• My Thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month

    We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    To be asked to write for “Hispanic Heritage Month” has left me frozen. At first, I was frozen from the narratives I’ve lived with my entire life, “Who wants to hear what you have to say? You don’t know enough to write a blog on this subject. Here you are again— you are an imposter, step down.”

    But as I sit and turn inward asking for Guidance, there is a clear voice that says, “You have lived experiences to share. You have unpacked this, and to not share your voice is a disservice.”

    Those old narratives are not truth; they are a colonized mentality — and I no longer succumb to the belief in those messages. So here I am again, shifting from muted to empowered.

    Where to begin?

    Let’s start with the name: Hispanic Heritage Month. That term is colonial in and of itself. “Hispanic” refers to people whose cultural traditions originate from Spain and centers European whiteness.

    The term is also problematic because it’s homogenous — it only highlights people and cultures of Spanish descent. We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    We also come from the many cultures of diverse countries in Latin America, Puerto Rico and beyond, and yes, many of us have colonizer Iberian and Spanish blood. All of us have been impacted by colonization, and have had our cultures, languages, and communities stripped and stolen: first our indigenous ways, and again when many of us have assimilated to the ways of the United States, Canada or other Western lands. This generational trauma impacts us all, and it is from this place I find my service.

    Once you start unpacking this internalized colonial mentality — rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism — it can be so daunting, so heavy. In my experience, I was angry. I grieved for cultures and languages lost, for the pain of my ancestors. I was conflicted with my multiculturalism — wondering where I belonged, where was home.

    Yet, as I did this work, co-created community, and began to speak out, a beautiful thing happened. Others with similar-lived experiences joined in, and allies arrived. A collective formed of souls who wanted to dismantle these oppressive systems and create a better, new world. I found folx who were willing to do this work in our small corner of the world.

    We learned that perfectionism and individualism would prevent us from creating a brave space for this work. We acknowledged that authentic relationships — ones where we can be truly vulnerable — take time, and we gave ourselves this time. We prioritized presence over perfection. We learned that we had to have a shared language in which to begin this work. We co-created a community agreement and held ourselves and each other accountable. We made amends when we messed up and didn’t shy away from the discomfort when we needed to step up and repair harm. We gave ourselves grace during this hard work, as we knew we were dismantling generations of engrained colonial mentality, and this was lifelong work. We were and are committed to creating a brave space for this work to happen, for us to heal, and for our community to rise.

    A beautiful thing happened this summer. A community came together and put themselves fully into this work. We didn’t rush the process. We valued and worked within the sacred circle cast and took the time to unpack all of it: white supremacy, anti-blackness, and colonization. We did the painful work of seeing where we are complicit in white supremacy and how we are privileged in its structure. Some of us did the painful work of seeing for the first time how we have had our cultures stripped and grieved for that loss.

    We held breakout groups for BI & POC to process this, and our white colleagues held their groups. We saw the value in this and embraced it. We didn’t succumb to a common narrative that breakout groups are divisive. We knew we needed space to be with folx with shared lived experiences to process. From here, the healing can continue.

    The breakout group process allowed us to come together stronger, in our authenticity, with voices and commitment to take this work off the mat and into the world. These radically inclusive and brave spaces are needed because as we work to dismantle these oppressive systems, we can be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. So we start with our small space, our small community, and we trust in the incremental effect of this collective healing to spread. We trust this is how change happens.

    This is the mission of Burning Spirits Yoga and Yoga Punx PDX: to serve our community, those most impacted by systemic racism, oppression and whose indigenous wellness practices have been stripped, colonized, and commodified. We are a growing organization, led by folx with lived experience of the clients we serve. We are guided by ancestral knowledge, a seeing and knowing that to heal our communities and the generational wounds, these are the spaces we must co-create. We can then rise, serve and be good ancestors.

    By Sandee Simon-Lawless

    Sandee firmly believes it is never too late to start a yoga practice. Although she came to the yoga mat at various times in her life, it didn’t resonate with her until her mid-40s, when she came to heal from emotional, spiritual, and physical pain. As she physically healed, she found unexpected gifts of love, resilience, patience and acceptance. She learned she was no longer a victim; she was a survivor. With this conviction, Sandee set upon a path of liberation for the collective.

    Sandee is the founder and Executive Director of Yoga Punx PDX, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to breaking down barriers to yoga accessibility and supporting those most impacted by oppression and systemic racism. She firmly believes that no one is free until those most marginalized are free. Yoga Punx PDX is a community that offers donation-based yoga, meditation, sound healing, and indigenous healing practices, taking classes to communities who otherwise would not have access. It also provides scholarships to QT, BI & POC, as well as folks in recovery for the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training.

    Sandee is the owner and director of Burning Spirits Yoga in occupied land now known as Portland, Oregon. The Portland Metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River creating both permanent communities and summer encampments to harvest and use the plentiful natural resources of the area.”

    She, along with her co-teachers, guide the Mysore Ashtanga Program and the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga School, which is committed to education in Yoga philosophy and the Eight-Limbed Path. Along with her co-teachers at Burning Spirits Yoga and with Yoga Punx PDX, Sandee is committed to social justice and anti-racism and providing de-colonizing offerings from an intersectional and trauma-informed lens.

    Lastly, Sandee is a healer — a Curandera working with energy, guidance, yoga, and plant medicine to guide folks to self-healing.

    Sandee is forever grateful to the teachers and ancestors who came before and made this work possible. Without their labor, this practice would not be. She would like to thank her teachers, past and present: David Garrigues, Dianne Bondy, Tim Miller, Saraswati Jois, Khristine Jones and her life partner, Ami Lawless.

    Sandee holds an MBA- Healthcare, BA in Gerontology. Sandee is a EYRT 200, completed 100 hours of advanced Bhakti Flow, current 300-hour student with Dianne Bondy, Primary Series Teacher Trainings, apprenticed for 3 years with her teacher, David Garrigues. Sandee is a Level 1 Reiki practitioner, and has completed intensive trainings in herbalism, channeling and energy healing.

    You can follow Sandee on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sandeelawlessyoga/

    Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sandeelawlessyoga

    Support their work at https://www.yogapunxpdx.com and https://burningspiritsyoga.com