Using New Media to Help Kids Revive Their Cultural Heritage

Feliz Navidad! I know, I keep saying “mañana, mañana, amigos,” now that I’m back in the country.

I’ll be writing only sporadically throughout the holiday season as kids need the gift of TIME and presence more than any wrappable item and I’d be blowing smoke if I didn’t walk the walk on the homefront. Be therefore advised that my Santa hat is on and mom-mode trumps media over this “winter break,” ‘k?

That said, I must share my recent experience with The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival as it’s the most positive use of media and marketing I’ve seen connecting kids cultural artifacts with bridges linking the past to the future by preserving indigenous culture.

For those who were in ‘shock and awe’ that I actually left my laptop behind and unplugged to the tiny surf town of Sayulita in the state of Nayarit for a long weekend with my bro (which fortuitously fell smack dab in the hubbub of the Dec. 12 Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration) know that it’s part of my feisty need to prove ‘I can,’ since many believe I’ve joined the ‘totally wired’ crowd as a generational hiccup in my world of young ‘digital natives.’

There’s something very anthropologically profound traveling sans media gizmos because you notice the ubiquitous use of same by all of those around you. Awareness heightens when you’re devoid of ‘backup’ resources too, enabling full attention and keen alertness as well as observational reflection. One of my favorite eco-minded blogs, “Unplug your kids” covers this dynamic quite well…

It’s amazing how slack we all get using cellphones as a safety valve for ‘rescue’ and reliance.

In fact, Holamun2’s blog post reports “80,000 Americans feel anxiety when separated from their cellphones or internet,” complete with graphic depiction on, and research backup via SRG.

Sheesh. For techies that aren’t ready for cold turkey unplugged, here’s a great post from on “configuring your iphone for vacation.”

For me? In just a few short days I was blissfully immersed in being out of touch…

Blessed by a shaman, beloved by a pit bull, riding on the handlebars of an ATV (which I disdain as the leaf blowers of the planet) and dancing to a Brazilian band in a French outpost, meeting local politicians intent on ensuring Riviera Nayarit” doesn’t turn into Cancun…all the while doing a media analysis of how these environs had changed since my last visit.

I’d been warned our north shore ‘secret was out’ (per this disheartening USA Today article) so braced myself for mass media ruination of our long time haven.

I envisioned cultural homogenization and cellphone toting infiltration among ex pat gringos in search of a place to plunk a hammock and make a buck.


I left with a hopeful heart rather than a heavy one.

I’ve buried my cynical sentiments in the sand, seeing cellphones used to alert eco pals to rescue turtle egg nests from poachers, (this was a nightly “release ritual” at sunset) as well as seeing computer technology enhancing entrepreneurial ventures via internet trade…

I realize the ubiquitous presence of communications will impact this region in a huge way and I’m holding my breath to see if the tide can ebb and flow naturally instead of land like a tsunami…

But my point is, I discovered new media being used in some promising, refreshingly positive ways that can be mirrored elsewhere, literally uplifting remote villages out of poverty, helping to create industry that aligns with lifestyle rather than dominating it.

This positive point of view is partly thanks to stumbling upon one of the most vibrant leaders in keeping heritage alive, Susana Eger Valadez, founder of the nonprofit Huichol (hear audio pronunciation) Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts empowering indigenous cultures with autonomy.

Rather than allowing media to erode and erase the vital heritage of the ancient Huichol pathfinders until they vanish without a trace, Susana Valadez (at left with kids) is using digital technology as both a conduit for sustaining identity and heritage through trade and tribal wisdom.

She’s found a way to provide the Huichol people the skill sets and opportunities to integrate their rich belief system and core network of tribal healers, naturalists and spiritual leaders without compromising their traditional way of life.

From soy milk production to beads of beauty, she’s leveraging modern day desires while preserving ancient symbols and art forms in hands-on ways. She is one very cool lady, a passionista that’s adopted the Huichol culture as her own ever since she headed south of the border and co-founded the center with her Huichol husband way back in 1981. (she’s an M.A. in Latin Studies from UCLA)

Viewing media encroachment as part of a solution rather than a problem, Susana’s educational work with techno tools is proof positive that we can bridge lifelines uniting past knowledge with future needs.

A similar use of techno preservation is the re-creation of Oakland’s jazz era environs via virtual world, which Shaping Youth reader ‘Video Gamer’ sent to me awhile back and I’ve been meaning to feature.

7th recreates west Oakland in the post-WWII ’40s and ’50s heyday of bustling blues and jazz clubs bringing the richness of the past into present day relevance, via UC Berkeley’s Journalism School and Architecture Department. It’s awesome, as the kids would say…

Between blended realities and simulations like virtual peace along with scenario forecasting of ‘what ifs’ at the Institute for the Future (where I’m heavily hooked upon their innovation and education using the latest in crowdsourcing tools) it’s easy to see why I’m firmly convinced we can USE the connectivity of media and marketing for outreach and lessons from our past as much as future-casting and pragmatics.

As Susana Valadez describes,

“The Huichol Uto-Aztecan language, symbolism, plant knowledge, myths, music and shamanic wisdom are pipelines into a reservoir of native knowledge that holds valuable lessons for all humanity…

…Within the shaman’s dreams, visions and chants is knowledge that, like an old growth forest of the mind, has roots in humanity’s past and much needed wisdom for our future.”

Poetic, and oh, so true.

