JustUs in the Mestizo culture

JustUS is a 25 minute documentary film produced by Touch Point Productions documenting the existential struggle of the Mestizo culture of Northern New Mexico.  They are Hispanic by way of the Spanish Colonizers who settled around Ohkay Owingeh in 1598.  This caused conflicts with the Indengious Peoples, many Pueblo tribes.  After years of oppression there was an uprising in 1680 and most of the priests were killed.  The remaining Hispanics formed a lay ministry that operates today known as the Penetentes. From the beginning the colonizers took Indian women as their wives sometimes forcibly. Today most of the people have Spanish surnames and speak Spanish though many Pueblos live on reservations and identify as Catholic speaking a mix of Pueblo, Spanish and English.  Needless to say, the collision of cultures and the annexation of New Mexico by the United States has been one in which many of these people have suffered historic traumas.  Add to this the lowest educational achievement and worst educational system, poverty, and the influx of drug related gangs financed by Mexican Cartels and we see the widespread eradication of a unique culture.

JustUs documents the suffering of a group of people that are trying to use every spiritual tool in their power to correct the economic and social dissolution of years of government neglect. There are no jobs, no job training centers, nor even a detox center where people can find a way out of the death spiral.  Pedro and his small cadre of people struggle to assist people in the grieving process and try by every means available to them to give comfort to their people. In the end Pedro knowing that addiction is a spiritual disease surrenders to the situation and realizes that help from the government is not coming and only his own desire for a spiritual reconciliation and a connection with his culture will deliver the justice that his people are seeking. We are sincerely grateful for the participation of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM Center for Action and Contemplation in this documentary.

Pedro HerreraPedro- They call me Hermano Pedro and like many of us here in the Espanola Valley we are part indigenous through our captive grandmothers. Yet we retain the language and the customs of the Spanish ancestors and colonizers and ancestors who arrived 400 years ago.I grew up here, joined the military very young and came back and got employed as a firefighter and an EMT and worked in EMS. Years ago I went on a call and broke my back on the ambulance crew. I was prescribed all sorts , types of medications, I got addicted. Eventually I woke up from this grip of pharmaceuticals that has been massively overprescribed and heroin dealers have eroded the goodness of this place which further corrupts the local politics, our beautiful homeland has become a Valley of Tears.

My mother died of addiction. Now I have this little baby now and I am still struggling with addiction.

My son died of a heroin overdose, he was in his sophomore year of college, he was a good student, he was a great kid with a good family. I wasn’t going to be the Mom at his Catholic funeral with everybody whispering, what did he die of, what did he die of, he was 19.

You see all kinds of needles on the floor, it’s bad. This community is getting worse.

Pedro- It’s that little, that little thing bites you and that poison is in you. It will not leave you and it is always going to want to take your life.

Pedro- I made a vow and a promise in front of my mother’s grave with God, that after seeing some of my loved ones go down cause of all this bad substance abuse problems that I would submit myself to God and sober up all my senses. We will take a stand and we will fight for justice and for our place and our people. I won’t leave this place. I will stand my ground to try and defend and save our people and culture from extinction.

Erwin Rivera- There is no path of liberation out of those addictions without a spiritual path.

Ramona (Pedro’s wife) When I first met my husband Pete, he struggled with alcoholism. He ended up going into a rehab and stayed there for 90 days. When he came back , it helped him out a lot. That was the beginning for him to start his own recovery

Erwin Rivera- We have said the problem is domestic violence, the problem is alcoholism, the problem is the drug use – I submit that those are symptoms of the bigger problem that has gone unrecognized. Historical trauma is inheritable. It does impact the DNA.

Lupe Salazar- It plays a part on the brain but also how it plays a part on the soul, the very core of your being. It’s not uncommon for there to be generations of addiction in one family. It is not uncommon for there to be generations of addiction in one family. My grandpa uses, my dad uses, my tios use, my tias use.

On Friday, Good Friday, Pedro Herrera made a cross in memory of my daughter and also another young boy. She was only 28 years old, only 28 years old.

