Construction of the long-awaited San Diego State University Native and Indigenous Healing Garden begins this month, with an opening scheduled for the university’s annual Explore SDSU all-campus event on March 21.
The garden represents the concepts of healing – emotionally, mentally, and physically – that derive from Kumeyaay, Nahua and Mixtec cultures and that can be replicated in the environment of San Diego. The design and plant listings were a collaborative project of Kumeyaay, Nahua, and Mixtec community members along with KTUA architects and members of the Aztec Education Committee.
The garden’s design incorporates cardinal directions as well as the axis mundi through primary pathways. The lines of the garden form a circular patterned pathway that captures the Kumeyaay coiled basket design and the serpent of the Aztecs/Nahua. The shared sacred colors of black, red, blue and white that are affiliated with the cardinal directions are captured in natural decomposed granite that form the pathways.
The quadrants that are created through the formation of the pathways will be filled with various plants that have importance in healing from each culture: the Kumeyaay, Aztecs/Nahua, and the Mixtecs and Zapotecs. The final quadrant will hold the plants that are shared by these groups and other native and indigenous peoples from California and throughout Mesoamerica. The majority of the plants are seasonal and will change throughout the year. A website is in development that will provide detailed information on each plant species located on the site.
The garden will be open for public use, and the herbs and plants are intended to be a resource that can be harvested for use. The garden plans will be enhanced with a natural water feature and a shade cover that were made possible through a special donation from SDSU Alumni and funding from the 2019-20 Associated Students Board of Directors.
“In addition to serving as a resource for plants that have been used by our native and indigenous communities for generations, the space also will be a living classroom with three different naturalized learning spaces and a place to rest and reflect through nature,” said Ramona Pérez, chair of the Aztec Identity Initiative. “I am very grateful to the many collaborators that came together to share their insight, knowledge, and experiences in creating a place that reflects Kumeyaay, Nahua and Mixtec cultural engagement in human and nature interactions.”
The garden was conceptualized in 2003 as an interpretation of the extraordinary gardens developed by the Nahuatl speaking people of the Aztec Empire. However, funding for the garden that was originally planned was not available at that time.
In 2017, funds were set aside by President Sally Roush and Associated Students to allow the project to move forward. At the same time, the garden was renamed and reconceptualized as a more inclusive project that recognizes SDSU’s location on the lands that have sustained the Kumeyaay for millennia, along with the contemporary indigenous people of the Aztec Empire who call San Diego home.
The SDSU Native and Indigenous Healing Garden also will feature a 30’ x 60’ mural that captures the significance of plants to indigenous life in the region of the Aztecs. The mural was designed by SDSU students as part of an Arts Alive! project in fall 2019 by Department of History professor and graduate adviser Paula DeVos and School of Art and Design associate professor Eva Struble. Professor Struble will continue to oversee the painting of the mural. Work on the mural begins in January, and students, faculty, staff, and members of the community will be invited to join the students in painting the mural in February.
“We look forward to beginning construction on this important project that will be inclusive of the SDSU and San Diego communities,” said Amanda Scheidlinger, director of construction at SDSU.
For more information on the SDSU Native and Indigenous Healing Garden, please contact Ramona Pérez, chair of the Aztec Identity Initiative, at [email protected] or Amanda Scheidlinger, director of construction, at [email protected].