From Life Notes

Observations, ideas, experiences, adventures

Santa empty eyes

Life with Prosopagnosia – My Name is…

“My name is Cristina,” I said.

I introduced myself to the man across a large cardboard bin at the thrift store, as we both dug through the pallet of books, adding, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”

“Of course you don’t,” he said, “I never gave it to you.”

I often tilt my head to one side or the other when I’m wondering, confused or trying to remember something. I paused in my search and looked at him carefully: Gray hair, probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s, white, the medium build of a life-long intellectual, a direct gaze.

He took in my appraisal for a moment, then said, “What made you think I gave you my name?”

“Your story,” I said. “As you talked, I recognized your story about your daughter’s highly successful Los Angeles restaurant and remembered that you are an artist who loves food.”

“Yes, my daughter says her restaurant is a place where beautiful young people go to sit on stools.” He paused again, this time, he tilted his head to his left while looking at me carefully. “You have some sort of aphasia,” he stated.

“Yes,” I said, a bit startled that he had noticed. “Prosopagnosia – face blindness.”

“So,” he said, “you had no idea who I was and who you were talking to?” 

“Well, not at first,” I said, “but I kept listening for your story and when you mentioned food, I remembered you and your story about your daughter, the chef and restauranteur.”

“I’ve always wanted a form of aphasia,” he said. “I’m jealous.”

“No you’re not,” I said. “You’re just a romantic. There is nothing fun about it. Most of the time it just gives me a lot of social anxiety and I have to be more trusting than is probably good for me.”

“So,” he said, “you didn’t really recognize me, not even my voice?”

“Your voice was familiar,” I said. “I thought I might have met you, so I just waited until you had said enough for me to remember that I really had met you.”

“Do you remember my body?” He said, moving his hand gently in the air from his chin to crotch in a delicate swipe.

“I could,” I said, “If I saw it more often.”

He looked surprised, tilting his head again to look at me carefully.

I rushed my words together to explain, “Then I would know you by your gesture and form.”

He considered that for a moment.

“So,” he said, “do you always know who it is you are having sex with?”

“Well, I said, “considering how my 20+ year marriage ended, I’d have to say, ‘No’.”

“My name is David,” he said.

Note: Life with Prosopagnosia, aka Face Blindness is a way for me to process what it is to have the condition and the wonky twist it gives many interactions in my life. Cristina Acosta.  

Guadalupe Procession California by Cristina Acosta

Guadalupe Procession to Celebrate December

I walked 25 miles yesterday with thousands of people marching for love. Despite walking the 25 miles, I did not finish the Guadalupe procession which zig-zagged it’s way around the Coachella Valley in Southern California to the Our Lady of Solitude Church in Palm Springs, California to it’s sister church in Coachella. I knew the distance from my house to that church was a bit over 20 miles, so I put myself in that headspace and filled a backpack with water and food. I set my orthotics into my best pair of walking shoes and prepared clothing for a day that would span from a cold desert morning across the hot sun of the day.

The Guadalupe Procession began at 6 a.m., about dawn in the town of Palm Springs, California. Six hours later I was walking against the nylon rope that shaped the serpentine line of thousands of people against the right curb of the concrete highway and wondered when we would arrive. I checked my smartphone and saw that we’d traveled about 15 miles (including my walk from home to the Procession) and thought the church must be about 7 miles ahead.

Despite beginning the Guadalupe Procession at the front of the group, bathroom breaks had put me at the back of the procession by the time I reached 15 the mile mark. Getting in and out of the porta-potty line was the time-suck dark side of proper hydration.

Guadalupe Procession California by Cristina Acosta
Guadalupe Procession California by Cristina Acosta

The desert sun was beating down surprisingly strong for a December day, reflecting back up relentlessly from the concrete road and my feet were starting to swell. I introduced myself to the man at the end of the line who was carrying about 20 pounds of coiled rope over his left shoulder as he walked the end of the procession. His name was Enrique and he smiled at the surprise on my face when he told me the procession was 36 miles long.

That was a surprise. Apparently the different Coachella Valley cities the Guadalupe Procession zigzagged through required a path that kept the procession of thousands away from the succession of stoplights on Highway 111, adding about 13 miles to the 22 mile journey. For the first time, I wondered if I would be able to complete the Guadalupe Procession.

I didn’t. The second stop of the Procession was in Indian Wells across from The Tennis Gardens. My smartphone told me I’d walked 25 miles. I’d been fantasizing about ibuprofen pills for the past hour and I knew that pushing my middle-aged body to the finish line, though possible, would exact more of a toll than I wanted to pay. So, I stopped.

cristina-acosta-2016-guadalupe-processionI sent prayers to all of those people in the world who don’t have the option to stop when they are miserable. Prayers to the people of Syria, trapped in a city they can’t walk away from and those refugees around the world who put their lives on the line to walk even one more step into the unknown.