Pedro- We do these ceremonies to help them through the bereavement process. Right now people need comfort and support so we have created a little support network here to help each other through the hard times.

What I realized this morning is that I am just a functioning griever and there is not even a terminology for a parent that loses their son. Mary Rose walks out of the house with

Richard Rohr- It is the people who are very vulnerable who have profound God experiences. That’s when God, grace, love, forgiveness, healing can most get at you.

Lupe Salazar- I believe by bringing awareness by letting other mothers know that they’re not alone. That it is ok to cry, it is ok to yell, it is ok to scream and throw yourself on the floor but we have to remember to get up because if we don’t fight for our children. For our sangre. For our blood there is no one that will.

Erwin Rivera- The reality here is when an 8 year old, not an 8th grader but an 8 year old has to be taken by an elementary teacher to the counselor so he can stop his crying because he again was the one came in on his uncle passed out on the floor OD’d. But his Mom told him where that narcan spray was.  An 8 year old should not know how to do that.! An 8 year old should not be walking in to find an uncle thinking that they are dead on the floor.

Richard Rohr- Let’s think of all suffering, all woundedness, all failure, all sense of self hatred as a negative energy inside of us. If you do not transform your suffering , you will with 100 % certitude transmit to other people. That is as certain as the dawn. You will take it out on your wife, on your children, on your neighbors cause that negative energy has to go somewhere.

Pedro- That’s all we need…Love compassion and no stigma, we can not have stigma anymore and we can’t be judging.

Erwin Rivera- All faiths that claim a belief in a higher power then call upon that higher power by whatever means of prayer that you use to see what your Creator calls you to do to serve your neighbor and your community. And call to consciousness never comes at a time of convenience.

Pedro- get calls in the middle of the night, Hermano Pedro, my brother is dying, my mother is dying- I’ll be right there I have prayed., A lot of them have been young suicides for addiction , Ods and I have had to pray over for people who have died in my arms cause I guess I just put myself there and I am there for them and when I am there I give them a little comfort and they are not alone cause I don’t want to be alone when I go.

Erwin Rivera- We say through some of our religious beliefs that these sacrifices of all those that have died to opioid and heroin addiction and all addictions that those sacrifices become sacred. It is what purifies the rest of us. They have given of their lives to open our eyes, our ears, and our mouths so that we can speak in prayer and we speak as one. Ya basta, la cultura cura.

Pedro – for months we collect signatures on the petitions, people signing my cross telling me that they have lost almost everybody in their lives. Set up two appointments with governors with none of them showing up to greet us.

Pedro, Lupe, and David enters the capitol building and enters the governor’s office

Pedro- Not one of the two governors responded to our requests to the petitions to the state of New Mexico, so when a curandera approached me to help and join in the effort I thought it would really help my son and others .

Veronica- People who are confronting addiction, the energy is, the energetic body is weak.

Veronica Iglesias-  Addiction is so strong because energies are pulling the people who are not doing their personal work. So when people decide that they don’t work in their own personal issues, they go down to your own underworld. It means like it is a personal confrontation. . If you don’t do that, you are going to be there. In the darkness.

Pedro is performing at a church- He is playing the part of the devil…He pulls out a syringe.

Pedro- For 13 years I was crippled, I couldn’t walk. What was crippling me was all that baggage. I had inside of me. It was masked, all this stuff was masked and blocking my inner spirit and it was trapped, it was trapped, it was trapped inside…

Veronica Iglesias- Confrontation with the pain, confrontation with the fears, going on our knees and screaming. Going so deep to the darkness that we know that nobody will help us. Once we know that and we stand up and start taking the steps up that is the moment that the healing really starts.

Pedro is driving his truck toward us, he looks up and gives the solidarity salute.

Pedro- I think that if you are going to experience a transformation you are probably going to open yourself up and be at the most vulnerable point of your life. I pray that if this ever happens to any individual that you do it and it happens around trusting people, caring people.

