Ankle Bells

Mera Reyes (+Video)


Ankle bells are used by my people for sacred dances. Their sound is clear like falling water. They are made of red leather and coyol seeds. This pair was made for me to tell stories from the Mexican tradition—stories that were almost wiped out by the Spanish invasion. Stories are the heart of a nation and that is why colonizers seek to erase them.

Mexico is not only resorts, beaches and margaritas. Tenochtitlan was an empire that had existed for more than 4,000 years before Europeans marched into the splendid city and destroyed it. On the ruins of Tenochtitlan, they built Mexico City, the city where I was born. 

My ritualistic name in my original language is Miquitzihuatl. It means flower-death. All of us who were born under the sign of the flower are destined to become artists. And the sign of death is for philosophers.

My life started in a struggle to make myself heard. Due to colonization, being born a girl in my culture is less precious than to be born a boy. Women are expected to be beautiful, quiet and soft. But I was born stubborn, determined, loud, and prone to anger. I was living in a city where women are raped and killed every day. I left Mexico City when I was a teenager because I wanted to run away from misogyny and I longed to see the world. I left with only the love of my mother, my bags and my voice.

When I was 19, I arrived in England, the country I believed had all the answers for art and theatre. When I found stories, I was in the audience for a storytelling performance. That night the storyteller made me sing, laugh and cry. I was so moved that I knew in my heart that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I arrived in Calgary in 2014. Sadly, I found emptiness and domestic abuse. This was shocking for me. I had considered myself a warrior, a strong woman with a strong voice. Less than four months after my arrival, I was left broke, homeless and completely alone.

Still, I found the courage to stay in Canada, and I learned that generosity has no citizenship. From the women’s shelter to each and every place I moved after that, my ankle bells were safe, wrapped in red cloth and tucked carefully inside my luggage. I would caress them from time to time, asking them, Who am I?

Like the city of Tenochtitlan that was once a glorious white beauty but left in ruins, I was left in ruins. I had to start again—searching for opportunities, studying again, building connections healing my mind and my spirit, until I was ready to tell stories and sing again. 

I have chosen to live in Calgary and tell stories here because I am the mother of Heyoan Xiuhcotal. She was born here. Her name means “the voice who whispers the truth, the thunderbolt”. And I am willing to give my life and confront even more challenges so my daughter can walk freely and know she is a precious “cihuatl”: a precious woman.

Being in front of a live audience again after these last five years has been one of the most exciting and powerful experiences. When I take off my shoes and put on my ankle bells, I remember now who I am. I am Mera Miquitzihuatl Reyes. I have performed a human sacrifice in front of all of you, as I have opened my chest to offer you my heart.

Watch the Performance

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