Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: Revitalizing Legacies in Lactation
Mireya Tecpaxochitl Gonzalez, Panorama City, California
It’s the way the morning sunrise shines upon the tassels of the tall corn stalks in our milli (Nahuatl for corn field) that reminds me of my childhood memories in our ancestral lands in Tarriacuri, Michoacán Mexico. I remember running through my grandmother’s corn fields while playing hide and seek as a toddler. As an Indigenous P’urepéchamother, I now have the privilege and honor of being able to witness my six–year–old daughter Dassi and my two–year–old son Hoshi run freely through our urban milli on Tongva and Tataviam lands, also known as Los Angeles, California.
It’s healing to watch my children thrive with our Indigenous food ways and traditions that were revived through breastfeeding/chestfeeding after nearly two generations of having our agricultural food ways and breastfeeding/chestfeeding traditions severed. Due to factors of assimilation and acculturation, poverty, forced migration, displacement, and exploitation of labor caused by U.S.-Mexico policies and programs such as the Bracero guest farm worker program, my grandmother’s and mother’s generations suffered from severed breastfeeding traditions and cultural beliefs that upheld human milk as our sacred traditional first food. These lineage wounds and historical and colonial traumas created the perfect storm for adverse social conditions, poor health outcomes, and adverse childhood experiences in my family lineage. Influenced by factors of assimilation, my mother’s generation (which immigrated to the U.S due to an agricultural guest worker program) began to adopt American culture such as eating American foods and accepting the belief that infant formula is superior to our Indigenous milk, that breastfeeding/chestfeeding is a privilege, and the purpose for breasts being solely sexual. As a result, we became further disconnected from our Indigenous agricultural food systems, breastfeeding/chestfeeding traditions, and our abilities to nurture healthy relationships with our bodies, one another, and our native land.
Just like a plant that gets uprooted and neglected can wither and die, so too does being displaced and disconnected from Indigenous food systems cause many first–generation Indigenous families to become more susceptible to chronic health diseases, disabilities, and death.
In my family, being displaced, marginalized, and disconnected from our traditional food ways caused many poor health outcomes such as diabetes, adverse childhood experiences, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Today I stand proud and grateful to have successfully restored my family’s Indigenous food ways, including agriculture, breastfeeding/chestfeeding parenting, and self-weaning practices. I know that my children and future generations will be less likely to be at risk of developing childhood obesity, diabetes, or suffer from adverse childhood experiences. I also know that they’ll be secured in who they are as Indigenous people and in our Indigenous traditions which include breastfeeding/chestfeeding and agriculturally based ceremonies.
In spite of not being able to be breastfed, I’m proud to share that I’m reviving and still able to pass down a profound legacy to my children; a rich biodiversity, cultural heritage, and an ancestral microbiome through breastfeeding/chestfeeding. As a first generation P’urepécha mother, I recognize that I’m the ‘make it or break it’ generation. If I do not uphold and pass down our family’s cultural roots and Indigenous traditions to my children, they will be at an increased risk of facing adverse health outcomes and childhood experiences because our Indigenous culture provides many biological and environmental buffer to them. Breastfeeding/chestfeeding has facilitated profound personal and intergenerational lineage-healing.
During Indigenous Milk Medicine Week 2021, I celebrate the transformative experiences that my family and I have benefited from through revitalizing breast/chestfeeding alongside more of our Indigenous traditions and agricultural foods, which are supportive and complementary to our breastfeeding/chestfeeding journeys. I also celebrate all Indigenous milk experiences as they revitalize cultural and family resiliency.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, go to https://www.facebook.com/IndigenousMilkMedicineWeek.
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