Watching my fellow travelers in the Guadalupe Procession I was reminded of the humanity we all share. And I was overcome with the love that thousands of fellow travelers in the journey displayed for others. December 12th is the Catholic Feast Day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of processions and prayer that can include a walk if you are so inclined. No need to be Catholic to join, anyone is welcome.Walking in the Guadalupe Procession was a beautiful way to celebrate the month of Christmas.

About the Painting: My grandmother, Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta was a concert pianist born in Los Angeles in 1904. Half New Mexican Spanish and Half Native American, she was pure artist. I’ve imagined her as a young woman, looking into her future. Her head is crowned with shed horns, symbolizing renewal and resilience. She is adorned with hibiscus, one of her favorite flowers. Her future grandchildren, symbolized by flitting birds, fly amongst the flora. The branches hold her in time and space, only her soul travels through her eyes. About the Artist: Cristina Acosta is a painter, writer and designer born in Los Angeles. She’s a nature girl who has lived in the mountains and ranch lands of Oregon and the desert and beaches of California.

The Yearning Lover Archetype

I accidentally skied off of a cliff and into an abyss. It awakened me with a gasp and a racing heart. I found myself sitting up in bed at 3 a.m. with not a chance of falling back to sleep easily. So I laid back and thought about it. Part of me had died in that dream and when I asked myself which part or self had died, the answer presented itself immediately, the Yearning Lover. Specifically, the Yearning Lover had accidentally skied off of a cliff into an abyss. And it was about time.

The Yearning Lover, is part of the Lover Archetype. Archetypes were popularized by the seminal psychologist Carl Jung who was working with concepts Plato wrote about a couple of thousand years ago. Archetypes live on a continuum ranging from superficial to serious. The Yearning Lover is often created in childhood, but it can develop at anytime under the right circumstances. In my case, the Yearning Lover entered my psyche as a child. Parented by a narcissistic father and an emotionally unavailable mother, I was working daily to earn love.

With most every passing year for the first ten years of my life, my mother had another child. There was a lot of work to do, so the opportunities to work for love and affirmation were endless. I was the oldest child and a daughter. I had the temperament and the capacity. I yearned for love and learned from my parents that love was conditional and they decided the conditions. I got to work. The Yearning Lover had entered my psyche, unpacked and settled in for the long run. I was about five.

The Yearning Lover archetype shaped my core expectations of my relationships for decades to come, until finally I recognized it’s presence and the impact it was having on my life. 

We all recognize the Yearning Lover, if not in ourselves then, in others. Think of the jilted friend who just can’t get over their lost love; another who obsesses over the latest hot date; or just about any chick flick with Hugh Grant in the lead. The Yearning Lover is a cultural standby.

But don’t think the Yearning Lover is only an hormonally driven archetype of dubious depth. The Yearning Lover can awaken serious compassion and sympathy. The Yearning Lover’s serious side is the widow grieving his or her life’s love; the abused child pining for love; a parent who has lost a child, the empty-nester and anyone feeling left out or left behind, yearning.

The Yearning Lover pines for love. Any kind of love can be on that list and how that list manifests can surprise us. The thirst, desire, wishes, aspirations and other hungers of the heart can be lead by craving, coveting or choosing – consciously or unconsciously. The young Yearning Lover is visually impaired by both nature and nurture. Love is blind. With maturity comes the option of consciousness. Love and clarity intertwine, and love is light. The Yearning Lover isn’t about either weakness or strength, good or evil. Yearning drives the desires we use to shape our lives with every choice. Accountability is necessary for eventual clarity. Until then, we usually are blind to the effects of the Yearning Lover in our lives.

Despite my best efforts to live consciously and embrace clarity, I suspect that I miss a lot. The intersection of hope, aspiration and whatever version of reality I’m in often leave me with better hindsight than here-and-now-sight. It took me a really long time to viscerally understand the Yearning Lover within the rooms of my psyche. I married and divorced two men for a total of 30 years of marriage, had one daughter, worked, played and made a lot of art.

With my divorce from my daughter’s dad, the Yearning Lover began diminishing. Again – I just can’t seem to know what’s really going on at a deeper level when it happens, so I didn’t notice at first. My head was down and I was getting through those very difficult few years. The difference was, I decided that I was done with yearning. Life was too short.

Less than a year before the shit hit the fan in my marriage, a friend died in my arms while I was performing the Heimlich maneuver on him. It was a cold January evening when I joined him and his wife and family for dinner at their home. Within the first few bites, he choked. Within five minutes, he was dead on the floor by the side of their dining room table. I was shocked to my core. As I lowered his body to the ground, a profound knowing filled me. Life was short.

