Running for Peace & Dignity

On a chilly January morning, a faint chanting sound could be heard coming from Lemon Park in Fullerton. Dressed in Latin American indigenous clothing, a group of mostly Orange County residents gathered in a circle. They prayed to the rising sun before going on a spiritual run through local neighborhoods.Their goal was to spread a message of peace, dignity, cultural awareness and diversity. The planned 14-mile route included the neighborhoods of Fullerton, Anaheim and Santa Ana.

The spiritual runs, called Peace and Dignity Journeys, are based on a Latin American indigenous prophecy concerning the birds of the North (eagle) and the South (condor). The prophecy is that all indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere will be spiritually reunited in order to heal their nations. The journeys are intended to help others reconnect with their indigenous traditions, their role in and responsibility to the world.

According to, the runs started in 1992. The journeys occur every four years and start with indigenous runners on opposite ends of the continents – one in Alaska and the other in Argentina. They run for six months through hundreds of indigenous communities where they participate in their respective spiritual practices and traditions.

The run will make its way through Orange County in the summer of 2012.

Lupe Lopez, a lifelong resident of Stanton and a coordinator for the run, said each community run has a purpose.

“This run is not only to raise awareness for the event in 2012 but also to pray for unity amongst all of the residents in Orange County,” she said. “It’s a call to end the violence at all levels in our communities.”

In 2012, when the runners meet at the Kuna Nation in Panama City, Panama, it will symbolize all indigenous peoples joining together in a spiritual way to manifest the prophecy of the Eagle and Condor.

Lopez said this run takes the participants through the barrios of Orange County to get to know problems and challenges of the residents.

“As we get to know problems, we can also learn about the healing process,” she said. “This is the indigenous way of life: healing. It helps us become stronger.”

The ceremony started promptly at sunrise on Jan. 22 guided by Mayan elder Josefina Gallardo. The smell of sage filled the air as they engaged in rituals and prayer. Afterward, they ran through the low-income neighborhoods of North Orange County.

At each of the half dozen stops along the route, they were provided with water as they were led in prayer by the elders. Some of the runners carried sacred staffs donned with eagle feathers. According to Lopez, these staffs represent the spine of indigenous peoples.

The run ended at sunset in a neighborhood of Santa Ana. Located off of Standard Avenue and Bishop Street, it is home to many Cambodian refugees who came to the United States to escape war and conflict.

As residents looked on, participants formed a Native Mexika Aztek dance circle called “Kalpulli Anahuak Teotihuakan.” It was a tribute to show gratitude and celebrate elements of Mother Earth.

Sok Bun Ry, a Cambodian refugee who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, welcomed the celebration.

“We honor your presence and we are happy to see people working together to unite with a peaceful voice,” she told the gathering through a translator. “This is my first experience seeing an indigenous ceremony so I am happy we can learn about different cultures from each other.”

As the ceremony came to an end, dogs howled to the slow beats of the drums as neighborhood children copied the moves the colorfully dressed dancers performed just minutes before. Runners were provided with hot food prepared by the Orange County division of Chicanos Unidos.

Twenty-six-year-old Costa Mesa resident Samuel Castillo, aka Tecpaocelotl, participated in the Orange County-only run for the first time. He said older friends first introduced him to Peace and Dignity runs when he was in high school in 2000. He participated in the official run in 2004.

He was unable to make the local-only runs in the past due to transportation concerns but made a promise to himself that he would once he was able. Not only did he participate in the Orange County run, he said, now he is helping to plan the run’s stop in 2012.

Castillo said onlookers were both curious and surprised to see the runners go through the streets. However, he feels they communicated their message effectively to those who inquired about their cause.

He feels those interested in participating would benefit from the run in 2012 as it will make them feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. Ever since being laid off at his job in May, Castillo said he had feelings of worthlessness. The run changed that for him.

“This run has gave me the confidence that I once lost,” he said. “I feel like I accomplished something I wouldn’t have thought was impossible and right now, that means the world to me.”

Video of the run and dance circle can be viewed below.

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Amber Stephens