from underserved communities has been an important part of my work for many years. Getting these books committed to print was our obvious first step. But there was a hidden gift in the making of these books. The act of articulating the philosophy was the same as creating a piece of art. It was like creating a reflection of something that had been inside of us now outside. The process ofContinue reading“We are in the Process of Evolving!”

The Blessing of a Ban

This week we celebrate Banned Books Week. Banned books are insights into a culture’s deepest fears. They speak to what we’re trying not to face, what we’re in total denial of or what we feel we must suppress to maintain and protect the current order. Clearly these books hold power. For one, a book like this has become visible enough to be a problem and two, its contents are so powerful they must be controlled. These are books to pay attention to.

I imagine one day we will look back as a planet and be impressed with how limited our thinking was during this time. Gender Now Coloring Book: A Learning Adventure for Children and AdultsI imagine in this future day, we will generally think many more thoughts than we do now and we will feel completely free to do so. This is a natural future to me because in my imaginary world, thought and awareness always expand.

I have a professor friend I work with in Alabama. Last year during an interview I told him I didn’t think my new coloring book, Gender Now, would be banned despite the fact that it has children in their natural states showing multiple gender expression. He said I should be so lucky to have my book banned. I laughed. Yesyes. I should be so lucky! Lucky enough for my book to join the list of those books that in their mere existence present the great opportunity for us to expand our minds to the point of freedom.

Here’s to all the banned books, the good, the bad, the brilliant and the brave. To you I show respect by happily falling through the dark, out of my clothes and into the dough of the night kitchen! In salutation of all those who have helped expand our minds…I play. I expand. I know. I am free.

And I sing into that night…You will never imprison my mind. (Gandhi)

About Banned Books Week: Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. More at:

Reading to the kids of Nickerson Gardens

Last week I flew to Los Angeles for an American Federation of Teachers media event on August 19th. As a child, unions were a natural part of life to me. I grew up with talk of Cesar Chavez, as well as shop talk about the electric union my father belonged to. So I was honored to be included in supporting the union that supports some of my favorite and most respected fellows: educators.

The event took place at the Head Start Center, deep in the Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts, Los Angeles. The outside walls were covered with fading, but powerful renditions of Martin Luther King Jr. and inspirational words. The images reminded me Continue reading“Reading to the kids of Nickerson Gardens”