Mind you, my exposure to Huichol people (“Wixarica” as they call themselves) is more than limited.

In fact, the extent of ANY shaman culture exposure has mostly revolved around University readings of  Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan exploits and Yaqui seers as collegiate pals tried to coax me into metaphysical states of being under the guise of plant knowledge in scholarly empowerment. (yes, teen peer pressure to try peyote cactus and ‘shrooms’ was alive and well in the 80s 😉

So though I’d read about the dwindling of the Huichol culture tucked away in the remote Sierra Madre, threatened by modern day methods that collide with their rich history (which dates way back to pre-Columbian times) the concept of potential extinction is about as far as my understanding went…

Yet now? I’d argue media is a conduit for mind expansion itself, weaving stories and knowledge as magical and colorful as the limitless history…

I found myself clicking on audio pronunciations of the Huichol language, delving deeper into their symbols and folklore (they fascinate me, much like the petroglyphs of ancient Hawaii where I grew up with myths and legends) and scanning the videos via my friends at the Culture to see what more I can learn…(they have a ton on the Hopi Indians, but need to connect with Susana for Huichol expertise!)

Anyway, I love what she’s doing…And see the model as viable for nonprofits to emulate on a global scale with other indigenous cultures at risk, from Alaska to India, agriculture to eco methods!

After hanging out and chatting with Susana for quite awhile in her little Galeria Tanana (named after the Huichol Goddess of Life) off the Zocalo public square…(great nonprofit site I just stumbled upon too, check out that link!) I can safely say there’s no danger in Susana ‘going commercial’ or ‘selling out’ the Huichol culture, because she is clearly PART of it.

Just as I’m a haole-blonde kamaaina from Hawaii, she’s a 30-year adoptive Huichol, mindful of every cultural nuance, living with intention to expose others to the value and depth via traveling museum curator exhibits and coming up with incredibly creative solutions to sustain their nonprofit amidst a ‘celebrity culture’ of mass media infiltration.

Her trilogy of focus areas is a prime model for preservation of ANY indigenous culture globally, she’s included:

Environmentally sustainable projects that promote a self-sufficient economic base—Holistic health that integrates Western medicine with traditional healing—And cross-cultural education programs that reinforce and foster the Huichol values…Marketing-wise?

Her gallery is a fusion of fine art and handmade jewelry created at the Huichol Center, already discovered and tapped by fashionistas for her award-winning beaded designs.

I didn’t connect the dots when I saw the Vogue cover on the wall, or the photos of the attractive models draped in beaded necklaces who were actually trend-tracking this Huichol discovery in ‘she’s gotta have it’ style.

It doesn’t surprise me, as Susana seems to know how to integrate just enough stateside linkage to drive market demand without upsetting or overloading the delicate cultural balance.

Why Sayulita? “The remote mountains of Jalisco and Nayarit are closest to Sayulita; it’s a way to sell our work and sustain the Huichol Center without going all the way to Puerto Vallarta.”

Much like our recent Program for the Future Conference, focusing on collective knowledge repositories to benefit humanity, Susana is able to grow collective knowledge using media for outreach, and nourish her cultural garden with her “art that makes a difference” and fair trade store that directly supports the center for cultural survival.

Here’s more via her new 24 page pictoral slideshow/website, see for yourself…

She’s even integrated free interactive audio-visual kids’ Huichol coloring books, puzzles and games…

Her press area tells the story of how long time Huichol staffer Maurilio Moreno Montoya translates the artistic product of shamanistic dreams into ‘electronic books of color’ which can be used to pay it forward as both a teaching tool and a scalable way to reproduce templates of notecards to be hand-colored, glittered and crafted by the Center’s own.

This one is the piece I bought called “Watacame Survives the Flood” (I loved the ‘raining snakes’ and it fits my water-life theme!) I also bought “Turtle Water Guardians” (known as “ayetzi”) and a couple of aquamarine beaded beauties that were meant as Christmas gifts but, um…I may not be able to part with them…ahem. Well, ok, maybe one.

If you’d like to support The Huichol Center and peruse their many offerings your purchase directly helps the Huichols protect their traditional ways, and empowers them to survive in the modern world on their own terms. Love that theme…

Their many Huichol ventures weave together the stories and artifacts that we mustn’t lose, a nonprofit model leveraging the power of media and marketing to build up rather than tear down indigenous cultures.

As long as folks who ‘get it’ like Susana Valadez are firmly entrenched using the power of media for positive change, I see hope and health for our planet guiding kids to the future embracing core knowledge of elders past.


Visual Credits: Mexico iphone:, Sayulita beach north end: Artisan Huichol Center photos from Susana Eger Valadez



  1. Fascinating story. So often, you travel to an off the beaten path location and discover beautiful crafts, indigenous to the area. Rarely, do you discover the story behind the crafts. Often, you’ll find that the story has been lost over time.

    Susana Valadez’s accomplishments are impressive and inspiring.

  2. Hi Sandra, yep, she’s doin’ great work…I’m determined to keep the handcrafted goods alive, with the Save Handmade campaign from Cool Mom Picks which I’ll be posting about soon. Have you seen what’s about to go down, legislation wise in Feb 2009? egad! We’ve gotta sound off and ‘tweet’ it to make a difference for the New Year! It’s in my queue…I hope you’ll add it to yours! 🙂

    Hope your holidays were merry and bright. Back soon, –Amy

Speak Your Mind