Over the week of the Texas Snowstorm in February 2021, I was able to talk to the families of Sanchez, Travis Heights and Harris elementary of Austin Independent school district. These are the families whose children attend our Saturday school, Academia Cuauhtli ("Eagle Academy" in Nahuatl). Their many stories reflected my own personal interpretation of the symbolism of the storm, a symbolism of a fallen, dead system that must be put to rest.
The day after the storm, I got up at 4:32 AM and I saw the snow, the blanket of delicate and subtle purity. It expanded all over my vision as the world rested, as everyone slept. The heavy blanket of nieve over the world, protecting the earth—maybe from us, maybe from the machine of capitalism.
The next morning, it was chaotic. I had power, but many others did not. My grandparents in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and my mother in the Rio grande Valley, had no electricity or water. Even if I did have electricity, I felt a deep sense of solitude around me existing in a home space that did not feel like my own, surrounded by white identities based on capital materialism, identities that dreamed solely white dreams.
I’ve felt alienated ever since attending the University of Texas at Austin, but refusing to give up on my dream of having a career, a purpose, a connection to stability, influenced my decision to establish myself in Austin. Cuauhtli has become more than all those things. When I talk to these families, I feel I am extending my own sense of family through creating vulnerable connections. Because we truly are that: familia, vinculados a través de los ancestros.
Most of the people that I call to reach out on behalf of the program are mothers. When I talk to them I feel they are like my tías— or some my abuelitas. Some remind me of my mother. They share a common dignity and shyness of asking for help. They are all grateful and always extend that gratitude to Cuauhtli. They bless me, very often. Dios bendiga a usted, muchacha.
I do feel their blessings very deeply—especially in having the opportunity to help.
I call Doña Rosa Blanca first, because she is the one who showed me my path in Cuauhtli in many ways. The first time I talked to Doña Rosa Blanca on the phone was unique—I had never met her children and they had stopped going to Cuauhtli because of the death of their father. I called during the pandemic and she said, they had suffered through death. She said her daughters had written stories about her and her immigration to the U.S. That they would write the stories she would tell them. Aurora y Atardecer son sus hijas. I told her I was a writer too and my father had also died. I’ve had spiritual, memory-based and emotional conversations with Doña Rosa Blanca.
This time she confesses to me that she was in part a bad mother, and in part a good one. During the snowstorm, she felt the temperature wouldn’t be so bad so instead of finding a warm space for their daughters, she thought they could stay. She tells me she felt guilty for exposing their lives to the storm’s brutal force. But in part she felt she was a good mother, because through that risk, her daughters were able to experience something Doña Rosa Blanca remembered from childhood.
“Cuando pasabamos por los vecinos yo veía que estaban haciendo lumbres y me dije, ‘Esto me recuerda algo. Ah! Así es México.’”
She remembered when she was a child and the people in the community would create fires. She tells me that her daughters exclaimed how magical they felt everything was.
“Mira mamá los vecinos tienen fuego. Mira mamá la nieve.”
I don’t mean to romanticize the experience, as every story inside of us takes different elements. Each one of us has a unique voice. I myself felt the same way having experienced a childhood of Tamaulipecan magic— of rain, of morning, and midnight fires, of the river that merges in the ocean.
The truth is, the system failed, shut down and prioritized selfish interests over community. Fire and warmth is what remained in the darkness.
Our attention is always so plugged into the electric currents of the system and to me it is undeniable that we need to reconsider how we interact with nature and technology around us. The technology of the system will always invest in the rich and white.
But fire and community belong to each and every one of us. Fire apart from its symbolic power, is what inspires this essay and leads into the following discourse.
Under capitalism, we do not observe the elements or even the weather. Our daily lives belong to the harsh reality of work and social structure. It was only through severe weather that it made itself noticeable. Consequently, our families had not been able to work.
Under the absolute tangibility of material capitalism, our families live paycheck to paycheck. A week out of work, maybe two, meant that they were short on rent. Last Spring, the same thing happened, our families were out of work and struggled to pay rent. Some landlords threatened with eviction. Some of our families, one in specific, is Doña Rosa Amarilla, who told me she was scared that her landlord would raise the rent if they were late because that’s what happened during the pandemic. She said she was really worried and stressed because her family had spent most of the day in their truck and the night inside their apartment, but they didn’t have enough blankets and she stayed up most of the night taking care that her children were warm.
Another of our mothers, Doña Rosa Roja, from Harris elementary said the same thing: She had stayed up making sure her children were okay. I can tell Doña Rosa Roja is full of ancestral wisdom because when I asked her if she had enough food she said: “I have rice and beans. As long as there is that, there is always enough.” Her statement colors her world in a kind of practicality that is far from capitalistic. Capitalism has transfigured the material into processed toxicity and done so through work, money, and food, a commodified form of "nurture" to which we are addicted.
Two years now in a row, we have experienced crises as a community that has resulted in conversations amongst ourselves about the community we are creating.
I want to call attention to the wisdom that our mothers bring to Cuauhtli and how they impact not only the way our children are raised, but our teachers and ourselves, directly, as well—especially through the consejo between teachers and family members that took place last semester.
Some of our mothers like Doña Rosa Blanca are widows, divorced, single or possibly in an authoritarian, patriarchal relationship. I am assuming here, because of what I saw in my own community growing up. This is an assumption that also stems from the historical plight of women captured in domestic spaces where their labor is overlooked, unappreciated and not paid—even though this historical relationship has shaped the successes of capitalism. Our mothers are often not only at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy, but they also hold it up. They are the strongest. Not only within a capitalistic structure, but also in ancestral relating. They carry not only life, but memory, time and nurturing.
When I think of the system collapsing, I think that it has already collapsed atop a structure of hierarchy where black mothers, brown Indigenous mothers and poor mothers are positioned. So when we talk about “failure,” it is really referring to the white middle class experience because the system had already failed us. But because we are forced to find asylum in a country that “shares” some white privileges, we do not notice that the rent is three times as high as what as what we are receiving—and what women have historically received for their labor under colonial capitalism.
Most of our mothers are immigrants to the United States, not to the land, but to the state. We work here, we live here, we create life here, we give our children to the system, for they system to mold, and ultimately, produce from them, replicate their ideologies, idols and ways of colonial being. We have already paid enough rent for a lifetime, future lifetimes for children who will shape and mold the future.
Enough is enough.
My mother always forced my brother to go to school even though he was angry and depressed about it. She did that because she said the government could take us away. Did she value education? Yes, but she was also scared. When we bumped our heads, she was paranoid that the schools would think she was hitting us and that they would take us away from her. Her instinct was absolutely right. Because they were taking us away...from our culture, from our language, from our mothers.
But now the system knows that Mother Nature is stronger. That beyond climate change, the manifestations of nature are absolutely life-changing and life-sustaining.
So are our mothers.