Pedro and a group on the road carrying crosses and praying the rosary.

Richard Rohr- The people who feel that they have stood for a moment before eternity, or infinity or the absolute or God or the white tunnel or whatever you want to call it, they all say there is no shame and there is no guilt, only total responsibility.- We want total light. But again that is why it is called faith and even physically- the shadow lands are when you have a little bit of light and a little bit of darkness. When you have to live in situations of moral ambiguity.

Ramon- I got molested by my uncle since I was 3 til 9. About like two days ago they found him with a needle in his arm.

Ramona- We have prayed every single day that peace and compassion will come to these people in this part of the world. So we decided to t help them because of the fact that our son also struggled. It is the hardest thing, it is the hardest thing that a Mom could see.

Urban (their son)- You’ve got to quit on your own. Let’s say that your family’s is pushing you to quit and this and that. Yeah, you might quit for a week or two just to show them that you are trying but if you don’t really want to quit within yourself you won’t you know. You will just show them what they want to see for a while and then jump back into it.

Ramona- I couldn’t understand or comprehend why this drug was taking over my son’s life.

Pedro- When I started seeing the sickness coming into my family and it started transitioning over to the heroin and the high opiate uses then I was like wooo.

Urban- The way you think changes, you think of yourself about yourself. You become selfish in a way and you think, ok, well I need to do this to get what I want.

David Petersen- heroin interventionist Addiction, Sinister disease that we might call it gives that message. There is no love for you, I am the source…Deification of the drug itself may be a purely subconscious phenomenon but it happens.

Richard Rohr- Whenever you expect total gratification for something that can only give a little piece of gratification you are going to be unhappy. And drugs are probably the contemporary false promise of a false god because it doesn’t transform consciousness at any deep level

Pedro- voice over – After years of being emotionally and spiritually available for others, I firmly believe that I have in a deep way been transformed. to center my pain and trauma by using it to further connect and understand the pain in those I help. No judgment , listening and most of all being honest and sincere.

Pedro- We built a sweat lodge out of adobe bricks and had my son build it so I could help him build up his self esteem and then we could help utilize it for detoxing and and it would be open for anybody who wanted to use it.

Pedro is leaning over a low wall near the foundation where his son is measuring and checking the level of his work.

Veronica Iglesias- So substances are a shield, a shield of protection for people that don’t want to see and feel so many things, it is overwhelming. it is time to come back to  what is really helping us to clean, to come back to who we really are.

Pedro- When you are working with the earth and you are doing everything you offer it, ok. We are offering this for healing and this is the healing. When you get your hands dirty and get your hands into the earth , you start the healing process from within. . We are inside the earth right now and when we climb out of the earth right now it will be like we are reborn.

Pedro- You’ve gotta want it, but when you get the taste, it has always been there that taste will come back out. You strengthen up that spirit and give them the taste of the earth and the work, the sweat, the tears and you come back out of it

Richard Rohr- So let’s recognize that what we call addiction is also something to be healed and forgiven and understood, not something to be judged and condemned. God knows we all judge and condemn ourselves enough already.

Erwin Rivera- The hardest part isn’t that they can be forgiven. The hardest part is how they can forgive themselves.

Urban- I want to learn how to live right, I want to fail at being a heroin addict but I want to succeed at being a normal person and living right.

Veronica- Something I see very clearly with the family, with Pedro, I know that he went down to his underworld and confronted whatever he needed to confront to heal that pain, to heal that trauma. Generational trauma, personal trauma and then come back and bring the light.

Richard Rohr- The whole spiritual journey and I say this from a study of the Catholic mystics and saints is a journey three steps forward and two steps backward…you get it, you lose it, you get it you lose it and that is the way you fall into the ocean called grace. You are being led, you are being guided and it  is pretty much the heart of a person of faith.

Pedro It is up to each of us, just us, to make a difference.. I have no expectation that the government will supply the solutions but something is seriously wrong with the system when it is easier to find drugs in any prison system or on the streets than it is to find a job.