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Ixoq Arte: Learning About Maya Ancestry Through Plant-Medicine 

Fresh medicinal herbs and essential oils - ingredients to prepare a homemade skin product, top view. | iStock
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When I was growing up, my Guatemalan grandmother, Mamamanda, always knew how to make me feel better, whether it was with peppermint and cinnamon tea for menstrual cramps or chamomile tea for stomach aches. This transfer of generational knowledge is what inspires me to keep these traditions alive with Ixoq Arte, a line of natural personal care products I started in 2016.   

On a sunny June day, my kitchen smells of the lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus I use to make my own plant-based items, such as a mosquito repellent and a grounding spray that promotes calming energy in aromatherapy. As we navigate a pandemic, I find emotional balance in creating herbal, holistic healthcare products for our physical and emotional well-being based on the traditional knowledge of my Maya ancestry. 

Ixoc Arte Natural Deodorant Cream | Courtesy of Carla Macal
Ixoc Arte Natural Deodorant Cream | Courtesy of Carla Macal

The month of June always reminds me of the month when my consciousness shifted. In 2016, my mind, body and soul connected with other like-minded people at an herbal retreat hosted by California Womxn of Color Herbal Symposium near the Bay Area. This retreat included guided meditations by Black womxn elders connecting us to the fire within ourselves, encouraging us to enjoy the present moment and to break away from the intensity of urban life. The retreat encouraged me to start creating my own herbal medicine and natural products to connect with ancestral ways.

After this experience, I went back home ready to resign from my nonprofit job, where I was feeling unvalued, unfulfilled and surrounded by stagnant energy that perpetuated the status quo. I began opening my eyes to the colonial, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal world we live in. I started reading articles, such as Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo’s, “Medical Violence Against People of Color and the Medicalization of Domestic Violence” in the “Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology,” which made me aware of the way hospitals use people to make a profit and how medicalization strips us away from our own ancestral knowledge and connection with nature. This knowledge motivated me to make my own natural products as a way to reclaim my Indigenous roots and connect with nature.  

I started Ixoq Arte to tackle the intergenerational trauma of colonization on my Maya ancestors and to address its impact on every generation since. I am intentionally reconnecting with plant-based medicines and ancestral ways of taking care of ourselves amidst colonial violence. Ixoq means womxn in K’iche,’ one of the languages of the Maya people in Guatemala. I want to honor my Maya matriarchal lineage and its traditional systems of care for the village, the community, the home and the body. Plant-based remedies preserve us more than processed, toxic products by healing the root of the wound. The Maya people have relied on herbs such as eucalyptus, peppermint, chamomile and tobacco to treat spiritual ailments and connect with the ancestral world. These traditions are sacred and as part of the Central American Maya diaspora I want to learn and recuperate ancestral knowledge. I became passionate about making natural body care products not only to address the contaminants of pharmaceuticals, but also to connect with my ancestry.

I grew up in East Los Angeles, a neighborhood where fresh produce is not easily accessible and where we consume personal hygiene products filled with toxic chemicals that damage our bodies, leading to premature death. There is a lack of education about the food we eat and the essential body care products we use regularly. For example, the way deodorants are packaged  in  a  plastic  tube normalizes a physical disconnection from our own bodies, not to mention that it contributes to plastic waste. Instead of touching our armpits, the deodorant tube does the beautifying work and we should feel comfortable touching our bodies.

Carla Macal | Courtesy of Carla Macal
Carla Macal | Courtesy of Carla Macal

Since 2016 I have crafted a variety of products including natural deodorant creams, natural lotions, grounding sprays to balance energy, and pomadas for muscle spasms. At the moment, I am making a hair treatment oil with burdock root, basil and rosemary, all herbs that help with blood circulation and promote healthy hair growth. 

In an effort to educate my community, I have also co-hosted educational workshops where friends and families learn to make their own natural deodorant cream while enjoying my friend, Daisy Cuellar’s, herbal teas. These gatherings help build community to learn from one another and curb dependency on corporate products.  

I am not alone in this venture of healing intergenerational trauma through herbalism and care. A few of my friends and comrades have been making their own herbal tinctures, teas and medicines to avoid supporting corporations. As a community, we learn from one another and we barter, trade and support one another, countering capitalist values of competition. We are creating communities of care by speaking out against colonial violence and by having intentions of accountability, sisterhood and mental health support.

Amidst a pandemic and physical isolation, I continue creating traditional medicine to help my community heal generational traumas. I remain focused on helping us stay grounded and connected to herbalist traditions of care and communal futures for our overall well-being and collective preservation. 

Top Image: Fresh medicinal herbs and essential oils - ingredients to prepare a homemade skin product, top view. | iStock 

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