By Eli Farinango
Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. Healing Through Remembering by Eli Farinango is the fourth in the series.
I met Inguen when I started going to the Wachuman ceremonies. Her smile reminded me that I can be happy. She reassured me that the earth can help me heal and I can lead a life where I am at peace. This concept was getting lost the longer I stayed inside my head. I had forgotten how to live because anxiety and depression took a hold of me and mental health was something barely talked about in my community. The idea of seeing a therapist is reserved for those that have “lost it” and in that space, the only way I could heal was by coming to terms with all of the wounds I had covered up. As I acknowledged them, all the women in my life supported me with knowledge and personal stories that are often dismissed, undervalued, misunderstood, and judged. The women I call family, held space for me: they understood me, empowered me. Made sure I stayed alive. In each story, I found hope, strength, courage and for that I am grateful.
I asked Inguen: how did you learn about ceremonies and healing? “I didn’t learn,” she replied. “I’m simply remembering. All of this is already inside us, they just made us forget.”
I light a candle before sitting down to write this, because I need a moment to settle in and take in the fact that I am pouring out myself into these pages — letting the world read them and letting myself be seen. I had written the proposal for healing through remembering during a very difficult moment in my life, and it had been my way of expressing the need that I had for movement and change. I couldn’t find myself and that brought a lot of pain. For the longest time I had told myself the same narrative over and over again — that this is meant for someone else, that my voice doesn’t matter. Working on Healing Through Remembering has been empowering. It has been a challenge on many levels because it forced me to be vulnerable and honest with myself while also opening up space in my family to share our stories of survival.
When I thought of this project, I thought how amazing it would be to document alternative ways of healing by accessing my family’s memory and ancestral knowledge. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a painful process. I was sad, and I was broken most of the time because as it turns out, unravelling memory is not always a happy thing. The conversations I had with my grandmothers were painful as both of them recounted times in which family members had been abused, discriminated against, treated as less than because of who they are and those things had been silently tucked away into acceptance.
This past year, I spent time with my extended family in Ecuador, getting to know their stories and trying to find a place for myself within that space. Visiting every once in a while was exciting, but living there full-time was a different story. I had hoped to come out with a flowery recount of how romantically beautiful it is to return “home” but instead I was left with more questions, and lots more healing to be done. For me, making sense of my cultural identity has been a central part of my life. I was born into a Kichwa family from the Northern part of Ecuador. My earlier years were spent with my grandmother, tending to the land and the animals that lived with us.
My family and I moved to Canada when I was 9, my family and we started a new life away from everything and everyone I associated with connection and the idea of “home”, and although I am grateful that my parents made the decision to move to Canada moving here unrooted me and caused me years of anxiety. I never really found a place for myself here and when I went to visit Ecuador after years of living far away everyone treated me differently and I felt really uneasy about who I had become. I came back to the feeling that I didn’t belong to either place. I needed to be part of something, so I stubbornly held on to the idea that by permanently moving to Ecuador and “doing what I was supposed to do” I would somehow have that feeling of home and belonging. As a teenager, I remember looking out my window and imagining a time where I would have enough resources to go to and live in Ecuador. I travelled back and forth for a while until I finally stayed in 2017. I had been chasing the feeling of home for so long that I allowed myself to make a series of choices that I thought would assure I would be welcomed into this imagined community; I allowed my boundaries to be crossed many times over in the name of immersion and while being in the mountains, with my grandmother, with everything I had ever wanted, the feeling of not belonging never really went away.
I immersed myself in the life there as much as I could and I began to open myself up to new experiences. I had hoped that by being in this place and connecting with my culture, I would find peace, but instead the space began triggering wounds I had forgotten about. Ones I had purposely thrown dirt over started to open up and I realized remembering was not about learning about a distant past but it meant honouring my own experiences and giving them the validation they deserve. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and day after day her stories began to weave me into her world, I began to understand myself in the larger context and acknowledged the pain and struggles of my family. I realized that the stories my family was sharing with me were meant to be shared amongst us and with future generations so that we can somehow end hurtful cycles and play a part in collectively healing our family.
My grandmother who is 78 years old, grew up alone. Her mother had problems with alcohol and left her daughter to raise herself and her brother. My grandmother made an effort to go to school by using the money her madrina gave her to buy supplies, but eventually had to leave that dream when she was 9 years old to work in a mestizo (person of mixed spanish-indigenous ancestry) household – cooking and cleaning – to survive. Her experience with those families were tainted with abuse and hardship. I sat there listening and breaking at the same time. In her eyes the racist and abusive relationship between Indigenous people and mestizos is normalized as something that is just part of life. I struggled to understand her but after spending time in Ecuador I began to understand how one gets tired of fighting back all the time. Even while living in a predominantly Indigenous city, racist attitudes aren’t something of the past or limited to mestizos. I was made very aware that belonging to an indigenous society did not except us from having a multiplicity of problems, even within our own family, class lines exist, internalized oppression and machismo run deep. As painful as it was, it was so clarifying to see the romanticized version of Otavalo dissipate and get to a place where I could understand the roots of the intergenerational trauma we carry.
I wondered how my grandmother coped with all of this and I began to see her beyond her pain and focused my energy in seeing the resilience she embodies. She was widowed when she was 32 and her 7 children are scattered between Spain, Canada, the US and Ecuador; she prays for them every single day. Bringing each and every one of them back through prayer. Mamita Virginia taught me so much about spirituality as she lives a life in which ritual takes many forms – from caring for animals, to making food- ritual is in everything.
During my time in Ecuador I went to a lot of different ceremonies where I was hoping to find quick relief for anxiety, depression and answers to all the questions I had prepared. I participated in various organized ceremonies and realized healing didn’t have to come from consuming anything, or workshopping, or that it isn’t handed down from one particular person. But rather, as my grandmother does, my healing came in the form of acknowledging every experience I live, honoring myself enough to treat myself with respect and love during hard times and being in gratitude for giving myself the opportunity to heal.
I remember the day that I walked out of the Wachuman ceremony, feeling overjoyed by the fact that I was in Ecuador and starting this journey; asking my ancestors to send me knowledge and healing. They did, in the most powerful way. They sent me lessons through life experience; I was healing through connection and my memory was awakened. The wounds were exposed to the fresh air of the Taita Imbabura, asking to be healed with lots of care and patience. The plants, spirits and people I crossed paths with were the bursts of energy that pushed me out of my comfort zone to grow, and I began making my story, my medicine. Healing myself through my memory and my intuition, realizing that the things to make myself feel better are not random, but rather pieces of knowledge passed down from a place I’m still learning about. In my personal ceremony, I felt like I was getting closer to what I was looking for: I made sense, and by looking inward I found belonging.
Eli Farinango was born in Quito into an Kichwa Otavalo family, they migrated to Canada with her parents in 1996, she has been going back and forth between her family home in Canada and Ecuador for the past 5 years. Through her photography, she hopes to capture the joy she experiences when seeing the beauty of the Pachamama and its people. Her photography is deeply personal as she uses art to disentangle herself and heal old wounds.
As a Kichwa woman, she feels the responsibility to open space for indigenous voices and at the same time use photography as a way to challenge stereotypes and the misrepresentation of indigenous peoples. Her work is inspired by other indigenous photographers, activists, her family and the community of women who have supported her journey in finding herself, unlearning colonialistic practices, and honoring her art.
Her work has been featured in Remezcla, Telesur English, Waging Non Violence, Red Rising Magazine, St. Sucia Zine, Notimia (for the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the UN) @elifarinango