I know, that seems obvious, but it really isn’t – especially as I’m blessed to live in a peaceful place with my basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and clean water met. I get caught up in the day and what I think I “have” to do. I forget that life is short. 

The next three or four hours were a blur of sorrow. When the coroner and EMTs were done, I went home. My husband and daughter were out of town and I was alone. I thought of that profound knowing and realized that I needed to stand up for exactly what I needed. No more yearning. If I didn’t get it, oh well. At least I wouldn’t be yearning. With that profound knowing fresh in my mind, I became emboldened.

I thought that my odds were good – I’d talk to my husband and this time I would not be dissuaded or put off. He loved me, I reasoned, it will all work out. After a session of marriage counseling I would imagine that everything would be ok with us. But instead of hoping, pining and wishing he would like and love me again, I changed how I framed my desire to connect with my husband. When I felt myself becoming an emotional supplicant, yearning for love, I would stop and observe myself. I turned my feelings of yearning away from my husband and my marriage and pointed that feeling towards what I could do for myself.

I was still yearning, but at least there was a possibility for fulfillment, I told myself. No more carrot and stick relationships, no more emotional supplication. Not that I really knew what to do for myself to create the feeling of fulfillment, I was at a loss. But I decided to change what I could and trust that as I learned more about myself I would know what to do. Mostly I changed my mental and emotional focus.

The energy I spent trying to earn my husband’s friendship and love slowed to a trickle and then stopped. We had been together about 20 years. I decided to stop working for his love and see what happened. Surely, I thought, deep down he loved me for who I was and would make my happiness a priority. Did I feel more loved by him after my assertions? No. But nothing had changed on his side. He was content with how he felt in our relationship. My side of things had changed.

Though I wondered and worried that I was doing the right thing I stuck with my new level of emotional assertiveness despite his lack of response because of unexpected positive side-effects; I was less tired, less exhausted and an intermittent eye-tick that had plagued me for years was diminishing. So, I stayed strong and turned any yearning into assertiveness. Then my acid-reflux lessened and mostly stopped. I kept at it. Calm assertiveness was my mantra. Don’t repeat or reiterate I would tell myself, gently persevere. Demand parity. My weekly counseling sessions were a crucial reality check. My meditation practice was calming.

Then my husband told me he wanted a divorce. It was just a few days before Christmas. The opportunity to yearn was huge. I backslid here and there. But I kept at it. The next few years where incredibly difficult. Nonetheless, the actions I took to realign my feelings of yearning into feelings of having enough and being enough became a habit. I wasn’t lying to myself with affirmations that were aspirational at best, instead, I re-framed how I defined what I wanted, always looking for the deeper theme. Another unexpected and positive side effect of that habit was the trickle-down effect it was having on the rest of my life.

When I find myself trying “too much”, I back down. Reciprocity is a balancing act and one that is not always easy, but at least I didn’t feel like a constant emotional supplicant anymore in my relationships. I have developed new relationships as older relationships reformed or ended. Yearning is no longer a daily feeling. My eye tick and acid reflux are rare to none these days. Without being overly strict with myself, I use my recognition of yearning as a caution-flag that I might be slipping back into old ways – and how I still deal with aspects of the Yearning Lover still within me.

The Yearning Lover is no longer a dominant archetype in my psyche, retreating to the role of extra in my life. The habits of thought I had worked to hard to develop successfully became habits. Last night’s dream was my unconscious telling me that I was successful. My Yearning Lover accepted it’s passing. My journey continues.

Day of the Dead is my Personal New Year

October is the countdown month to Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead on November 1st, the day after Halloween. Skeletons, orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls have slipped into the mainstream Halloween weekend decor as Dia de los Muertos gains ground nationally paired with the rise of Latinos’ increasing political and economic clout.

It wasn’t always this way. I was raised Catholic in Southern California during the 1960’s, when Halloween and All Saints Day were the norm. All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November 2nd where the Catholic/Christian stand-ins for what some Christians consider the more pagan roots of the Day of the Dead celebration.

Despite my early indoctrination, I embraced Dia de los Muertos as an adult when my religious beliefs became my own. It became an especially significant holiday for me beginning in my early 30’s, when I realized that a pattern had formed the prior 10 years of my life. Though the world is a mystical place 24/7, October is for me, a month of particularly unusual events.

Basically, the weird, mystical and synchronistic enter my life more often in October. A letter lost in the mail for three years from a deceased cousin arrives in October. I toured an historic home in Espanola, New Mexico during October and when I entered the sala/living room I was met with a vision straight from a repetitive dream I’d had during my entire pregnancy three years earlier. During October of the following year, I learned that my ancestors where the family who had built that historic home. Standing in an airport another October I hear my name and a man I last saw 30 years earlier as a boy on the school bus introduces himself. Octobers have filled the well of my psyche for the year to come.

