Chicano/Native activist, Albino Garcia is the Executive Director and Founder of the grassroots organization La Plazita Institute located in Albuquerque, New Mexico and established in 2004. He grew up in Chicago and is no stranger to the streets; his background closely mirrors that of the populations that La Plazita Institute serves. He has done extensive healing work with youth, veterans, and gang members. His leadership style is grounded in traditional culture, and he is known and respected for approaching challenging situations with creativity, honesty, inclusiveness, and innovation.
La Cultura Cura, according to Albino Garcia, is the core around which he does his work and lives his life. It is related to traditional culture and to undoing the effects of “mainstream, capitalistic, American dream culture” by recognizing the importance of connecting and being in good relationship with one’s traditional heritage, whichever hemispheres it happens to come from.
Garcia says, “For me to change, I had to journey past all those ugly identities that were placed upon me–that I accepted and adopted–and go back to that real sense of who I am, to the original spark that connects everything…[That] first state is [about] going deep, deep inside and going beyond all the ugliness that you might have experienced and [of having] been told who you are, and going back to the beauty and connection and gathering [of] all those pieces of who you really are and building upon that as a foundation.”
La Cultura Cura has a nuanced translation: “Culture heals.”
Garcia states that it has different components, including the philosophical and the spiritual, and that it enlists a specific methodology. As a guiding principle, especially at La Plazita Institute, La Cultura Cura is far reaching, as it serves those oppressed from expressing traditional culture and those removed from their traditional culture, some for many generations.
La Cultura Cura allows people to fulfill universal human longings, such as having a sense of belonging, having a sense of Community, a sense of identity, a true name, and a supportive Spiritual container which comes from a place of integrity and deep love. Garcia has worked with a number of different youth and with gang members who get these universal needs met by using weapons of violence, by having hatred for the enemy, and by having a street-soldier, “die for your ‘hood” mentality. He himself, being a veteran of the US military, experienced this kind of indoctrination.
La Cultura Cura, by connecting with traditional culture, meets these same needs by motivating one’s actions to come from a deep love for your people, positive connection, and Community. It posits that as a warrior if you must fight, you do it from a place of Love for your people, not from hatred of an enemy.
With regards to how La Cultura Cura relates to transformative social change, Garcia articulates the Quinto Soul Model, which speaks of the five different realms of relationships. In the first, we journey deep inside ourselves to re-member our true identities and connect with the “original spark” from the fire that we all come from. In the second, we exit the womb and address our familial relationships in a good and steady way. You are allowed to step out your front door and enter the third realm of Community after your first and second realms are in proper order. The fourth realm is the “world created by man,” that includes institutional, educational, and political entities. Finally, the fifth world, that of the Spirit, is actually a culmination of the first precious four. From this Spiritual capacity is borne.
In speaking about this month’s journal theme of “harvest,” Garcia states that the way La Cultural Cura influences all of the components of culture (e.g., languages, rituals, ceremonies, traditions, symbols, rites of passage, values, virtues, food, etc.) has allowed him to witness “harvest” to happen on many levels. He shares that literally at La Plazita, where harvest is expressed by growing food, selling produce, and being able to feed all the relations. Personally, harvest happens when folks embrace their true identities by engaging wholeheartedly in traditional cultural ways. And finally, with regards to planting seeds of knowledge in people, this social harvest may be the most beautiful harvest, as witnessed by the its reverberating effect.
Albino Garcia is a leader of integrity, character, and wisdom. As the founder of La Plazita Institute and as a Sun Dance Chief, he embodies La Cultura Cura as way of life. As a self-proclaimed graduate of the “University of Hard Knocks with a Masters in Streetology, and a Ph.D. in Barrio-ology,” he leads by example in “walking his talk,” living in alignment, and inspiring others to do the same.