By Roy Cook

El Cajon: Heritage of the Americas Museum on the Cuyamaca College campus celebrated their eleventh birthday. Featured are exhibits, cultural demonstrations, food, music and dance. The East county museum is a cultural and educational center featuring the prehistoric and historic objects of the western hemisphere. Today, January 31, 2004, there is free admission and plenty of free parking. Associate director Cheryl Minshew organized the event and invited Native Americans to participate. The Heritage of the Americas Museum is on the south side of the Cuyamuca College campus. The museum was financed and founded by Bernard Lueck and is home to his personal collection of objects from around the world.

Festival featured performers this day are: Eric Running Path Dancers. Eric narrated the performances as Kim Flying Eagle danced the hoop dance. Clay and Anita Two Bears represented the Elders. Elaine and Billy George, Missisippi Choctaw presented their beautiful Tribal regalia to the assembly. The Running Path Plains dance group performed twice: at one and three in the afternoon. Elaine George RN is also a Native speaker of Choctaw and she provided information and objects of Southeastern woodlands art in an interior display. Also displaying inside are Wanda Cook, Mohawk and other Native American artists.

Jon Meza Cuero, Tipai Neimii (Wildcat) singer led off the set of songs at one thirty in the afternoon. We had been scheduled to present at two. However, the previous group finished and Cheryl said she wanted to hold the audience. The threat of foul weather had been a concern most of the morning. The Sun was warm on the desert landscape and garden patio but when the sharp wind whistled around the corner folks started heading for the interior of the museum.
Each and every time the Nyemii group comes together to sing these songs of the Tipai it is a special experience. Jon is a champion Wildcat singer on both sides of the international boundary. Traditionally the Kumeyaay Nation has extended from below Ensenada, Baja to Lake Henshaw and from the Imperial Valley to the ocean. Jon sings of a journey from Tipai Band To Band. An epic story of emotion, life, humor and significant geographical locations. We as Wildcat singers: Sam Brown, Viejas Kumeyaay, Roy Cook, Opata-Osage and Ben Nance, are honored to receive instruction and encouragement from our teacher: Jon Meza Cuero.

Juan Meza Cuero is an Echkwechyaaw, a singer of Nyemii (Wildcat, Gato) Tipai song. In his role as our teacher he is adamant about establishing the historical character of these Wildcat songs. Jon has often said, " I learned these songs from my Father when I was seven years of age. At that time my father was 85 years of age."

One of the constant qualities I have learned as a singer of tribal songs, and association with tribal singers and lead singers in particular, is a sense of singer/song territoriality. Many lead singers establish their 'credentials' to present their repertoire by acknowledging their debt to those who taught them the songs. Juan is a lead singer of Wildcat Tipai song.

He has extensive experience with many of the other styles of Tipai song. Through his life experience and by circumstance and politics, he is a participant observer of the dynamics at work defining traditional song style in the Kumeyaay, Ipai, Tipai and extended territory. As a teacher, Jon strongly emphasizes the need to learn the tune first. He has often said, "First the song, then the words, and then what the words mean." History is encoded in ritual. Therefore, if a people remain in their creation lands they will continue to detail events and orally weave a tightly woven cultural basket that is holding those songs and stories, These songs and stories contain all that is necessary to define that Band, Tribe, Nation. The oral tradition will provide the structure for the people to remember who they are, where they came from, and what has happened to them. If they move, they remember where they were and how they came to be where they are now.

Our teacher, Juan Cuero has seen much in his lifetime. He gently shares his knowledge and experiences. With his teaching and songs we see intuitions and feel emotions beyond our experience and expectations. The combined gathering of voices blend and lift and it seems as if the songs are given wing as they echo in the canyons. Finally, when the group sings our shared experience of the moment is as if, there and then, time as it is defined in the western world has no meaning. At these moments when we are in the song, we are the song. Very often we grasp unseen experiences filled with emotion and physically we have felt our heart fill our chest as we sing, and sing again these beautiful Tipai songs.

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