In tribute: tatiana de la tierra

tatiana de la tierra now lifts away from the earth: tribute to a friend

When she was a little girl, at a time long before I knew her, tatiana de la tierra had a different name, and she stopped speaking. She went mute. By the time we met in 2010, tatiana had grown into her energy and her courage and her power and her free, uncensored tongue. tatiana said whatever she felt, believed, wanted to say. That doesn’t mean her words were ever cutting or cruel. She was funny and honest and out there, a voice of joyous and uninhibited liberation.

We met after The Blessing Next to the Wound was published. tatiana was going to review it for La Bloga but before she wrote anything, she wanted to interview Hector Aristizábal and me. The book upset her, reminding her of events from her own past she would prefer to forget. She wanted to know from us why Hector would want to probe the pain in his life, his arrest and torture, his brother’s murder, and more. tatiana, like Hector, emigrated from Colombia.

She, too, had trauma and violence in her past, but she preferred to heal herself in spiritual ways and put the pain behind her. It was not her way, though, to say someone else was wrong. With her openheartedness and ever alive curiosity, she wanted to understand Hector better, not to criticize or condemn him.

That day, tatiana performed some of her poetry for us, her rollicking, funny, wild celebrations of women’s bodies and lesbian love. She revealed herself a force of nature.
I came away from our meeting with her Chibcha Press book, Píntame una mujer peligrosa, and a new friend.

tatiana invited me and Hector to her apartment in Long Beach–a magical space with ritual objects and her extensive collection of folk art and books and record jackets from all over Latin America. And the two beautiful cats, Shakira and Mojito. tatiana was was initiated into Munay-ki and in a ritual ceremony she invoked for us mystical bands of protection.


Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a believer, but I was glad tatiana had spiritual protection, this impressive goddess of a woman who was struggling with kidney disease and dialysis (which didn’t stand in the way of her trekking to ecoaldeas in Colombia or shamanic trainings in both Americas or drumming on full moon nights in the mountains in Altadena) and her beloved brother’s murder and her difficult father’s recent death.

And she began to look at those wounds. tatiana began to write her own memoir and send me chapters. They should be published and read and the only reason I’m not posting them here is so that on-line publication won’t stand in the way of Olga Garcia, her literary executor, shepherding them into print.

Last year, she seemed to be at a low point. She was laid off from her library job. The IRS decided to audit her. A long distance relationship fizzled. Then she met Cristy McMahon. Cristy, who loved tatiana with all her heart. What joy to see tatiana so happy.

The diagnosis of cancer came soon after. It spread through her whole body like quicksilver. To her bones. Tumors popped out everywhere, you could touch them bulbing against the skin of her arms. Inoperable.

tatiana and Cristy held each other and cried. When tatiana was too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything but lie in bed, Shakira and Mojito, curled up around her.

Taken onto the plane in a wheelchair, tatiana traveled alone to a healing center in New Mexico where she lay naked on a buffalo robe in the wind and sun. This was not the first time in her life that doctors had told her she was terminal and yet she had gone on living. So while she began to make final arrangements–writing her will; arranging for her archives to go to UCLA–while her mother flew in from Miami to be with her and aunts arrived from Colombia, tatiana said she was refusing to die.

Hector and I visited her in the hospital after the colostomy which was done not in hopes of a cure but to keep her a little more comfortable because of the large tumors blocking the passage and causing excruciating pain. She looked so healthy and joked around about her colostomy bag with her accustomed lack of inhibition and good cheer and told about the new apartment she was moving to–on the ground floor, to make life easier–it was tempting to believe she would be all right.

Maylei Blackwell contacted tatiana’s friends and family with an invitation. On Thursday, July 12, we gathered for a healing ceremony at the home of Qween Hollins in Long Beach, a place where the LGBT community gathers for non-patriarchal spiritual practice, where we were saged and then went down steps carved into the earth, into the pit–”the womb of Mother Earth”–with a fire pit in its center. About 25 of us took our seats. Above us, trees and towering sunflowers, and a light rain fell.

Qween Hollins is gifted and absolutely genuine. She led the 2-hour ritual which, though many of us hoped for healing and cure, we understood the ritual was aimed at leaving the outcome open and letting the spirit guide tatiana to wherever it was she was meant to be. At one point, tatiana transformed before my eyes to a 5-year-old little girl. She just grew younger and younger, a look of total trust and innocence.

Then, inside the house, we were joined by her mother and her aunts. tatiana, exhausted, had to lie down on the bed. We shared food and then tatiana got off the bed and sat with Cristy beside her and we presented our gifts of poetry and memories. So many people simply adore tatiana. they have been so inspired by her courage, not just in how she has faced the pain, but they have felt liberated by her refusal to censor herself. tatiana had taken down the necklaces that used to hang over her bed and had them in a basket so everyone could take one.

True to tatiana’s spirit, there was a lot of laughter and sexual commentary. Her mother spoke in tribute not just to tatiana but to her community. “Everyone has heard of witches, but you don’t know they really exist and you’ve never actually seen one. To me, that’s what lesbians were. I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve learned that you have been mother to my daughter and sisters to my daughter. When she first had her kidney disease, I told her to come home where I could take care of her and she said, no, I’m staying here. Then I came to visit and I saw you are her true family. I love you all and I consider you my family and I’m proud you are part of my family. Thank you for loving my daughter.”

