Betty Marín, ACTA Program Manager
September 22, 2020

Visite esta página en español aquí.

In July and August 2020, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts hosted a five-part series of workshops called La Cultura Cura (Culture Heals). Our Building Healthy Communities artist fellows led online sessions focusing on how the traditional arts can guide us toward healing and peace during times of great stress. In this Q+A, ACTA Program Manager Betty Marín speaks with Artist Fellows Luz Marlene Cordero and Dalila Mendez about the relevance of traditional arts in mental wellness.

Participants in the online La Cultura Cura workshop series.

“La Cultura Cura: Using the traditional arts to cope with stress and anxiety” was an online workshop series that grew out of almost a decade of work in Boyle Heights with the Building Healthy Communities initiative funded by The California Endowment.  In this program, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts has elevated traditional arts practices that center community knowledge and culture in advocacy efforts around health equity, investment in youth, anti-displacement efforts, restorative justice, and the expansion of physical and mental health services in Boyle Heights. Through the processes of co-creation, engagement, wellbeing, and collective change that are embedded in the traditional arts, ACTA’s Artist Fellows create paths for everyday activists to live into and practice the changes they want to see in their communities and beyond. 

ACTA artist fellows with an altar decorated with paper flores de cempazuchitl.

ACTA’s model has been to place one traditional artist fellow and one mentee in each of the individual health equity campaigns in Boyle Heights.  The mentor-mentee relationship mirrors teacher-student relationships in traditional arts contexts that assure the transmission of collective knowledge. The La Cultura Cura series was an opportunity for the artists to work together across four campaigns: Health Happens with Prevention, Health Happens in Schools, Eastside Leads, and Invest in Youth. Artist Fellows lifted up mental health and wellness as essential to the activism work we do, especially at a time when anxiety and stress are heightened for all of us as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

We partnered with the LA County Department of Mental Health through their Promotora program, which supports culturally sensitive community health educators who work to reach the Latinx community and other underserved communities with resources around mental health and other health issues. We worked with promotora Maria Moreno to pair her mental health curriculum with a traditional arts component led by our Artist Fellows. The program focused on how cultural practices support our healing through engagement with plants, altars, songwriting, and other day to day traditional practices. The series included five weekly sessions that took place between July and August 2020. 

In this story, we invited two of the artists to share their experiences in these workshops: Luz Marlene Cordero and Dalila Mendez. Luz  has been mentored by Ofelia Esparza and Rosanna Esparza Ahrens for the last almost three years in the Health Happens with Prevention campaign. Dalila has been the Artist Fellow within the Eastside Leads campaign working against displacement and for equitable development for almost two years. 

What workshop did you lead and how did you develop the theme?

Luz Marlene Cordero

The workshop that I carried out was on loss and grief: El Rebozo de Bienestar, with the support and guidance of my teachers Mrs. Ofelia Esparza and her daughter Rosanna Esparza Ahrens. The theme was developed with the cultural context in mind first. Second, the pain of loss without being able to say goodbye, especially in these pandemic times that are affecting the entire world.

One of the main activities during the workshop was making a paper flower. The flor de cempazuchitl (cempasúchil) is the traditional flower used by many Mexican communities, and in particular in Oaxaca, to create the traditional altars that are made to honor and remember our loved ones who are already in the process of transcending into divinity.

It is incredible how the process of transforming a few simple sheets of paper can help participants visualize and connect with pain from the past that has not yet been released.

Through traditional arts they managed to create a beautiful flower that by tradition has been made to guide the spirit of our loved ones to find their way back to the home to which they belonged.

Dalila Mendez

I led the workshop Planting seeds of healing: how to use plants to heal. As we discussed how la cultura cura [how culture heals], it inspired the theme of remembering our ancestral stories and knowledge around plants and how they can heal. In our and all communities we have so much cultural knowledge that we can all learn from, reconnect with, and honor. This workshop was inspired by the healing properties of plants that my grandmother imparted to me.  During our workshop we discussed our memories and knowledge that we carry about plants and our connection to the earth. I presented four plants that can be easily found either in your neighborhood or at your local store.  The plants we talked about were chamomile, lavender, mint and lemon balm and their help with alleviating stress and anxiety.   

How does it reflect the work you’ve done within the BHC (Building Healthy Communities) and how is it different?


Since I became part of the BHC, I have tried to reflect in my work not only that the traditional arts can be a bridge of transition to build even healthier communities, but also to do it with commitment and dedication. Today, I feel that we have been able to awaken that existing need in our community to achieve a better emotional balance.


It reflects the work by continuing the dialogue around land and cultural knowledge. We continued our discussion on our connection with land and plants as a way to help build healthy communities.

Making flores de cempazuchitl.

What did you learn or reaffirm by leading this workshop? About yourself? About traditional arts?


By guiding this workshop I learned that although we are distancing socially, we can connect and transmit that message of love and emotional or spiritual healing that all human beings need during a process of loss and grief but that we often hide for reasons of stigma or criticism.

As for myself, I have managed to visualize the death or loss of a loved one as the ultimate liberation of the soul, reaching divine transcendence, leaving pain behind and celebrating life and honoring the person who has passed. As for the traditional or ancestral arts, I am learning to return to them and my objective is to teach the new generations since with modernization we are leaving them in the past.


The workshops reaffirmed the teachings that had been passed down to me through my grandmother. During our sharing of ancestral memories around plants and migration I felt a deeper connection to the importance of our cultural knowledge and the healing that comes from our traditional arts.

What was the process like to develop the series with the other artists?

A community altar created as part of the Building Healthy Communities Boyle Heights program.

At the beginning, to develop this series of workshops we had more questions than answers. But as we became clear about the objective, which was to bring the community a space to reconnect with our ancestral traditions, everything flowed naturally, each artist putting their own own teachings and experiences to connect and transmit a message of spiritual healing where each of us was an instrument to achieve this goal.


The beautiful thing about this series of workshops has been the collaborative effort between us as a group. It was very generative and inspiring working with this group of artists.  By working with each other we were able to create a series that created a container to heal through traditional arts and ancestral knowledge.

What impact were you able to see in the people who participated?


The impact that I was able to make during the workshop I guided on loss and grief was very exciting because each participant experienced it according to their own needs. The most important fact was how several of the people managed to connect with their ancestors and how in the healing transition with El Rebozo de Bienestar they managed to release part of that pain that had them tied to a specific episode in their lives.


The participants and presenters were intergenerational and fully present.  People shared many personal stories that were very important to the workshop and space. The workshops transformed me and by the participants accounts many felt that the workshops were healing, powerful and empowering. 


Has it inspired you to do more related work? What do you envision?


The positive response I had from the participants was very gratifying and it has inspired me to continue learning to have the necessary tools to continue working in the community with issues related to healing and achieving mental balance. I imagine transmitting to the new generations the meaning, mysticism and beauty of traditional altars. 


It definitely has inspired me to want to continue with expanding these workshops and continuing to work with this group of artists to many more communities.

Watch all the La Cultura Cura live videos on ACTA’s YouTube page.

All photos are courtesy of Luz Marlene Cordero and Dalila Mendez for ACTA.

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