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TRIBE de MAMA is a global community of women that holds events throughout the world in addition to publishing a quarterly magazine

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Interview with photographer Kanya Iwana

Klara Miller

By Dori Varga    Photographs by Kanya Iwana featuring Jaycina and her baby Syx

I discovered Kanya Iwana, Los Angeles based artist`s work while scrolling through Instagram. Her way of capturing and embodying the modern-working-mama-life instantly imprinted on me and felt inspired to share her thought and work with you all!  

How did your relationship to your career change after having baby?

That's the thing - I didn't. I've dabbled on a few creative hobbies, but it wasn't until I had Milo when I fully embraced myself as a creative and took myself seriously by going freelance full-time. It was very scary but the thought of complacency and hiding what I truly wanted to be to stay home with the baby scared me more in the sense that I didn't want to feel any sort of resentment towards her. I fully believed that I could be both a full-time artist and full-time mother. I knew it was going to be a flawed process, but I think accepting that fact was what made me fearless. Nothing's perfect, obviously, but I had to go through it to see what combining those two worlds myself -- and I'm still going through it, and loving it so far. She inspires me so much to be the person / artist I am today.

What has been the greatest challenge as a working mama? 

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There's so many challenges. One being - I'm so tired all the time. How is it that a person drinks four cups of coffee before noon? This is my average day. Thankfully I have a partner (Milo's Dad) that is amazing and present. We work together to reassure balance in each other's lives, but man we can be low energy sometimes, although he's so much better at it than me. 

The biggest challenge I would say, though, is guilt. I'm guilty of not reading to her enough - going outside with her enough - being present enough, although I work from home. I know it's an easy fix, but sometimes I'm caught in the dilemma of reading to her more or answering more e-mails for a quicker turnaround, which results in booking and me sleeping soundly. I still struggle with this so much.

What kind of support do you need or could you imagine having, to make the balance of mama+work life more smooth— whether it be changes in social construct or personal. 

Is there such a thing as a free day care? Of course not, because the people who run them deserve all the money in the world for taking care of our kids... This is completely and obviously nonexistent but if there is an extra day in the week, I'd take that over any other kinds of help. I need half of that to be for Milo, and the other half to be for me. I don't think I have enough me time.

How do you balance romantic relationship with work+mama life? I personally got quite burnt out and neglected my marriage so much that it got absolutely love deprived... I'm interested in ways in which a partnership can work while parents are both successful in career.

My partner and I have a very unique situation where we'd only known each other for two months before we got pregnant. It was a surprise for both of us, and as we decided to keep Milo we knew at the bottom of our hearts that we couldn't force a relationship because of this. We had to learn about each other throughout the course of our first couple of months of parenthood and had to organically have a romantic bond. Everything was so fresh - and even though he saw a baby and a placenta coming out of my vagina - emotionally we were talking through eggshells... At least I was. We were so fucking scared. It took us a while to fall in love, but luckily we did. I think we'd grown as lovers as we grew as parents and partners. It's so unique and I love our little story, but of course it wasn't easy.

You live in Los Angeles— What is your experience as a working mama in Cali/USA in your field? How’s the system been supportive of your career choices and how has it challenged you? What changes would you imagine the system could make to help the working mama?

I got absolutely no help from the government or whatsoever. I didn't have off days or maternity leave as a freelance artist. I had to go back to work with my semi-healed stitched vagina. So there's a lot of things I'd love to change about the system or industry. I used to be an actor and I'd audition a lot and the thought of bringing my baby to an audition made me so nervous that I wanted to throw up -- I wish there was something for that. I'd bring my baby on set sometimes, but you know how it goes with the fire department. I would say that because I live in Los Angeles and that a lot of my friends are also young artists, there's a strong sense of community and they always are down to help me out the best that they can. I'd say lean on your friends when the system is against you.

Tell me about your dream shoot! Who, where, when, why? 

I did a collaboration with Polaroid Originals on a project called "To Be A Mom While Everything Else" and it was one of the most beautiful projects I've ever done -- I had the honor to photograph and meet a group of moms and their kids, womb to adults, and was just able to capture their silent thoughts, their energy, and their love. I'd love to keep this project going with some icons. If I could get Michelle Obama and her daughters in front of me, I'd retire. That and Erykah Badu and her family. 