Once everyone had a chance to speak, we lit candles, tall white candles that burn for seven days and we placed them in the center of the room on two trays and spoke our intentions.

Qween invited tatiana’s mother and aunts to lead us in prayer. This was so open of her because I’m sure she knew where those prayers would go, back to patriarchal religion, but she showed the women this respect. tatiana’s mother asked the Lord for blessings and to care for and comfort tatiana and ended it in Jesus’ name, and the aunts led us in the Padre Nuestro.

We sang De Colores and an African song that Qween taught us.

tatiana said she was exhausted but happy.

I did not see her again. The apartment was crowded and hectic. Family, and Cristy. I didn’t want to intrude. On Monday, though, Maylei suggested I visit but told me to text first. I don’t have a cell phone, so I phoned instead. tatiana could barely speak she was so weak. she was too exhausted for a visit then but said she would call me back the next day, Tuesday, if she felt stronger. Instead, Tuesday afternoon, July 31, I got word that she had left us. The world is diminished.

* * *

Gore Vidal also died on Tuesday. These words of his apply so well to tatiana de la tierra: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

* * *

Tatiana’s memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 11 at 2:00 pm at Forest Lawn Cathedral Chapel, 4885 Cherry Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90807

The family requests that no floral arrangements be sent. Instead, friends and family are welcome to bring loose flowers that everyone will arrange together.

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19 Responses to “In tribute: tatiana de la tierra”

  1. renee fiallos Says:

    Thank you for the beautiful words about Tatiana. I loved her very much.

  2. Lori Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful peek into Tatiana’s last few years. I knew her many years ago, in the early 90′s when we met and became friends who shared our love for words and art and Miami. She introduced me to Lincoln Rd on South Beach-while it was still just a local’s hangout…before renovations and before it became a popular tourist destination. She called me a few years ago.. Out of the blue.. And we promised to keep in touch . But like so many of those types of long over due conversations ..we never spoke again. I am grateful to have known her .. I keep her in my heart.

  3. desilef Says:

    renee and Lori, I’m glad you came across these notes as we miss her and think about her and love her.

  4. ina Says:

    Thank you so much for this. I was roommates with Tatiana years ago at a Latino librarians convention. She was so smart and an excellent writer. It is comforting to know she went bathed in love.

  5. ramona Says:

    Thank you for sharing! tatianna was a force that will remain with us all.

  6. Rest in peace, tatiana de la tierra at Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social Says:

    [...] Read Diane Lefer’s touching tribute to tatiana here.  [...]

  7. Luzma Umpierre Says:

    Conmovedor relato. Gracias.There is a song in Puerto Rico that says: “Cuando un amigo se va, dejame un inmenso vacio.” That is how I feel on the lost of this powerful sisterly voice who helped me be published early in my career and, once again recently in La Bloga. Luz perpetua para ti.

  8. hector aristizabal Says:

    Dear Diane thanks so much for painting tatiana’s spirit and unique ways to us. Tatiana fully lived her life and in the short time I met her and could share with her and Cristy she became part of mine. Let the humus of her poetic humor continue humanizing all of us. Hector

  9. Frances LaRocca Says:

    I met Tatiana in Buffalo, NY a few years ago…we had the fortune to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and spent just a few evenings together but I remember how open her heart was, that she was so very funny and oh so creative. She left me with her book of Poetry before moving to Long Beach. I have thought of her many, many times since then. I now will hold her in my heart as a very special person who touched my life and will chant for her enlilghtenment as she makes this transition. I am so happy that she was surrounded by such love.

  10. Daniel Olivas Says:

    Well, you made me cry. But they are tears of joy that we had tatiana for the short time that we did. We loved having her vibrant, uncensored voice on La Bloga. And through the wonders of the Internet, her voice and beautiful smile will continue to be enjoyed and discovered.

  11. Linda Heidenreich Says:

    Saludos: ‘was looking for information on line because when I got the news it just seemed too unreal. thank you for your beautiful post for such a beautiful person.

  12. Yolanda Noriega Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story of Tatiana with us. I had the gift of meeting Tatiana in the 80′s while living in South Fla. She taught me about international women’s music as well of women of color literature. I will always remember Tatiana for her passion, courage and her love of life.
    Yolanda Noriega

  13. angelica guillen Says:

    I had only just discovered her writing and therefore her soul and presence in the world. She joins Gloria Anzaldua in my mujer, warrior, lover, xicana heart—

  14. Tatiana de la Tierra | Lesbian Legacy Says:

    [...] More information can be found on: Tatiana de la Tierra discusses poets, lesbian writers (in Spanish) Homenaje a Tatiana de la Tierra In tribute: tatiana de la tierra [...]

  15. tashasimons2012 Says:

    Tot was my big sister. Today, I received the last box of her personal effects and it pains me to grieve the loss of someone I loved so much. Growing up with her, I know her in a different way. I appreciate your writing this heartfelt tribute. It sounds like she was loved by so many outside of her family and I’m thankful for that. I miss her terribly. My heart aches but at least I know she was loved deeply by so many. Tasha

  16. Albert Lowe Says:

    I just found about tatiana’s passing today. My condolenses to her family and community. I am happy to have met tatiana and archive her personal papers. She is very important in the intersection of ‘zines, sexuality and post-coloniality.

  17. Remembering Desi | Nobody Wakes Up Pretty Says:

    […] lost tatiana de la tierra on July 31, 2012. Then came the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and then Newtown and all […]

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