October is the month of preparation for Dia de los Muertos. To prepare, I take an extra effort to listen as the spirits of my ancestors visit me in October. I expect them to leave me with an epiphany or revelation about the course of my soul. Or maybe just a new “old” friend. This year felt a bit different. I didn’t feel like I was getting any new insights or revelations and the month was counting down.

This October, my epiphany came last night in a dream on Halloween night, the eve of Dia de los Muertos. I had a dream about death and falling. The dream sat me straight up in bed from a deep sleep. It also let me know that I had passed through a significant portal. I was happy. My dreams were changing. Parts of the old me that no longer served my growth and happiness had moved on.

Years ago, I was camping with friends and awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of laughter.  I had no idea until then that my friend, Eddy, laughed regularly in his sleep. His wife assured me that he often woke her up with his sleep-laughing at the beginning of their relationship, but after a few years she was used to it. To me, sleep-laughing was a revelation. I had heard of it and even experienced a few laughs here and there, but consistently giggling with happiness while dreaming most nights of the week was a new to me.

There is a kind of success in that type of joy. Though Eddy passed in an accident a few years ago, I find myself thinking about his sleep-laughter. I am ready for new dreams. I can feel them coming.

Isabella Acosta Barnajumping ©Cristina Acosta

Build Resilience by Finding Your Edge Then Pushing Past It

The word edgy has gotten a workout the past few years. Originally describing nervous and jumpy people, the word has morphed to include daring, provocative and trend setting. Transformative ideas are often described with attributes of the edge: Leading-edge, cutting-edge, pushing-the-edge.

Though edges are often paired with  thrill seeking, intellectually, physically or emotionally – thrill seeking is only one aspect of the practice. Consciously working with your edges with positive and compassionate intentions can increase your resilience. And resilience is one of the keys to a fulfilling life.

Resilience is the strength we use to pick ourselves up and move on from the stumbles, falls and blows of life. Resilience gets us past the bad things that happen to us and puts us on the path to our best life. Resilience transforms surviving into thriving. If you want to increase your resilience in any way; emotionally, physically, intellectually, practice working with your edges, whatever they may be.

Finding edges is an adventure in itself. It doesn’t have to be all difficulty and pain that bring us to the edge (though that is certainly one way), joy, curiosity, adventure and love also can challenge our edges.

Life gives us plenty of accessible ways to expand our edges and increase our resilience. Formal education and self-study can help us transform and grow intellectually as we push the edges of our intellectual skills and comprehension. Sports can do the same for us physically, the efforts resulting in a body that can do more than ever before. Cultivating compassion towards ourselves and others can help us expand the edges of our consciousness as we grow emotionally and spiritually.

Whatever the edges are within yourself that you identify and seek to expand, remember that one person’s edge is not another person’s edge. Edge-finding is not a competitive sport.

Here’s an example: I don’t like heights. Several summers ago I took my daughter and her friend on a float down the Deschutes River, where it meanders through the town of Bend, Oregon. Floating the river through town, we stopped to climb onto a footbridge arching the riverbanks. A small group of young people and kids were climbing onto the bridge railing to jump into the river below. My then ten year old daughter and her friend joined in. They jumped in, swam to the edge and jumped in again about three times before I jumped even once.

It took me about twenty minutes to jump off of an eight foot tall span of bridge. A very long twenty minutes. And I was proud of myself. My daughter and her friend were polite about my excitement, but didn’t understand it. Their edges were somewhere else entirely, not even on this trip.

Playing with your edges consciously and compassionately is a form of spiritual practice. Finding those edges and pushing at them in small and large ways keeps them flexible and open to growth.

Practice playing with your edges and not only will you have a new set of adventures to experience, you’ll be developing your resilience.  Your capacity to thrive and enjoy your life despite the tough stuff will increase. Make playing with your edges a part of your consistent practice and the choices you have in all aspects of your life will expand and deepen.

 

Cristina Acosta and Isabella Acosta Barna

Aging Openly and Other Awesome Side Effects of Going Gray

I call the short little inhaling gasp some people make when surprised the “in-suck”. I named it because I used to hear it so much. Consequently, the term needed a much shorter name than, “the short little……” blah, blah, blah.

Stay in shape; take good care of your skin and teeth; take your vitamins; wear contemporary styles; these are some of the usual tips for aging gracefully.

Do all of the above and you will most likely age beautifully, extending your “youthful” qualities several more years than you might expect. You’ll feel good and you’ll look good.

I’ve done all of that, continue to do that and highly recommend it. Feeling youthful is awesome. But I’m not young, I’m middle age, and there’s nothing like the reality check of the in-suck to remind me of that truth.

