Ground Zero Is Fertile Ground

July 19, 2021

Circles are ways that our communities have always gathered to generate life, meaning, and connection.  Since the initial concept of zero emerged independently in the regions of our melanated ancestors from Mesopotamian and Mayan lineages, our everyday lives are guided by the teachings of this concept, sometimes without our own awareness: the coding in our computers, the cumbia circle, the lifecycle of a butterfly, the spiraling of our thoughts. From what I have learned through the language, spirituality, mathematics, science and philosophy of the Nahuatlaca (Nahuatl-speaking) tradition is that this concept of zero, like the circle, has no beginning or end. It isn’t defined by the void of nothingness, but rather by the completion of its pure existence as a never-ending cycle of balance. In this circle, known as the number zero, there are no hierarchies, there are only balanced points that contribute to its wholeness and in that wholeness, the rest of creation exponentially emerges from it.

A lot of times in community we start from ground zero, from nothing, or what we perceive to be nothing, because systems of oppression only value that which can be profitable, consumed, exploited, or extracted by a number greater than zero. It’s from this sense of void that our families & communities are identified from a place of deficiency: “marginalized,” “minority,” “low-performing,” “low-income,” “at-risk,” “homeless,” (this word is commonly used, though I invite you to use houseless because a home is what we make it & not defined by a physical living space). This deficit lens in which our families & communities are viewed has allowed institutions, organizations, and government entities to treat the symptoms caused by the very system of oppression they uphold, allowing these entities to benefit from the disparities caused by racism, genocide, and all the ism’s you can imagine without engaging in the critical conversation of why these disparities exist in the first place and how we can dismantle them.  

But what if our ground zero, was actually fertile ground? 

What if we could hold space for ourselves to envision and live out a radical present and future where we were no longer allowed ourselves to be deferred to as “marginalized,” “minorities,” “low-performing,” “low-income,” “at-risk,” “homeless,” etc.? 

What if we allowed ourselves to be seen, perceived, and received as whole and sacred, like the number zero?  

For me, the traditional ways of the Kalpulli structure, a Nahuatlaca Indigenous way of organizing our families – similar to clanships in Native communities – has allowed me to learn how to heal and navigate the ways in which systemic oppression shows up in my intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships and dialogue.  Through our Kalpulli, I have reclaimed my family’s ties to traditional danzas, herbalism, natural birthing, sweat lodges, adobe making, and storytelling through theatre and song. I have also learned how to hold space for healing, mediate conflict and repair harm done in my family, community, and beyond while restoring individual and collective sacredness through circle keeping. This is the ground zero I’m talking about!! Rooted in traditional lifeways and relationship building, our families & communities already have so much to lean into that provides solutions to the ways we’ve been harmed by racism in institutions, organizations, and government entities that see our needs as opportunities for exploitation, extraction, appropriation, and profit.  Our need for shelter, for a job, for food, for mental health support and for community are all up for grabs when programs are created to address the communal need, and not the individual.     

What happens when our families & communities no longer fit the demographic for these programs? 

When youth age out of programs.

When families financially grow and no longer qualify for services.

When houseless community has food and medical support.

When the deliverables are met and program directors receive their accolades for a job well done.

There is still community out there in need of sustaining the relationships they built around these programs and there is rarely a continuity of the relationship beyond the service.  At the end of the day, most of what our people are in need of is community, not just community services. 

Through the flexible frameworks of Folklife and Participatory Action Research, we can utilize skill sets such as circle-keeping, traditional arts, & familia/community convivios to explore and engage with each other to create mutual aid, projects, business models, and really anything our community can imagine together. For community by community!  We just have to engage in the dialogue, the research, the dreaming as equal contributors and active participants in our future. 

Beautiful and innovative things emerge when we nurture each other as equal parts of the whole. When we deconstruct the hierarchy that enables systems of oppression rooted in racism by providing spaces that honor familias, community, lateral leadership, collective knowledge, and traditions, we arrive at ground zero as a place of bounty, wealth, and imagination, exponentially growing our own liberation and sovereignty for generations to come.