by Eileen Jimenez
Help the Emerald create more “ripples and sparks” throughout the community! I’m the publisher’s mother and an Emerald founding board member. I’ve lived in Seattle all my life. Over most of those 77 years, the brilliance, diversity, and beauty of our community lacked a constant spotlight — that was until the Emerald came along. I’ve seen my son and the Emerald team sacrifice sleep, health care, self-care, and better salaries elsewhere to keep the Emerald shining a light on our community. I’d never ask anyone to make that kind of sacrifice, but I do ask to do what you can today to support the Emerald as a Rainmaker, or sustaining donor, during their 8th anniversary campaign, Ripples & Sparks at Home, April 20–28. Become a Rainmaker today by choosing the “recurring donor” option on the donation page! —Cynthia “Mama” Green, The Publisher’s Mama & Rainmaker
Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have celebrated storytelling as a way to connect the present to past lessons and future dreaming. Narrative sovereignty is a form of land guardianship, and Nia Tero supports this work through its storytelling initiatives, including the Seedcast podcast, as well as in this monthly column for media partner the South Seattle Emerald.
My mother is Maria Cruz, my grandmother is Eloisa Saavedra, and my great-grandmother is Isidora Saavedra. They are matriarchs of the Otomi people, an Indigenous group in Michoacán/Guanajuato, Mexico. I was the first member of my family to be born in the U.S., and I was raised in Anaheim, California. I currently live on occupied Duwamish Territory (Seattle, Washington). I am a queer Indigneous printmaker, a doctoral student, and the dean for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at South Seattle College. I am also currently a Nia Tero Pacific Northwest Art Fellow.
I use linocut and mixed-media techniques to develop my own ways of telling stories in the complex layers that they exist in, as well as to demonstrate the ways that we are connected to the Land and to each other. This is part of my ongoing journey to heal and to share my family’s and community’s stories. I aim to create pieces that embody Indigenous life, joy, resilience, and relationship to Land.
In my current work, I focus on the embodiment of the divine as manifested through our bodies, specifically our hands. I spend a lot of time thinking about the hands of others, especially elders, including my mother’s and my grandmother’s. Hands are a reflection of who we are, how we work, how we cook and care for and show affection toward others. As I make my art, I think of my tools as an extension of my hands, my own flesh, my own brownness, and I become a part of my art, just as much as the ink or sharp objects I use to fashion it.
Creating art is grounding and healing for me. It’s also a way to create community. As I reflect on the kind of community I want to nurture and the type of leader I want to show up as, I think about the Zapatistas’ non-hierarchical leadership modality. I remember at 6 years old seeing the Zapatistas on TV nonstop for weeks and weeks and listening to them speak. I’m still enthralled by the idea that a group of Indigenous people collectively decided that since the government, governmental leaders, and existing systems did not meet their needs, they should create their own. The Zapatistas have their own schools, their own doctors, their own food systems, and their own ways of implementing their ways of knowing.
At 6 years old, I wondered if they were scared, but I also recognized how incredible that kind of love was: They were fed up with the corrupt systems in place, so they just created their own. Their love for their community fueled them to push past fear and to practice community care. This is what I picture when I think about the kind of “leader” I want to be. I don’t want to simply continue to work within the broken systems that hurt the people I love, and I am not interested in working in systems created by and for white people, reinforced through white supremacy. Instead, I want to be someone who dismantles these systems. Because of the Zapatistas, this does not feel too revolutionary or too abstract. Following their example, I carry forward the responsibility for creating systems in which our communities can live the lives we deserve.
When you see my art, you’ll notice how I explore divinity through my connection to fungi. I’ve always been fascinated by fungi, by their beauty and how they represent cycles of life. I remember as a kid lying next to mushrooms and thinking, “Hi, I’m just going to spend some time here with you.” Even now, there are some mushrooms that grow outside my office. Every day when I pass by them, I think, “Oh, hi, you’re here! I hope you’re doing okay.” Even on days when I might feel lonely or stressed, they are there. We are part of each other’s community, and it feels right to honor them with their own portraits.
When I was growing up, I believed that only rich white people had their portraits painted, like members of royal families or presidents. Later on, as an adult doodling during meetings at work, I started to reimagine who else we could put at the center of those portraits. I started drawing portraits on Post-its, focusing on people who were important to me, like Audre Lorde and Angela Davis. I also created images of myself. When I was younger, I got a lot of negative messaging around certain aspects of my appearance. Those messages said that my hair was too curly and unruly, my body too big, and my skin too brown. But now, as an adult, it feels good to share images of myself, including my brown hands holding the tools that have become an extension of me. I’m exploring my significance, impermanence, and immortality alongside my elders: I exist, you exist, we exist. Through this art, we will continue to exist.
At the heart of my artwork, as well as my professional and academic pursuits, is Indigenous futurity. While this can mean different things to different people, what I mean is that there is history connected to every place on this Earth, and even though you may not be a part of the particular history of that place, it is our responsibility to not only make space for but to center the wisdom and narratives of Indigenous peoples.
Of course, my body of work wouldn’t be complete without portraits of my mother and my grandmother, which now hang behind me in my office. Through everything I do, they — and all of the lessons they ever taught me — are with me, every single day.
Eileen Jimenez is a body of water. Her mother is Maria Cruz Jimenez, her grandmother is Eloisa Saavedra, and her great-grandmother is Isidora Saavedra, matriarchs of the Otomi people. She is an Indigenous queer artist currently living in occupied Duwamish Territory (Seattle, Washington), and a Nia Tero Pacific Northwest Art Fellow. In her current body of work, you will see her ongoing journey to heal and to share stories from her family and community. Learn more about Eileen’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram.
📸 Featured Image: Eileen Jimenez is an Indigenous queer artist and a Nia Tero Pacific Northwest Art Fellow. (Photo: Felipe Contreras)
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!