Here’s a typical example of the in-suck experience:  I’m at a concert, in my dance groove and having a great time. I feel a gentle tap on my backside. When I turn around, the cute 30-something guy behind me draws his hand back and gasps. One big in-suck.

Age is age, and eventually, if we’re lucky (and not dead), it catches up with us. So, I dealt with the in-suck for quite awhile, thinking of it as my own little reality-check. But those days are over.

The unexpected, positively awesome side effect of letting my hair grow gray naturally has been a complete exit of the in-suck from my life. No longer does a younger man tap on my backside and gasp in surprise when I turn around, a much older woman than he was expecting. My new gray hair is my emissary, gently announcing my middle age status from all directions and distances.

Who knew I’d be grateful for that, but I am. I swore I wouldn’t stop dying my hair until I was at least 70. But I’ve changed my mind. I am growing older and I’m in to it. The reinvention of middle age takes focus and creativity, and I don’t want to spend my energy trying to be something I used to be or am not. My gray roots had become distracting to me. I’ve opted for aging openly, it’s my new adventure.

 

Making friends with my shadow. ©Cristina Acosta

The Shadow Side of Creativity

Watch toddlers on internet videos when they first understand that their shadows are connected to their bodies and you’ll see reactions from calm acceptance and curiosity to crying and fear. Some of the babies cry as they try to outrun their shadows, only stopping when they are in the shade and their shadows disappear from view. Occasionally, a baby will coo happily at their shadow, possibly meeting an invisible friend for the first time.

I feel like I’ve been every one of those toddlers at some point in my life. The shadow side of my self, defined by Carl Jung as the dark side of each person’s psyche has been the part of myself I’ve come to know and appreciate over the years despite many years denying it, running from it or trying to chase it down. Not only might this sound confusing, it felt confusing.

Duality is confusing for me. The yin and the yang; the light and dark; the tendency to hear my inner voice as two sides of one self – one the “good,” the other the shadowed “bad” side of my psyche. Keeping both sides of the psyche in balance to access the deeper knowledge within requires paying attention to and striving to understand both the light and dark sides of ourselves. Denial only causes projection and a lack of compassion both towards myself and by extension, others.

One of the things I’ve learned about looking into the dark side of myself is that the darkness within me grew with injuries. It didn’t begin with those injuries, I feel the dark side is always present, but it certainly can grow with pain. Those pains became the darkness and grew more darkness. It’s a paradox I don’t understand, but I’ve learned to live with it. And I’ve learned that by shining the light of my attention into the darkness within, I can reverse the growth of my dark side, opening more room for light and life, creativity flourishes. Clarity and peace can move into the freed space and I feel lighter and more creative.

The shadow within shrinks to a manageable size and has become my invisible friend once again. These many years later, deep into adulthood, I am learning again to skip and play with my shadow as I move between the light and the absence of that light.

 

 

Cristina Acosta feather duster

Manifesting is Tricky Business

“As artists, we are manifesting thought into reality every time we create. Applying those same skills to the self is a natural transition.” Years ago, I said that. Thanks to Art-quotes.com, I can now remember that I said that! And, I can look at the words that came out of my mouth over fifteen years ago and reconsider that wisdom.

Manifesting is tricky business. At times, I’ve acted as though the process was a giant vending machine floating around the universe — put in the proper currency (affirmations, actions, positivity) and out would pop my latest desire or answer to my prayer. Sometimes, that seemed to have been true. I have had some wonderful manifestations, and some very odd things. The little odd things are so odd yet seemingly so coincidental, that I’m perplexed when much more important and sought after desires haven’t manifested. And conversely, some tough things I’ve never seen coming have manifested.

For example, years ago I was looking at my Bend, Oregon, gallery, covered in dust and pollen after a particularly potent spring wind had blown through, and realized that I needed a feather duster. I envisioned the huge ostrich-feather type of duster Mary Poppins would have pulled from her bag. Driving downtown that afternoon I saw that exact feather duster laying in the middle of the street in front of the fire department. At that moment a tall handsome man in a fire department uniform was walking across the street, a few letters in hand. I pulled over (my then pre-school age daughter was in her car seat) and asked the man if he could please pick up that feather duster for me. He laughed when I told him that I had just been thinking of one and he graciously handed it to me through my car window. I still have that duster because I’m still perplexed as to why I have it – in the metaphysical sense.

Why, considering all of the lush successes and dry, hard challenges I’ve had since then, has that feather duster manifested when career goals, personal goals, book proposals and exhibit opportunities have not panned out as expected? Even the occasional lottery ticket has gone to the recycle bin without any stops at the bank along the way. What the heck?!

