The Coatlicue State

Coatlicue is one of the powerful images, or “archetypes,” that inhabits, or passes through, my psyche. For me, la Coatlicue is the consuming internal whirlwind, the symbol of the underground aspects of the psyche. Coatlicue is the mountain, the Earth Mother who conceived all celestial beings out of her cavernous womb. Goddess of birth and death, Coatlicue gives and takes away life; she is the incarnation of cosmic processes.

Gloria E. Anzaldúa / Borderlands La Frontera

In the summer of 2014, students of Humanities 125: Introduction to Mexican Culture at Rio Hondo College began to excavate and materialize the human body and ideology through hand-bone morphology usage (Garcia 2014), the sculpting of Mesoamerican clay-figurines (Garcia et al., 2018), and self-reflective writing. Drawing from a series of Indigenous Xicana/o teaching strategies, one of these, Gloria Anzaldúa’s (2012) Coatlicue State (Garcia 2019), students gave birth to their own Native understanding’s of the human body as a means to contest ongoing trauma and violence.

I strove to cultivate in all students a strong sense of agency and empowerment, while meeting student learning outcomes in a humanities classroom. For six weeks, students poured over the rich history, culture, food and medicine of Ancient Mesoamerica, and also the living Indigenous family (Garcia and Marquez 2021Marquez and Garcia 2021). For a series of learning units students had the opportunity to sculpt clay-figurines in an effort to materialize their own views of the human body. But why the human body, one might ask? Through my own humanistic research, classroom interactions, and public engagement, I came to understand that empowerment could be manifested through ideas of the body. Students with a concrete sense of the self performed better in the classroom, and were active participants in their communities, as opposed to those lacking a strong sense of identity, upbringing, and ancestry.

The project, is my response, to a rise in trauma signs and symptoms observed among college students in the last ten years. It remains part of a larger effort, that strives to assist Indigenous peoples and youth live honorable and sustainable lives. The work is in line with the goals of Article 13, and Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples

Clay-Figurine Narratives

In 2014, Rio Hondo students began to materialize their own Coatlicue State through clay-work and self-reflective writing. This was my first attempt to better understand the life stories and mental health challenges of students within a decolonizing teaching framework. Here you can view pictures of the clay-work, and read many of the clay-figurine narratives written by students over the years. The stories were transcribed word for word from the writing assignment that accompanied each individual figurine. NOTE: Signed consent was given to interpret and publish various student artifacts for educational purposes.

Figurine Name: All is Well that ends Well

Borderland Region: Sinaloa, Mexico

Iconographic Elements: A well, dismembered head at the bottom

Student-Figurine Narrative Inquiry: All’s Well that ends Well. This figurine originates from Sinaloa Mexico. It simbolizes the struggle with violence in the area because of conflict with drug, arms, and possibly human trafficking. Perhaps a man driving along the side of a mexican Road and The Mexican cartel looking to make a statement or perhaps it has a deeper and darker secret involving the headless man and the cartel. Perhaps the cartel and this man were somehow affiliated and it takes a simple miscomunicaiton or this man was biting off more than he could. all it takes is the idea of betrayal for it to be true. Perhaps this feud lasted a long time and this man was found in the pueblo from where he originates and was tortured and beheaded then tossed in the pueblos well in order to make a statement for the people who were harboring the fugitive. I plan to contribute to my people through dentistry I want to give back to my comunity and other countries through mental medical attention. I see a lot of immigrants like myself in need of Dental attention. Ive seen girls that are beautiful, but very insecure because of their heavily damaged/corroded teath. Children who were born in other countries and have to deal with toothaches because their immigrant parents are afraid or do not have the means to seek medical attention. I believe this to be a simple/basic human right that is not given enough attention.

Figurine Name: Mi Virgen de Guadalupe

Borderland Region: Ario de Rosales, Michoacán (Tarasca)

Iconographic Elements: Feathers, Moon, Stars, Manto

Student-Figurine Narrative Inquiry:

“Mi Virgen de Guadalupe” Queen of my Indigenous ancestors.

Faceless woman to me but my spiritual mother.

Why is it that I find myself always drawn to you?

Is your promise of peace carved in my heart?

Is your manifestation of unity bringing me victory in my journey.

Your significance to my people brought in times of death.

As I mold you to be beautiful

I find myself looking through my memory vault

Trying to pinpoint what you mean to me

I’m just brought to my troubled teenage years

Where rejection was common, where ending pain was ceasing life

Where my amateur art was only interested in every part of Juan Diego’s tilma.

At time I found myself reflected in you

Drawing my insecurities and sorrow on you

The connection started making sense

nonetheless I sketched my mother offering her my pain, loss and all.

My parents told me stories about your Son your importance in our people.

They introduced you to me as my angel

As my spiritual mother

Who I confide in

Looking at your manto reminded me to look at the night sky

remembering that even in the galaxies suction my worries.

That when I looked at the crescent moon

it would remind me about its cold beauty but still carrier of my tears.

the light around you was love radiating warmth to my humanly form.

