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Sisterhood by Isabella Madrigal

Isabella Madrigal reads a personal piece that was published in our latest book, Dear Rebel: 125+ Women Share their Secrets to Taking on the World. Isabella tells us about loss and love, violence against Indigenous women, and the resilience and strength that can be found through connection.

Some of these themes may be mature for our younger Rebels. We encourage listening with your grown up. We hope this piece sparks questions, compassion and ideas about how we each can be rebels who stand up for change.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. This episode was produced and directed by Deborah Goldstein. It was written by Isabella Madrigal and Abby Sher. Sound design and mixing by Bianca Salinas. Narration by Isabella Madrigal and Bianca Salinas. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible.

Transcript

Hey Rebels!

In honor of Native American Heritage month, we have a very special treat for you today — Isabella Madrigal — reading a personal piece that was published in our latest book, Dear Rebel: 125+ [plus] Women Share their Secrets to Taking on the World.

Isabella is an enrolled member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians and is of Anishinaabe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, descent. She is a celebrated playwright, actress, and emerging screenwriter. She is also the Artistic Director of the Luke Madrigal Indigenous Storytelling Nonprofit, where, alongside her sister, she produces and creates films, theater performances, and workshops dedicated to uplifting Indigenous voices through arts, culture, and advocacy. Isabella’s original play Menil and Her Heart was a winner of the 2020 Yale Young Native Storytellers Contest and was featured at the United Nations’ Girls Speak Out Event in 2019.

Isabella’s piece explores what it’s like to be Indigenous and share meaningful stories about the past. Isabella tells us about loss and love, violence against Indigenous women, and the resilience and strength that can be found through connection. Some of these themes may be mature for our younger Rebels. We encourage listening with your grown up. We hope this piece sparks questions, compassion and ideas about how we each can be rebels who stand up for change.

Now, without further ado, here’s Isabella’s essay, Sisterhood:
ISABELLA MADRIGAL’s “Sisterhood” – No Music
In a Cahuilla story, there is a woman, Menil, the Moon Maiden. Menil
was once a mortal who lived among the people and taught them how
to live. One night Mukat, the Creator, forced her into a sleep so deep
that she could not cry out or struggle against him. After the struggle,
Menil was silent. The people begged Menil to speak until finally she
sang them a song, and they at once understood her. I wonder what
Menil sang to the people that made them come to know her so clearly?

Menil gave the arts and the invaluable gift of storytelling to the Cahuilla
people. Stories shape identity. They can call up a great strength in a
people, but they can also be used to oppress. When I was growing up, I
felt trapped by stereotypes and a forced invisibility. I escaped this by
telling my own stories, oftentimes with my younger sister, Sophia.
When left to our own devices out among eucalyptus and palm trees,
Sophia and I would harness the power of our imaginations. We would
put on two-person plays, creating alternate realities where we were
warriors, leaders, detectives, or some version of our favorite pop culture
icons. For these performances, Sophia and I would create characters who were much older than we were, thinking that with age came the power to control a narrative. As I have gotten older, I have realized this is not true. When I was 17 years old, I visited the United Nations headquarters to fight alongside other inspiring girls for the rights of girls across the globe. There, an Indigenous elder told me: “You have an amazing amount of power as a girl. Never forget that. When you are a girl, you have a voice that people will listen to in a way that they won’t when you are an adult. Use it.”

When I was 16, I wrote the play Menil and Her Heart. I wrote it to
celebrate the beauty and wisdom of our culture. I was seeing many of
our old stories slipping away and becoming lost with each generation.
Menil and Her Heart tells the story of two Cahuilla sisters who must
decide whether they will stay and fight with their community, even
when they are separated across worlds. Sophia and I have always played the sisters at the heart of this story. The play has grown so far beyond the first performance. A small gathering hall was converted into a theater space and over a hundred individuals crammed in to see the premier show. We performed the play to bring awareness to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Indigenous women go missing and are harmed at much higher rates than white women. It can be almost impossible to get people to pay attention to their stories.

With Menil and Her Heart, we wanted to tell one of these stories and
get more recognition for this important issue. And it worked. In May
2022, we performed the play in Sacramento for the California State
Legislature as they honored Missing and Murdered Indigenous People
Awareness Month for the first time.

I like to think that it was Menil who inspired me to write the
play. Still, I know who this play is really written for. It is for Jessica
Mae Orozco, JoJo Boswell, Ieesha Nightpipe, Savannah LaFontaine-
Greywind, and all Native women who have gone missing or been
murdered. It is for my ancestors, my elders, my family, and, of course,
for my own sister. It is for all the community members who fight beside
me performance after performance to share the story of their stolen
sisters. To end the silence.

This violence takes place all over the world and weakens Indigenous
populations. Indigenous girls have been under attack for centuries. The
taking of our girls is part of a larger taking: a taking of land, culture,
language, and identity.

A desire to fight back against this violence was a central reason my
sister founded the Luke Madrigal Indigenous Storytelling Nonprofit. The
group keeps our culture alive in honor of my father, who was key to
revitalizing the Cahuilla bird singers. For me, the process of artistic
creation is tied up in family. When my father passed and we were
grappling with our grief, my memories of performing with him and
the projects I’ve done since with my sister provided me with the
most comfort and the strength to continue. Menil and Her Heart deals
heavily with themes of loss, but it was important to me that the play be
about continuation, hope, sisterhood, and healing on our own terms as
Native people. As one of my favorite writers, Leslie Marmon Silko, said,
“We don’t heal by forgetting, we heal by remembering.”

When we perform, my sister begins Menil and Her Heart. Under recreated
moonlight, she pushes through the enormous, crimson curtain,
a guitar strapped across her back. As Menil, Sophia begins to sing a
homecoming song, calling herself back to the land and to her
community. During every performance, I watch her, my stomach
in knots and my heart racing. Seeing Sophia invite the audience on
this journey and pull them into the play always calms me. I know I
can breathe. The story is in good hands. While our relationship, and
sisterhood in general, is not without fights and tears, sisters always
find their way back to each other. Since I first wrote the play, it went
without saying that Sophia (my spunky, hilarious, and monumentally
kind younger sister who in many ways is so much like my father) would
play Menil. We are storytelling partners—we have always been, and we
will always be.

Hi again Rebels!

Thank you for listening and we hope you loved that piece as much as we do. And don’t forget, there are many more powerful essays and letters to explore in Dear Rebel. It’s a truly unique book full of amazing wisdom and advice from some of your favorite rebels.

So go to rebelgirls dot com slash more to get your copy today.

As always, thanks for listening, and staaaaay rebel!