My 20+ year marriage ended, my life changed in unforeseen ways that cracked apart huge continents on the planet that is my world view and still I carry around that feather duster.

It reminds me that manifesting is a reality, but that the course my tiny, insignificant, immensely precious self takes spinning in dark immense space with billions of other ephemeral beings on a fragile planet is not a course under my complete control. God has given me the opportunity to choose my dreams and visions and the energy to manifest them. What happens next are the small, medium and large miracles that make up my life.

Charles and Juanita Roos 1924 Indianist Composer and Pianist

Multi-Cultural Hispanic Music History in Southern California with Classical Music Indianist Composer Charles Roos and Latina Pianist Catalina Ortiz Acosta in 1920s

The early 20th century history of Los Angeles, California has a rich Hispanic and Native American Indian history that has been mostly lost to time because of institutional and cultural discrimination. That larger story lived on in my family history. From my grandmother, Catalina, I saw the life of the artist. For that, I am forever grateful.

My grandmother, Catalina Maria Ortiz (Acosta) was a classical pianist and friend of the Indianist Composer Charles Roos and his wife Juanita Roos. From her effects and the stories she shared during my childhood, I’ve put together this update to the history of Hispanics / Latinos in Los Angeles during the early 1900’s.

Los Angeles during the early 1900’s was not a friendly place for Mexican-Americans and Chicanos. Though originally part of Mexico, California was annexed by Anglos to become part of the United States of America in 1848. With the gold rush of 1842 and other immigration, the existing American Indian and Spanish / Mexican people of California were politically and socially marginalized. By the 1920’s lynchings, racially motivated attacks and “anti-greaser” laws were in place to control and dominate the Mexican American (Chicano)

Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta 1922_Pianist ©Cristina Acosta
Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta 1922, Latina Los Angeles, CA Pianist ©Cristina Acosta

population of California. Pressure on Mexican Americans increased and included segregated schools in areas of Southern California where large groups of Chicanos persisted. The famous case, Mendez vs. the Board of Education finally ended Hispanic segregation in the late 1950’s.

Intelligent, cultured and talented Hispanic Americans were not lauded. In fact, with the veil of racism over many Anglo peoples perceptions during that era, there was very limited press coverage of the positive cultural contributions of Chicanos in Los Angeles. History is written by the “winners”, and as a conquered population, Spanish / Mexican Californians have lost many of their historical cultural contributions to a lack of attention.

As a third generation Californian. I have some personal hamily Hispanic / American history that pertains to the larger political climate and the cultural life of elite Angelinos during the early part of the twentieth century. In the early 1920’s my grandmother Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta and her family, lived in Los Angeles. The last of eighteen children, my grandmother Catalina was the daughter of J. Nestor Ortiz and Maria Salazar Ortiz. J. Nestor was a wealthy man who had owned several businesses  and a sheep ranch in the town of Ortiz, Colorado (near Antonito, on the border with New Mexico). J. Nestor sold his interests in Colorado and re-located in Los

1924 American Indian and California Spanish Music Concert Los Angeles
1924 American Indian and California Spanish Music Concert Los Angeles with Catalina M. Ortiz, Latina pianist. ©Cristina Acosta

Angeles, California in 1903. Catalina was born the next year. Though her ancestors where among the founding families of Santa Fe, New Mexico (and other towns in the region), she would often refer to herself and family members as  “Californios” or “Spanish”.  Either were terms that people (Anglo and Hispanic) in her generation used to refer to the Spanish families that lived in the American Southwest when that region was under the control of Spain/Mexico. Because she was born in California, the term “Californio(a)” is accurate, but not completely reflective of her cultural heritage. The term she used usually depended upon her sense of the listener’s knowledge of these finer points of cultural history.

Though the term Californio/a is dated and not used today, it was very meaningful for Spanish citizens of California who became citizens of the United States because of the Mexican War in 1848. My grandmother would often express herindignation towards prejudice that any family member encountered with the comment, “Those peasants don’t realize that we are Californios.” I smile when I think about that. She disdained the prejudice that she deemed more a result of a lack of a good education than a lack of kindness. (I’m including this information about her cultural ethnic appellation because you will

Chief Yowalche 1924 Indianist Music Movement
Chief Yowalche 1924 Indianist Music Movement publicity portrait shot in Los Angeles, CA ©Cristina Acosta

note that the concert program below refers to her as a “Spanish-American Pisaniste”.)

