Washington DC / 2018
REMEMBER is a "Mobilize Walls" Mural painted for Sustainable Native Communities "Bridging Boundaries" traveling exhibit. For this exhibit, focused on food sovereignty in Indian Country. The American diet, production, distribution and food supply is a vast and complex subject matter in Indian Country. The complexities range from being separated from indigenous regional diets and the collective placement in food deserts where hardly anything grows to the unhealthy cheap distribution of foods to tribal communities and the shaming of historical diets and traditional foraging of foods.
In this particular work, Joerael depicts Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, a curandera and chef from Phoenix, AZ. While speaking with Felicia about food sovereignty, she identified with the remembrance of traditional foods and activating them back into communities. She remembered the certain foods that were eaten during feast day dances in New Mexico and the traditional foods she ate during important times of her life, like during pregnancy or childbirth. However there is cultural assimilation attributed to many plant foods, labeling them as "poor people's foods" or "Indian foods" thus they were avoided altogether even though they were abundant throughout the landscape. In her experience, she saw much historical shame connected to the edible plants from her Southwest upbringing like eating cactus pads or cholla buds. In Felicia's journey as a chef, she has returned to her relationship with these foods, cooking with amaranth, cholla buds, chia seeds, elk, mesquite pods, nopales, prickly pears, and yucca flowers as a way to heal and reconnect with her ancestors. In recent years, foods like these in recent years, foods like these tend to be marketed in White capitalist culture as novel "power foods". This leads to a greater disconnect to the people who first utilized these ingredients to feed their communities as culinary medicine. Felicia states that "looking at food sovereignty includes the treatment of the food, the land, and the broader conscious journey to put the food back into our bodies." To Felicia, prayer, foraging, and not only remembering, but acknowledging her ancestors are all part of the process to these package-less foods of the American Southwest. Experiencing the act of remembrance and the preparation of the food is a way for Felicia to heal the cultural shame around her family's regional and traditional ingredients.