Thursday, February 25, 2016


My name is Luz Emma Cañas Madrigal. I am first generation Mexican American. How I came to be? That is a daunting question I aim to divulge in my forthcoming memoir. But in a word…destiny. In the early 1970’s, because most of the youth had been drafted into the Vietnam War, there was a shortage of medical professionals in the United States. The government invited international doctors to do their specialty at Mt. Sinai Cleveland Clinic, OH. My father was one of the doctor’s selected and it is there I was born and one of the main reasons my family decided to stay in the U.S. When I was five, my parents moved us (my elder sister, brother and I) to Los Angeles after my father was offered a teaching position at UCLA. They eventually bought a house in the suburbs where I soon learned that my family’s economic status granted me access to the finer things but not white privilege. I became politicized the day I was called a “nigger” for the first time. I was 8 years old. Too young and fragile to stick up for myself, at the time, that word was absorbed into my body and became a part of my being. It was then that my identity as an Afro-Mestizo began to take form and my need to resist oppression began. I was constantly reminded of my subordinate position in society both overtly and covertly through racial slurs and insinuations. It became painfully obvious that racism existed during my training as a classical ballet dancer. Throughout my training, I was praised for my ability and my physique. And yet, I was not chosen to attend the summer intensive I had trained the majority of my life for. I knew, in my heart, it was because I was not the “right” skin color. I started lightening my skin and my self loathing manifested itself in depression and eating disorders. Finally, I was accepted into the Pacific Northwest Ballet and upon arrival I noticed that I was one of two girls-of-color out of about 200. The other girl was also going to attend the Dance Theater of Harlem. She had options whereas I did not: I was not white enough for New York City Ballet and not black enough for Dance Theater of Harlem. At 16, I altered my dreams of becoming a ballerina and decided to become a Dance Movement Therapist. At the time, my parents were embroiled in a messy divorce that is in litigation to this day, almost forty years, exhausting the family’s financial resources. Like most teens, I acted out. I threw my tutu to the wind and became a dancer in MTV music videos. I partied with R & B and Hip Hop artists that were famous in the early 90’s then became pregnant by the time I was 19. My family and society brushed me off as a statistic: an unmarried teen mother. It became my personal mission to prove everyone, including myself, wrong. After two years at a junior college, I transferred to UCLA and received my undergraduate degree in Chicano Studies at UCSB. From there, I became a Graduate Fellow and received my Masters degree in Dance Movement Therapy at UCLA. I became a pioneer in the use of Dance Movement Therapy in Early Intervention and wrote about my experience in my book, “Kinnecting: Healing the Difficult Child with the Creative Arts.” Writing has always been a way for me to process my emotions and experiences. I began writing poetry as I went deeper into my spiritual practices. I continued to explore other movement modalities which included West African Dance, Modern, Yoga and Capoeira Angola. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art disguised as a dance because it became a means of liberation of enslaved Africans from colonial oppression. My passion of the art led me to move to New York City and eventually to Brazil where I met my husband, my last Capoeira master. He was murdered almost five years ago and I have been writing to process the fallout surrounding his death. Before he was killed, I started writing him poems in an attempt to start a different dialogue between us. After his passing, I published a book of poetry, “Divan of the Infidel.” I have been giving continuity to Capoeira he passed onto me through the founding of Capoeira Muçurumim. Our group became artists-in-residence at the infamous Ground Zero Mosque, which in actuality was an Islamic center. We served as liaisons between the religious and secular community during the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. Currently, I am a teaching artist in Capoeira for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute leading cultural arts workshops for the Department of Education, NYC, and I am a mentor for homeless LGBTQ youth at the Reciprocity Foundation. After all that my children and I have been through, writing has been a means of self-reflection, validation, and healing. There are some things that one goes through that can only be confided in blank pages, until one is ready to share them with the world.

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