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Faculty Bio - Dr. Irene Lara

My scholarship and teaching draws on decolonial feminism, curandera praxis, and women of color and Anzaldúan theory to write and teach about Chicana, Latina, and indigenous women’s feminist spirituality, sexuality, healing, pedagogy, and cultural productions. A recent scholarly contribution has been my co-edited text Fleshing the Spirit: Spirituality and Activism in Chicana, Latina, and Indigenous Women’s Lives (2014), for which Dr. Hernández-Avila, a key forerunner in this field, wrote the foreword. One of the primary reasons I organized this three-part visit by Dr. Hernández-Avila was to ensure that “energy” from the perspective of spiritual studies and the arts and humanities more broadly speaking were addressed as part of the Common Experience repertoire of events. I am also pedagogically engaged with a community of colleagues on and off campus working in the Contemplative Practices field and Dr. Hernández-Avila’s workshop was an example of furthering such effective practices in teaching settings. Her presence on campus engaging these topics and methods was personally invigorating as much as it was intellectually provocative and emotionally engaging for students and faculty.

 

Summary of Events

Dr. Inés Hernández-Avila (Nimipu/Tejana), Professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis visited SDSU for two days, April 20-21, 2016. This internationally respected senior scholar, professor and cultural educator, social justice activist since the 1970s in Texas and then California, and Nimipu/Tejana woman considered a “healer” and ceremonial leader her community, participated in three activities: 1 a.) a contemplative practices workshop, b.) a guest visit to WMNST512 Latinas in the Américas, and c.) a large lecture (with a reception beforehand).

 

a.) About 24 people attended this interactive workshop on experiencing energy, "Contemplative Practice, Healing, and Creativity.” Purposefully structured in an intimate, open dining-room/living room setting at the Agape House, it began with a blessing before a community dinner. When we returned to our circle, Professor Hernández moved into a personal and historically contextualized sharing of her life story in relation to the topic and then facilitated the collective sharing of participant’s intentions. In the second half, Dr. Hernández-Avila guided us through a meditation, a reflective debriefing about our experience, and a closing. As described in the common experience website with a link to rsvp for this event, its focus was on the relationship between contemplation, meditation, (self)healing, and creativity. Participants were led through a guided meditation wherein they connect to the center of the earth and to the cosmos, in a way that allows each 1 person to gather her or his own energy in a process of renewal and re-emergence. The emphasis was on the ability that each individual has to practice this “renewal meditation” through contemplation, mindfulness, and grounding. Attendees left energetically rejuvenated after having embodied the effects of mindful breathing and meditation and with a new or affirmed tool for practicing such culturally grounded energy work.

 

b.) Professor Hernández-Avila visited my WMNST512 Latinas in the Américas upperdivision class of 20 or so students to discuss her assigned readings: the Foreword to Fleshing the Spirit (2014) and “In the Presence of Spirit(s): A Meditation on the Politics of Solidarity and Transformation” (2002). Seizing the opportunity to have the renown scholar in the room, students were able to ask questions, ask her to elaborate her points, and make informed comments to further their knowledge and make relevant links to our learning outcomes.

 

c.) For her large public lecture attended by at least 150 people, Dr. Hernández-Avila presented “From the Heart: The Energy of Creativity, Healing, and Social Transformation-A Nimipu/Tejana Feminist Perspective.” To help set the tone, Dr. Hernández-Avila invited American Indian Studies Professor Cutcha Risling Baldy to begin with a song. She addressed the connections between the energy of social transformation, healing, and creativity in the pursuit and manifestation of social justice, from a Nimipu/Tejana perspective. Theorizing from this culturally specific and historically conscious perspective, she emphasized the notions of social transformation and social justice as intimately related to autonomy (personal and collective), the relationship of healing to the movement of energy, and the role of the heart as key to creativity and transformation. Professor Hernández-Avila also weaved into her lecture the artwork of two indigenous visual artists that she argued are engaging the energy of creativity and conveying it through their socially transformative art: Lyn Risling and Alicia Siu. Afterwards, there was a lively question and answer session for about 20 minutes of provocative discussion, followed by at least 30 minutes of attendees lingering to continue the discussion and take pictures with Professor Hérnandez-Avila.

 

Undergraduate and Graduate students and faculty from many departments attended these events, including: Women’s Studies, American Indian Studies, Chicana and Chicano Studies, Communications, Spanish and Portuguese. Audience members also came from the School of Education, the School of Public Health, and the Center for Latin American Studies. Chairs/directors from these disciplines promoted the event to their faculty and students. Additional campus and community partners included: the Association of Chicana Activists, Center for Intercultural Relations, the Women’s Resource Center, and Agape House. Moreover, a strong community presence was present at two out of the three events, including SDSU alumni, emerita professors, and the broader Women’s Studies feminist community in San Diego.

Student Learning Outcomes

Dr. Hernández-Avila politically and historically was able to contextualize phenomenon, namely the phenomenon of social movement and the creative role of cultural activists/artists within social movement and particularly the interconnected creative and spiritual/contemplative strategies arising from the historical experiences and cultural knowledge of Chicana/Tejana and Native American women. In her discussions, Dr. Hernández-Avila also foregrounded the ways that spiritual leadership and education is a gendered phenomenon. Moreover, in addressing the practical and theoretical strategies of social movement and activist/artivist identities across geopolitical and social locations, the speaker helped students better understand and negotiate differences. She was forthright about the ways her own self-reflected upon social location as native (Nimipu) and Mexican-American (Tejana, Chicana) have informed her perspectives on the energy of creativity, healing, and social transformation and invited audience members to also leran about their own histories and cultures, in addition to appreciate the specificity of native and Mexican cultures without appropriating these cultures. Moreover, by engaging the knowledge and questions of a scholar and the artists she presented on who integrate global and local perspectives on spiritual activism and the relationship of energy to social movement, students were able to better evaluate the consequences of their/our actions as well as the consequences of their/our inactions.

 

Faculty Reflections

Dr. Hernández-Avila’s diverse program of three, far-reaching events provided several ideal forums for students to meet the planned learning outcomes. The unique content and structure of her lectures and presentations (as described above) provided a rich learning experience for everyone involved.

 

Overall, I as the faculty coordinator informed by my own experience and from eliciting oral and written feedback from attendees, am confident that the participants, partners, and attendees were highly satisfied and, indeed, intellectually and spiritually impacted and transformed with the events’ outcomes. As one of my students wrote in a collective thank you note to Dr. Hernández-Avila, “Thank you so much for an hour of learning and helping us understand not only the reading, but ourselves on a deeper level.”

 

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