In Celebration of Miriam Lee’s Birthday

Recently, my friend Lisa B. of Guelph Community Acupuncture directed me to a podcast by Tada Hozumi on understanding our cultural nervous system and the queering of identities. Tada had a ton of interesting things to say — I recommend listening — but one particular point they made is particularly relevant to those of us engaged in community acupuncture (meaning, not just punks, but all the people who make this practice happen — patients, staff and volunteers).

On the topic of cultural appropriation, Tada suggested that one way to think about having a practice (like acupuncture) that comes from outside your own particular ancestral culture, is that by engaging in that practice, you have acquired for yourself an additional set of ancestors to whom you are now responsible.

I love this. Every year, around the time of Miriam Lee’s birthday — which is December 9th — I’ve thought something like it, about how much I owe to this person I never met, whose work shaped my work and my livelihood, and how I wish I could think of something concrete to do to express my gratitude.

The theologians Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, in writing about Liberation Theology in Latin America, describe it as a tree. The roots of Liberation Theology are the practices — let’s say the praxis — carried out in “tens of thousands of base communities living out their faith and thinking it in a liberating key”.  The trunk is pastoral ministers, and the branches are theologians and teachers. I borrow their analogy to describe Liberation Acupuncture: the branches are our theories and our school, the trunk is the co-op and the clinics, and the roots — the part that everything else depends on — is the praxis of acupuncture as a way for communities to take care of themselves. The doing of it.

Our praxis is a gift from our ancestors. Miriam Lee did write books about acupuncture, but the Black Panthers and the Young Lords who organized the acupuncture collective at Lincoln Detox didn’t, and Ing Hay in his clinic out in John Day, OR didn’t either. What they gave us is their living example of using acupuncture and/or Chinese medicine to care for their communities. All of them did that under the threat of structural violence, and in the case of Lincoln Detox, in response to structural violence. They practiced acupuncture in a liberating key.

If it were not for their example, I would have given up on acupuncture about, oh, 1999 or so. By then I had figured out that the way I’d learned to provide acupuncture in school was completely inaccessible to my own community. My grandfather was a gas station attendant and I had no way to include gas station attendants in my acupuncture practice. My vocation was cut off from my community; I was trapped in a structure that made me reject my own people in the name of “valuing” my work. 

The praxis of Miriam Lee, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, liberated me to figure out how to take care of gas station attendants. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of that to my life, my sanity, and my soul.

So this year, on Miriam Lee’s birthday, I invite you to join me in honoring and celebrating our ancestors by making a donation, of any amount, to the POCa Tech Fund for Students of Color. In joy, in gratitude, and so that future generations of community acupuncturists may practice in a liberating key.

Author: lisafer

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  1. Nice post for sure! I wrote one on Miriam Lee (and POCA) for our website and fb/ig platforms too! Thanks for sharing the podcast link too–can’t wait to listen.

    When I was looking up stuff for Lee, Wikipedia didn’t list her actual birthday date, but a video tribute from Susan Johnson listed her birthday as December 8? Where did you all find that info? I will correct my blog post to reflect the actual date.

    Anyway, thanks, as always, for reminding us about the value of remembering our sources of information and praxis.

  2. Hmmm…I have a note from a few years ago that somebody asked Susan Johnson and she told us November 9th. (Was that you, Tatyana?) If we can’t figure it out, maybe we’ll have to celebrate both days!

  3. Indeed! Happy to celebrate her (and the other liberation ancestors) daily as we work! We festooned the postcards in our treatment room, so it’s a nice reminder to look up, acknowledge our sources, and chart!

    The video is at the end of her point location DVDs