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Multicultural Roots Project

The Multicultural Roots Project was created to increase visibility for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Sonoma County, with a particular focus on Santa Rosa; and to recognize, through historical stories from BIPOC, contributions and impacts that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Working with local historians and community partners, Community Engagement staff gather stories and facts about local BIPOC leaders, as well as historical events and places that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County into what it is today. Each month, we will share five of these stories with the public through multiple communication channels, including the City’s website, social media and this newsletter.

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Nov 15

Reynalda Cruz: Leading with Love

Posted on November 15, 2021 at 5:32 PM by Danielle Garduno

Web_Reynacruz

“I really did carry that [feeling] of ‘they don’t know me, I’m scared to show them,’ when I was little and now I’ve turned it into, ‘they need to know me’.”

Reynalda Cruz’s positive energy emanated through the computer screen as we sat down for our interview. With a wide smile spread across her face, she introduces herself saying you can call her Reyna or Rey, “whichever flows off your tongue,” she said with a chuckle. Rey uses she/her/they pronouns and has asked that we use them interchangeably throughout her story.

Rey is from Round Valley and is of the Pomo, Lakota, Sioux, and Mixteca tribes. Her Lakota name is Tipi-Luta-Win, which translates to English as ‘Red Tipi Woman.’ At only 17 years old, Rey spoke with a wisdom beyond their years. They began by recalling their childhood, growing up in Napa, California, with their mother, father, and older brother Eddie.

Rey knew early on she was different from her peers. Growing up in a predominately white community, they recall this being easily noticeable. Rey remembers the cultural disconnect between their home life and their school life and how hard it was to express to their non-native peers their love for what they did outside of school and their love for their culture. 

Growing up in Napa, there were lots of opportunities for them to engage in dance and art. They remember attending powwows as a child and dance being a large part of her life. In Napa, Rey attended multiple art schools, always having a love for the arts and its many forms. She recalls a memory from elementary school when her mom organized Pomo dancers to come to the school during National Native American Heritage Month and being asked to dance with them. At such a young age she wasn’t grounded in her cultural identity and she thought back to the feelings of insecurity and worry of being judged by her peers for her cultural heritage. But with her mother’s support, she decided to be vulnerable and danced in front of her school. 

In middle school, Rey and their family moved to Santa Rosa. Once in high school, Rey began to understand and embrace their cultural identity. Freshman year of high school, Rey started Native Club, a first of its kind at Santa Rosa High School. With roughly only six other Native students in the entire school, the club was made up of primarily non-native students. This made it a great educational opportunity for the students to learn about the things that were never taught in the classroom. The first Native Club meeting consisted of clay bowl making and a lesson on its cultural significance to Pomo people. 

Native Club was special because it created a space for vulnerability, learning, and community, as well as encouragement and education on how to be an ally. Cultural competency is something that Rey tried to promote through the creation of her club. Rey recalls, “It was really amazing how much more open and accepting my peers have been for Native students.” Native Club was a success, with one of their friends who had been a member of the club since its beginnings now at Washington State majoring in American Indian Studies. 

Rey was also part of the Native Connections Program and Generational Trauma video project through the Sonoma County Indian Health Project (SCIHP). They spoke on suicide prevention and opioid and drug prevention to promote attention to these serious issues affecting their community.

Currently, Rey is working and attending Santa Rosa Junior College and is more involved in her community than ever. They do many public speaking and outreach events to educate the public on Native topics. This fall they got to speak at the Stronghold Conference in San Francisco for Friendship House Association of American Indians. In addition, Rey works with Dale, a student-organized group that is working on an Equity and Education Pledge for faculty and school board members here in Sonoma County. With this group, Rey will assist in going to schools to introduce youth to the concept of cultural competence, what it means to be equitable, and how be an ally. 

With a whole lifetime ahead of them, Rey has many goals they want to accomplish in the future. She hopes to eventually combine her passions for ethnic studies and the arts: design, theater, and entertainment. They want their peoples and all people of color to have better representation in the media and the arts.

Overall, Rey wants to lead a life of love and self-love, with the goal of promoting self-love to other Native youth, especially when it comes to loving one's own culture. She feels proud now that she has grown into embracing her culture. The struggle is part of the beauty of her journey. For the youth of color here in Sonoma County, many have had a hard time settling into their cultural, ethnic, and racial identity because they are navigating white spaces. Rey says that she wants these youth to know they are worthy and to be patient with themselves. “You can’t leave it to other people to be you.”

When concluding their interview, Rey shared a few words of wisdom for her community, saying “You can find love everywhere. Love is a leaf. Love is a tree. Love is a homemade cookie. Love can be anything. People need more love. Find love, spread love, lead with love. You are loved.” Young and driven by love for their people and culture, it is exciting to think about what Reynalda Cruz will continue to do in the future for their community, locally and beyond. 

 

Reynalda Cruz was interviewed by Danielle Garduño, Community Engagement Program Manager and Madelynn Cox, AmeriCorps VISTA.