About the featured photos in Kanya's words- "This photoshoot is called Juxtaposition, featuring Jaycina and her baby Syx. The story is about a working mother in the 1980s who's decided to bring her baby to work with her -- which back then was uncommon but now is celebrated. It's really interesting how during the shoot itself people were still in awe that we executed this -- like they've never seen something like this before. Especially that we shot in Los Angeles -- supposedly a progressive city."
CREDITS:
Photographer + Creative Director: @kanyaiwana
Producer: @frklnvntrs
Stylist: @jcainghug
MUA: @francescamartin.makeup
Assistant: @timothyxlewis

 

Fierce Grace

Klara Miller

by Natalie Roberts-Mazzeo

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To my daughter Grace, you have embraced your sister in extraordinary ways. Thank you for bringing so much creativity, fun and joy to this new special needs life. I know it must have been hard to watch your parents try to navigate the early days your sister’s sudden serious diagnosis. You see, we were both hurting and grieving and sometimes it’s easier to stay angry, than it is to feel the raw pain and reality of Chiara’s condition and what that meant for her life and our family as a whole. You have come along to hundreds of hospital appointments and been by your sister’s side through casts for her clubfoot, EEG’s tests for seizures, AFO fittings, neurology, meetings, genetic appointments, speech pathology sessions and many post operation care visits. Sacred sistahood in action.

 Photograph by  @emmawisephotography

Photograph by @emmawisephotography

You have tested out all the equipment during trials for standing frames, wheelchairs, shower seats, specialised car-seats and feeding chairs with a huge smile of adventure, while I have tried to hide a mothers grief in trying to protect you all. Most of our family time has been spent in hospitals, waiting rooms, long and stressful car rides, travel both locally and overseas for intensive treatments. Yes, it’s been testing and sometimes harrowing but your level of connection, compassion and awareness to our situation always blows my mind. You have learnt such creative ways to play as a lot of our time has been taken up by Chiara’s additional needs – for which there are many. I wish I could give you more time; my heart sinks a little when I see all the games and toys you have been playing with quietly by yourself as I’ve attended to Chiara. You have included your sister into your world, proudly holding her hand as we walk you into school. I admire the way you effortlessly respond to your friends when they ask why your sister can’t talk, or sit or walk.

Grace, you have been blessed at a very young age (although I know you are a wise soul) to know the value of diversity and resilience. I know these two core aspects will put you in good stead through your lifetime.

 Photograph by  @emmawisephotography

Photograph by @emmawisephotography

The world may not always be so kind or accepting of Chiara’s conditions and you will (at some stage) come up against some conflict around disability. People might make jokes or comments that make you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about cerebral palsy or the like. Being different in our world isn’t always easy but it’s what makes us beautiful individuals of the light. It’s where all the treasures and blessings are hidden, so always stay true to you. Stay fiercely strong and proud of the woman you are growing up to be.

Grace, I know in my heart you will know how to respond and manage. All I can say is how proud I am for the love, care and pure acceptance of your sister and this new life we have. And when life gets tough – as it will as we all journey through the ups and downs, please remember you have a rare and precious gift. You have everything you ever need deep within your heart. Women who have walked before you, your aunts, your grandmothers, your great grandmothers and all the Goddesses that have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes, despite incredible challenges.

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If your sister Chiara could talk, I am sure she would tell you time and time again how much she loves you. But I’m sure you already know that right, you both seem to share a secret language together. Keep shining your light fiercely dear one, it’s only going to get brighter and brighter as the years flow by. And remember, no matter what life throws at you – there will always be love, beauty and fierce grace all around you and deeply within you, always.

Love you.
Mum x

Connect with Natalie through her Instagram @natalierobertsmazzeo

The Last Dance- My Journey To Freedom

Klara Miller

Written by Sex Trafficking Survivor & Advocate Jennelle Gordon

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The last dance, the time I thought would never come. The last time I let myself be abused, objectified, bought and sold all for my traffickers gain. The last time I ever wore six inch heels- lustfully dancing for a man, for his sheer pleasure and my excruciating pain.

This is a brief excerpt of my story of slavery, faith, freedom, healing, transformation and my mission to empower other women to do the same.

I was stolen. My faith in myself squelched, my love for myself hidden, and fear ruled my life. After suffering many traumas and being a ward of the state as a child, my traffickers found this vulnerability and pounced away at breaking me down to their weak subservient victim. If you have ever felt vulnerable, weak, uncertain, trapped, guilty, abused, oppressed or ashamed then this true story is for you.

Vegas is all neon lights, glamour and glitz but few grasp the magnitude of the devastating problem of human trafficking in this opulent City of SIn. This is the main place my years of trafficking occurred, although there were other states and traffickers as well. Many inquire how this transpires, how does one go from college student to sex trafficking victim? The answer is simple- it’s science. It’s the science of knowing what a young girl is deficient in and then supplying that very need she is missing. My trafficker happened to be a mastermind, played into my insecurities, and in a short time I was working around the clock for months and years on end without a day off. The exotic dance clubs became brick and mortar for my product- me. I was selling the most lucrative product of all time- sex. The price was high and the stakes higher.