The Ortiz family befriended Charles O. Roos and his wife, Jaunita E. Roos. The family connection was certainly enriched by Catalina’s friendship and professional relationship with Jaunita. Catalina (1904-1991) was then a twenty year old classical pianist and the featured pianist at concerts the Roos organized. My grandmother spoke with admiration regarding Juanita’s musical abilities. Charles, an Easterner, moved to Los Angeles and worked as a newspaper feature writer when not involved with his work as a lyricist. His wife Juanita was a gifted pianist. They collaborated to create a variety of  piano compositions. Charles also wrote poems and lyrics for other composers’ music. The concert program for the event at the Ramona Convent in Alhambra, California illustrates the typical concert Roos organized. Nordskog Records recorded the concert. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that recording or know of it’s existence.

Sifting through my Grandmother’s photo albums I found several photos of Charles and Juanita. The photos of the people in the Native American outfits are my grandmother Catalina, and Chief Yowlache,  dressed in traditional Native American clothing for publicity photos that Roos used in his concert promotions. Chief Yowlache was the “Indian baritone” for the program. Catalina accompanied him and also played solos.

During a time of escalating social injustice, Juanita and Charles Roos were creating musical compositions that celebrated different cultures. Though women had only just received the vote, and womens rights were often negated, Charles Roos publicly acknowledged his wife Juanita’s contributions, including her name on compositions they collaborated on. The concert program at the Alhambra Convent School illustrates that the Roos were actively promoting the beauties of the Native American and Hispanic culture to the elite of the dominant Anglo society. Understanding the political climate within which my grandmother was making her musical contributions to culture increases my admiration for her artistry and strength. She steadfastly dedicated herself to excellence in her art form and understood the symbolic importance of her image as a intelligent and accomplished Hispanic woman when many minds were closed to the idea of such a person existing.

I searched the internet for more information about the Roos and found an interesting essay.  I’ve included an excerpt  with a link back to the original author. You’ll recognize the name “Lieurance” in the Composer/Lyricist column of the concert program. I’ve also included some links to historical documents that record the political culture of the era. The following excerpt sheds light on Roos connection to like minded Anglo intellectuals during this time.

Excerpt of an essay by Linda Marsh Helfman,© 2007 (The Photos are mine) http://www.lincolnlibraries.org/depts/polley/front.htm

    “His (Lieurance’s) interest in tribal music began in 1902 with a visit to his brother who was an Indian Agent on the Crow Reservation in Montana.  From that time he began a life-long fascination with the music and customs of the Native Americans.  He visited over 30 reservations and amassed a collection of several thousand recordings and transcriptions as well as a large number of Indian flutes.  He also invited Native Americans to his studio in Lincoln for some of the recording sessions. It was often difficult to coerce the Indians into performing for his recording machine, but his understanding and patience with tribal ways won them over.  He had an enormous respect for the people and had learned a great deal from the Native American wives of two of his brothers.  Much of his vast collection now resides in the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum, and the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.

Lieurance drew upon Native American melodies for many of his own compositions which he then clothed in what he called the “harmonizing which our ears demand’.  His most famous piece is “By the Waters of Minnetonka”.  It was first published in 1913, and became the number one sheet music hit of its day, with many subsequent published arrangements.  It was performed and recorded by some of the leading musicians of the era and enjoyed world-wide popularity.

In the early 1920s Charles O. Roos, a feature story writer for a Los Angeles newspaper, happened to read about Lieurance and his work with Native American music.  In his younger days Roos had been a woodsman and raftsman on the St. Croix River and had written poems based on his experiences with the local tribes there.  He realized that Lieurance was the right person to set the poems to music.  The two of them met and decided to travel together in the Chippewa forest country of northern Minnesota in order to gather additional material and inspire themselves further.  Using thematic material from Chippewa homeland, rain dance, ceremonial, and mourning songs, Lieurance composed music for Roos’ poems, and the result was the “Eight Songs From Green Timber” song cycle which appears in this collection.”  © 2007Linda Marsh Helfman

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References and History:

In the United States in 1924, Native Americans were denied many civil rights. They were not allowed to vote, educate their children and live freely. Mexican Americans inexorably lost the civil rights they had enjoyed prior to  the Mexican War and been promised in the Treaty of Gudadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and related legislation. Following are facts from the historical time line on the site http://www.cengage.com/search/showresults.do?N=197

  • 1902:  The Reclamation Act is passed, dispossessing many Hispanic Americans of their land.
  • 1912:  Brutality against Mexican Americans in the Southwest territories is commonplace. Lynchings and murders of Mexican Americans in California and Texas result in a formal protest in 1912 by the Mexican ambassador of the mistreatment.

The social and political climate damaged the social, political and economic rights for Mexican Americans, setting the stage for continued injustice eventually resulting in segregated schools in Southern California.
This excerpt from Digital History.com  quotes and article in the Hutchings’ California Magazine, July 1857. Seewww.digitalhistory.uh.edu/mexican_voices/voices_display.cfm?id=68 for the original document.