Most importantly your hue spoke to me in levels that bring every kind

of emotions  love, tears, revolution, warrior women

you appeared before us bring peace, unity and universal sense.

I thank you for connecting with me through my ancestors, dreams, and purpose.




Figurine Name: Sad little “Luisa”

Iconographic Elements: Sad face, cross legs,

Borderlands Region: El Salvador

Student-Figurine Narrative Inquiry: My figurine represents me Luisa went I was 8 years old in my country el Salvador. This figurine this picture that its always in my mind everyday of my life Represent me went I lost my dad in the civil war this is the ways that I always feel went I think about him my dad was everything for me. my best friend my best dady that I miss everyday antill today. My dad for me was the person that may me happy, laugh, dream, but one day the bad soldier took him away for my family. I remember the last day that I saw him I still remember the look that he give to me like telling me I love you. With his eyes, but I new that was the last day that I was goin to see him. I try to say good buy to him but them don’t let me get close to him it was night like 11:40 pm they took him and the last word that he told my mom was don’t worry all be back but that day never happen we never found his dead body we never see him again even that hi still in my life everyday like the figurine sitting in the floor thinking were is my dady The little sad Luisa uses to go to the top of the mountain end seet there end look around the city talk to myself or to the stars whey they took my twins soul, the days went by and after two week I still have faith that hi was coming back but went I starred see that days was going more and no body new nothing my faith was going more down The little sad Luisa still see lik that sometime went I would like to be with him and talk to him about my life. The figurine mean to me all my life, because even I am at woman 39 years old I still feel the pain in my heart because hi was my twin’s soul. Went he left my half of my soul left to the little Luisa was not the same ever again I miss him 24 hours 7 day a week 365 day a years. Ad I know hi miss me to because hi was like me and I was like him but one day I am going to see him again in heaven and the day I will stay with him foreverlasting, because I believe in god my Salvador and hi promess me another life. After yo moera. the little sad Luisa that keep going in life experience, everyday a Mesoamerican life that sometime if hold someway one easy, funny , some day sod but I believe in god first and them end my self and I know I am going to make “ya” to help my family special my son and the humanities.

Project Research & Publications

The Mesoamerican Clay-Figurine project has produced a growing body of public educational artifacts and publications. The work speaks of the history and motivations behind the project, the data collection methods, and theoretical understandings. The project has led to a handful of learning frameworks and practical models to better serve community college students. The research articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals and are available in an open-access format.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Cultivating Positive Health, Learning, and Community: The Return of Mesoamerica’s Quetzalcoatl and the Venus Star

Genealogy 2021, 5(2), 53; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5020053 – 26 May 2021

Download Garcia and Marquez 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Contesting Trauma and Violence through Indigeneity and a Decolonizing Pedagogy at Rio Hondo Community College

JOURNAL OF LATINOS AND EDUCATION 2021, VOL. 20, NO. 4, 376-396, https://doi.org/10.1080/15348431.2019.1603749

Download Garcia 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.


In Search of Our Brown Selves: A Transdisciplinary College Reader – Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2nd Edition, 2021

Download Marquez and Garcia 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Medical Archaeopedagogy of the Human Body as a Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategy for Indigenous Mexican-American Students

Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) Journal, Vol. 12 No. 1 (2018): DOI:https://doi.org/10.24974/amae.12.1.388

Download Garcia et al. 2018

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Modeling household building sustainability
(HBS) with wood, stone and paint:
Achieving spatial wellness in a West
Walnut household of the San Gabriel Valley

International Journal of Development and Sustainability, Vol. 3 Number 4 (2014): Pages 865-894 ISDS Article ID: IJDS14033101

Download Garcia 2014

Sustaining Public Engagement

One of the goals of the clay-figurine project serves to encourage the co-creating, sustainment, and circulating of knowledge for the public good. Every year, since 2014, public scholars, Black Intellectuals, community organizers, local tribal members, and people that practice medicine spend time in our classroom sparking discussion, debate, and civil action. This community partnership has led to the co-creation and publication of humanistic research available to everyone. The teaching strategies, racial equity, and social justice motives behind the clay-figurine project thrive in various places inviting conversations between community partners beyond the campus level.

Awards & Recognitions

The clay-figurine project has earned recognition from three major learning societies the Humanities Metrics Initiative, the American Studies Association, and the American Council of Learned Societies. We are filled with gratitude for the ongoing support.

2019 Butterfly Word Cloud
  • 2022 HuMetricsHSS Community Fellowship Award ENTER
  • 2019 Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellow ENTER
  • 2015 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award for Independent Scholars, Contingent or Community College Faculty ENTER

Native Land Acknowledgment

Traditional territory of the Tongva/Gabrielino/Kizh Indian People. Map from Garcia 2021.

Rio Hondo College is located on the traditional Indian territory of the Tongva/Gabrielino/Kizh Nation. Like so many Native American tribes of California their bodies, language, and culture was decimated by rapid assimilation, the destruction of their homes, and the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children. Here I acknowledge the Tongva/Gabrielino/Kizh Nation, their living members, and efforts to recover parts of their sovereignty.

Check out this Interactive ARC GIS Map