My years of captivity led to severe physical, emotional and mental abuse. I suffered numerous beatings, strangulation, concussions, teeth loss, and these are just the minor physical implications. A loaded gun to my head was a normality, things that most people only see in an action packed movie became my everyday life. The worst trauma I recall was being  thrown down a flight of stairs after being repeatedly punched in the face by a linebacker body builder, then strangled until I passed out, to which I awoke to more beatings and being thrown into the car window. After years of enduring this abuse, the emotional trauma followed in the form of IBS, severe anxiety, depression, panic attacks and the inability to sleep.

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There comes a moment in your life when your life blueprint catches up to your reality and the awakening that they aren’t the same overrides the fear of your current life circumstances, or the change that would follow. That moment finally occurred for me and I knew I couldn’t be held hostage to my fear of my trafficker any longer. The doctors informed me I could die with another concussion and I knew he would end up killing me if I didn’t escape. Most victims never can escape and end up a statistic..

I would love to say I escaped my trafficker and my life was a fairytale afterwards but that would be a lie and after living a lie for ten years, I only live the truth now. Truth be told, once liberated from my trafficker the road back to reality and integration into society was paved with turmoil.  I didn’t have a support system, as I was estranged from family and the more I resisted the life I was trafficked in, the more I found myself home in that very life. It truly was my unwavering faith in God that allowed me the grace to find healing.

The healing came in the form of yoga, holistic nutrition, and Tantra which focused me into the reconnecting with my sensuality and spirituality. I became certified in everything I mentioned and started my healing journey, quickly realizing the reason for living is giving and  all the trauma I had experienced had a purpose. With this realization, I was inspired to form Dance Om, my own unique concept for women’s healing and empowerment. It combines the healing aspects of yoga, energy, various forms of dance with world music to take women on an exotic dance journey to their sacred, sensual, spiritual Self.

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My almost three year old son was another aspect of that healing, as I chose to have a completely unmedicated birth, and move to Orange County to raise him as a single mother reintegrating back into society after being trafficked for nearly ten years, this was a huge feat. Today you can find me speaking out publicly on my experience as a human trafficking survivor and advocating for those still imprisoned who have no voice to do so. My latest venture is the non profit club I started at my college campus called Beyond Freedom. This group of students creates awareness about human trafficking not only on campus but in the community. Our main aspiration is to fund survivors education as this has been a tool in me regaining my power in life. After thirteen years out of school I returned to not only become an honor student but to become a leader on campus, lecturing for various professors and offering a message of connection to my peers through yoga and mindfulness. A highlight was when Tony Robbins reached out to me after hearing my story and personally invited me to his conference as his guest.

The most important lesson I have learned in my life is that healing is not a project to be completed at a certain date but rather a timeless journey. My journey is to inspire other women who’ve suffered traumas, that they too can overcome and be outstanding in life. My mission is to educate, empower and enlighten women to have a voice, to be bold, to be connected, to be passionate, to be prosperous, and to live life in a state of wonder- because this life is a dance of what we most desire and fear. For me, while living in captivity, fear consumed my life but the desire to be free and happy finally won in the end. I remember promising myself that once set free from my life of exotic dancing it would be my last dance, however the new healing modality I created- Dance Om, has me dancing for an entirely different purpose.

Connect with Jennelle through her Instagram- @jennelle_gordon

Reflections of an Indigenous Doula

Klara Miller

Written by Erynne M. Gilpin • Photograph of Karu Peruzzo Mineira by K. Peruzzo 

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“An empowered community is made up by empowered individuals and empowered families, and to me empowerment is feeling at home with who you are, and that begins with the moment of birth. So my own birth story is a great source of strength to me. And so when you ask the questions about our children, I have to go the long way around and say it begins with the way they get born.” (Mohwak Midwife Katsi Cook in an interview by Wessman and Harvey)


She was tired. Labor was coming on fast. Her contractions were strong, and she cried out for a moment’s rest, a moment of relief. “Ambe little one”. Her body takes over. Her partner’s strong hands hold her through the waves, and I place a cool cloth infused with sweet oils on her forehead. Breathing through. “Send your breath to him. Send your breath to him.” I sing the water song in my head. “Speak to him in the language. He is coming. Nipiy. Nipiy. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Gitchi Manitoo….”

… and he was born.