“The first California Assembly, meeting in 1849 and 1850, asked Congress to bar all foreigners from the mines, including the Californios, who were naturalized citizens. A rapid influx of Anglo-Americans rendered Mexican Americans politically powerless. The Spanish-speaking population fell from fifteen percent in 1850 to four percent in 1870.
    Mexicans and Indians in California were quickly reduced to second-class citizenship. The Foreign Miners’ Tax of 1850, a $20 monthly fee for the right to mine, was applied not only to foreign immigrants but also to Mexicans born in California. Early in 1851 the tax was repealed, but it had already had its effect. California’s Indenture Act of 1850 established a form of legal slavery for Indians. The state antivagrancy act of 1855, popularly known as the Greaser Law, restricted the movement of Californians of Mexican descent. Other 1855 statutes outlawed bullfights and negated the constitutional requirement that laws be translated into Spanish.
    The Californios suffered a massive loss of land. The legislature placed the heaviest tax burden on land, which put great financial pressure on Californio ranchers.”


Hutchings’ California Magazine, July 1857. See http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/hutchings_california_magazine/ to read the entire original document.

Photos are: Catalina Maria Ortiz (Acosta) age 18 in 1922.  Photo of Charles and Juanita with a dedication to Catalina written on the photo.  Photo of Indian man in canoe — Chief Yowlache costumed and posed.

ALL PHOTOS ©Cristina Acosta. Reproduction with written permission ONLY.

Woodland Series: Chickadee by Cristina Acosta 10" x 10" Acrylic and mixed media on wood panel

Free Your Inner Bird

Have you ever seen a songbird trapped in a house? It’s flown in through an open window or door and is panicked, slamming itself into walls and window coverings in an effort to escape. In my experience, it’s not until the bird has stunned itself after a headlong flight into another hard surface that I can gently catch it and carry it outside. Setting the bird down in a safe place, I will retreat and let it gently recover it’s equilibrium before it flies off again into the open sky.

We can be like the trapped bird. Life has somehow boxed us in and we throw ourselves bravely and valiantly against the barriers keeping us from freedom. If we are unable to escape we are often stunned senseless, and often we continue to participate in deadening our senses. All sorts of distractions and addictions  are at our fingertips.

There are a million and one ways to be trapped. This isn’t about those people who are culturally or politically dominated and imprisoned, but about those of us with the blessings of personal freedom who find ourselves trapped in the box between our own ears.

I’ve been fortunate to learn that my thoughts determine my happiness. That doesn’t mean I’m super good at being happy all of the time, I still get tired, frustrated, anxious, etc. But now, when I notice that unhappiness is dominating my feelings, I make an effort to step into a neutral place. I aim for a neutral place first, because sometimes, jumping to extreme positivity doesn’t seem the right and real response. And at other times, I’m just not ready to let go of my unhappiness.

How strange is that? Realizing that I am holding onto unhappiness when I don’t have to has been sobering. The first time I became viscerally aware of this truth was during a meditation retreat. Though I’m not Buddhist, I admire the compassion and kindness espoused by the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhists, so I was open to attending a Vipassana meditation retreat opportunity about four years ago. I didn’t investigate it fully and was rather surprised to arrive and realize that I had signed up for 100 hours of sitting meditation over 10 days, along with a vow of silence that included minimal eye contact, no touching, journaling or listening to music.

I was there and my schedule was clear, so I decided to stay at the meditation retreat as long as I didn’t discover I was been brainwashed into a cult. I wasn’t brainwashed. It wasn’t a cult. The retreat didn’t involve dogma or much of anything except instructions and the environment necessary to sit with my eyes closed while concentrating on my breathing and the physical sensations I perceived while mentally “flowing” my attention up and down my still figure. That was it. Ten hours per day of sitting still with my eyes shut.

It was tedious. It was boring. It was difficult. It was a lot of things that for me, were challenging.  And it was illuminating. Gloriously, painfully illuminating. During that retreat pain surfaced from the layers of past suffering and broke to the surface of my consciousness, popping like huge bubbles of fetid sewer gas. For a few days I was a hot mess. I also learned that the up-side of silence and no eye contact or touch is that there is a particular kind of privacy and non-judgement that is possible among fifty strangers in a large room when one breaks into a sobbing, snot draining mess.

Where the pain had been, I had clarity. I realized in that moment that while I had been injured at the hands of others, the ignoring, suppressing, re-living and analyzing I had done to evade the psychic pain of those injuries had only increased my suffering. Like the bird trapped in the room, I had dulled my senses while wildly trying to evade the pain.

During the four years since that retreat, I often think about that moment and use it as a reminder to find my mental and emotional equilibrium as soon as I can when I am stressed. I open the door for the bird that is myself and I gently set it outside where it can take to the sky, unburdened and without self-imposed barriers.