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.
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.
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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.”
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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.