For mothers and families around the world the ways in which we birth our young babies is an act of sovereignty, self-determination and ceremony. Here on Turtle Island (Canada), there are strong hands, hearts and minds which dedicate their lives to ensure that indigenous babies are born in ways which uphold culture, their language, ceremony, and the land. Sadly, racism is alive and well within health care institutions across Turtle Island, and it is paramount that indigenous families and mothers can access care from indigenous birth-workers, midwives and doulas (“aunties”).  Our family alone has lost more than one family member due to racist neglect and inadequate care in the Canadian health-care system and Indian Hospital system. As Western medicine, often male-dominated, took precedent over indigenous healing traditions (from the mid-1800’s and on), many traditional healers, often women and two-spirit, were removed from positions of healing authority. Our teachings, our medicines, our songs, our ways were regarded as alternative, less scientific, and ultimately inadequate for the delivery of healthy and safe births. The impacts of the removal of births from the home territories, waters, and hands of indigenous communities has had deeply “profound spiritual and cultural consequences, which are difficult to quantify. The loss of traditional birthing practices has been linked to the loss of cultural identity.” (NAHO, 2008)

As indigenous birth-workers, we believe that the woman carrying a child is profoundly spiritual and sacred. She is a spiritual entity which connects the elder Kokum-Pîsim to our home Kã wee ooma aski through the rush of nipiy. Our teachings remind us that our children are closest to the Spirit World and hold special authority in our communities. Women’s bodies are intimately interconnected to water, as it passes through with new life in child-birth, and shares the cycles of the moon with our own cyclical menstruation. (Anderson, 2000)

In upholding these responsibilities, women have the opportunity to inspire a relational accountability to the land and water and challenge younger generations to reflect about the ways that our ancestors protected the lands and waters. Birth does not begin with conception nor end at entry into this world; birth begins in the Spirit World and continues through the entire life of the being. The land provides the medicines to heal the little ones as they grow into strong healthy relatives, and the water allows the breastmilk to nourish their journey. Our existence is not separated from the land. Of course, our responsibility to the mothers, families, and little ones cannot be divorced from our sacred responsibilities to defend the land and waters and protect the sacred.

We, as birth-workers, regard those who carry life as those who also carry cultural teachings, relationship, and care for the Nation. Cherokee elder Marilou Awaiakta reminds us that carriers of culture are accountable to the well-being and strength of the entire community. Furthermore, in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, Annishinaabekwe Leanne Simpson explains that breastfeeding is a child’s first exposure to relationship based on reciprocal exchange, enabling  them to learn about “treaties, the relationships they encode and how to maintain good treaty relationships.” In this way, “the family is a microcosm of the nation,” and how we care for our families determines how we care for our nation. These ideals are not constricted to gendered notions of femaleness but rather require a personal commitment for all community members to protect and pass on cultural teachings to future generations. The fragmentation of family and the undermining of the role of motherhood through colonial political genocide has created a crisis and the need to rebuild strong families.

For indigenous birth-workers, birth is an act of resurgence. Birth is an act of love for our people. Love for the lands that raised us and the waters that bring us forth. Birth is a process which binds us to one another in relationship and accountability. Birth is what connects us to our ancestors before us and to our generations to come. From the “Birthing The Nation Project” at HOʻOULU ʻĀINA in Kalihi Valley, Hawaii, to the “Seventh Generation Midwives” in Toronto, Canada to the “ekw'í7tl Indigenous Doula Collective,” to the “Indigenous Freedom Babies,” to “AMUPAKIN Achimamas” in Ecuador, indigenous birth-workers are birthing the Nations around the world. To us, the way we birth our little ones is an act of ceremony. Of governance. Of truth. Of resurgence. Of memory. Of life. Of joy. We believe that all indigenous families should have seamless access to indigenous care-takers. All indigenous families have the right to birth their children in ways which are culturally significant, safe and dignified.

I wake up at sunrise and bless nipiy before I drink her in. I smudge and give thanks. I ask that my hands may be steady and my heart strong. I ask that I may know how to best support and love the Mother in her time of labor, and offer friendship for years to come. In a few moons, my own sister-in-law will give birth. We will travel to southern territories and learn from birth-workers in Brazil. I hope my grandmother is proud of me.  I feel honored to be a part of this circle. This circle of blood, water, earth and memory. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Bizindawiyeg. Mii Sa Go Minik.

About the Authour:
Erynne M. Gilpin is of mixed Saulteaux-Cree Métis, Filipina, Irish and Scottish ancestry. She is a PhD candidate of Indigenous Governance (UVIC) and Doula. Her research centers Indigenous land/water based healing traditions as emancipatory practices of contemporary governance; with specific attention to women’s leadership, body-governance birth-work traditions as decolonial praxis.

Connect with Erynne via Instagram @erynne.michelle