Artist Yaqui uses his platform to transform his people’s narrative
Selina Martínez is part of a community of artists who, through their work, perpetuate the history and presence of their Pascua Yaqui people – from the valley to the Sonoran Desert which legally belongs to Mexico.
But before starting to work on projects centered on her identity, she would experience difficulties in school because of who and where she came from. As a native woman, she felt her work was underestimated. It wasn’t until she found a mentor who understood her struggles that she began to use her identity as the primary driver of her work.
Born and raised in the valley, Martínez grew up in Maryvale and spent time in Guadalupe and Penjamo, two communities that are part of the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Arizona.
She didn’t see her people reflected in the architectural history of Arizona, so she took action on it.
This is how Juebenaria was born: a project made up of images, videos, newspaper clippings and maps that show how her people have existed throughout history. The goal is to maintain a living and ever-changing space that reflects the Yaqui narrative of the past, present and future.
A deep look at one’s own identity
As an architectural student at Arizona State University, Martínez felt estranged from the academic environment she found herself in. Not seeing either her experiences or her culture around her did not confirm something she already knew: academia did not value her identity.
“The historical architectural narrative has been white European modernism and has generally not recognized indigenous architectures or indigenous cultures in the university architecture program,” Martinez explained.
And when the Indigenous narrative exists in a historical aspect within these studies, it’s typically told by a white or non-Indigenous historian, she said, an aspect that keeps her dedication to her project strong.
Martínez grew up knowing she was Yaqui. She went to Guadalupe to attend the Catholic celebrations in Cuaresma and felt part of the community. As she grew older, she began to ask more questions, which led her to discover many details that were not passed on in her family.
Yaqui, or Yoeme as it is called in the traditional language of this indigenous people, has a history that is not known to many in Arizona.
The ancestral lands of the Yoeme are located across the border between the United States and Mexico in the state of Sonora. A history of resistance and the struggle for autonomy precedes its federal recognition by the United States government.
About 400 years of conflict began first with the Spanish crown, then with Mexico and the US military.
The Yaqui Wars, which lasted from 1533 to 1929, caused the displacement of hundreds of Yoeme, forcing many to flee north to Arizona, forming communities in Tucson and Phoenix. One of these communities is Guadalupe, located between Tempe and Phoenix.
Towards the end of 2020, deep in the pandemic, Martínez began to investigate Yoeme’s traditional knowledge more and realized that there was a lot more to being Yoeme than she had imagined.
Through her investigation, she found accounts of the violence suffered by her people and slavery on the plantations as punishment by the governors of Sonora who waged war on the tribe, and other elements of the relationship. between Yoeme and the Mexican government – details about his ancestors his family never shared.
“No one around me was asking about this anymore,” she said, and her inclinations as a researcher led her to launch Juebenaria.
The word Juebenaria means plural in the Yoeme language.
Martínez chose the word as the title of his project to show the past, present and future representation of Yaqui stories.
“There are so many different ways to tell a story and over time those stories can change or have their details adjusted depending on who is telling that story and who is recording it,” she said.
The use of the word reflects its intention to encapsulate more perspectives of identity and not just the ones people are used to seeing, she said.
The collection is meant to offer a broad overview of the Yoeme experience by using old and new forms of storytelling to capture it.
Martínez won a grant through the NDN Collective, an indigenous collective whose goal is to cultivate indigenous power, to bring this project to fruition.
In less than a year, she was able to publish several projects focusing on the history and origin of the Yoeme people as well as scans and models of important cultural sites.
Using Instagram as a platform, she has amassed an online audience to share her findings. Her account features clippings from articles covering everything Yaqui-related, including clippings from The Arizona Republic.
“Create comprehension tools that maybe can help other people who don’t like reading or who are more visual like me. This has become an important part of the project to be able to collect these environments and be able to show them and represent them to the community in a literal way and have an access point to reconnect, ”she said.
One such depiction is a 3D scan of the Penjamo Yaqui Pueblo mural located in Scottsdale. For people who have never seen this mural in person and may not have access to see it in person, this provides an opportunity to interact with it. Viewers can zoom in and out on sections of the mural and see the entire mural.
Another project on his website is a mapping of sites important to the Yoeme. Using Google Maps, Martínez identifies places that have cultural weight to remember. This includes locations here in Arizona, but also across the border, a reminder of the cross-border existence of the diaspora.
Carlos Valenzuela is someone who saw Martínez’s trajectory with his work. He leads the Yaqui Pride project with similar goals of empowerment through education. He sees Martínez’s work as a way to connect Yaquis across borders.
“And if we brought the Rio Yaqui to the kids, let’s use the technology to do it,” Valenzuela explained. He goes down to Sonora to visit the pueblos of the people who still remain in the valley of the Rio Yaqui. However, due to the violence of the war on drugs, it is impossible for most to travel for security reasons.
Valenzuela believes that Martínez’s work has the ability to reach younger generations who might be alienated from their identity.
Although this is a project that Martínez has done mostly on her own, her goal is to include other creators of Yoeme with the aim of diversifying the perspectives on who Yoeme are. This is the part of the project that focuses on the future of identity.
“Start imagining where we want our community to go in the future to regain control of our narrative,” Martínez explained. “Trying to promote ideas, even if they are hypothetical, that integrate our culture so that our environment helps us practice our culture and better understand where we came from and where we can go. “
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