I engaged my protection techniques, puffing up the energy in my space like a peacock showcasing its feathers. We faced off in these dueling positions like statues. Finally I noticed that it did not want to harm me. Its motion was telling me that it had stabbed someone in the past but in the present it wanted to communicate.
I relaxed my energy and asked the being where we had met. It said "Downieville." I had picked it up when I was there the past weekend. I told the being I had priorities to manage this morning but would communicate during a meditation break in the afternoon, putting the being on hold while I collected myself and brought structure and order to my life.
As for Downieville, it is an old California mining town that was established in 1849. I am a regular visitor as my partner works at a local establishment in the summer. I immediately messaged to tell him the details of my experience with the being who had just confronted me. Without hesitation he told me it was Josefa "Juanita" Loaiza, the first and only woman to be hung in California’s history. I knew the being was behind me so I asked “Are you Josefa?” I got an immediate, “Yes.”
Josefa was a bright yet complicated soul. Through our interactions, I knew she wanted to work with me to heal her past as well as tell her story. She also wanted to channel her energy through me, using my body as a catalyst to tell her story in her narrative. I said to her, “If you want me to write your story, you need to teach me what you know. I am not going to let you channel to use my energy as your medium to get your story told.” This began our regular communications about life passion, pain, societal ideals, and spirit.
The following information is what I have learned about Josefa through my conversations with her. I have spoken with Downieville historians, some of whom have told stories that vary slightly from what I have understood from Josefa. Ultimately, my time with Josefa and her teachings have been an invaluable asset to my life. It is of utmost importance to me that I respect her story by telling it as she has told it to me.
Josefa was a proud, beautiful woman with long black hair, standing tall at a mere 5 feet. She had a fiery spirit, deeply emotional, sensitive in her strength, and determined to live with honor and integrity. Originally from Mexico, she left due to family issues that ultimately left a hole in her heart. She filled that void through the promise of a better life in America.
The success found through California’s Gold Rush led Josefa to Downieville with her partner, whom she loved deeply. She doesn’t speak much of the relationship, maintaining this as a private topic. She has hinted at being married before but that relationship was not based on love and trust and so she left him.
In Downieville, Josefa’s fiery spirit was a target. In a town mostly inhabited by men, the attacks on her culture and gender were verbal and physical reminders of the inequality she was experiencing. While she worked to stay strong, such consistent abuse was exhausting.
On the morning of July 5, 1851, Josefa was at home when a Downieville resident, a patron she knew from the saloon where she worked, came into her home while her partner was away. There were some choice words between the two regarding a previous altercation when he began to make physical advances towards her, possibly implying a rape situation. While I do not believe the interaction went that far, the tension between the two was strong enough that Josefa felt in danger of her safety. She pulled a knife and stabbed him, multiple times. He died shortly after.
Word got out in town quickly. She was tried by the local judge immediately and found guilty. The energy of the trial was far from fair. To the judge and jury, her act was a display of the uncontrollable and unstable nature of Josefa as a Mexican woman. She could not be trusted and was ultimately there to cheat and manipulate any who came in the way of her success. This act was a confirmation of the racist and gender stereotypes prevalent at the time. Any discussion of the motives of the man who came into her home or in regard to Josefa’s safety and if she did this heinous act in self-defense was immediately thrown out. Josefa's voice in the circumstance was silenced.
Josefa’s action was warranted due to the circumstances which were endangering her physical safety. However, this catalytic moment was also based on an upheaval of repressed anger and frustration due to the consistent and overwhelming racist and oppressive experiences she had to endure over time. Josefa, in this moment, was not only defending herself but was fighting for the right to feel safe, the freedom to be herself, to be free of societal undertones meant to make her feel less worthy, and to be free from societal restrictions set up to ensure that she would fail at her life dreams.
Josefa was ordered to be hanged. In her true strength’s fashion, she took control of the moment. Josefa took the noose and slipped it over her head, quickly addressed the crowd, and then jumped, ultimately hanging herself. In that moment, Josefa was claiming her right to be a human, to be free of societal suffering and injustice. Ironically, the morning after one of America’s favorite holidays, Independence Day (Fourth of July), Josefa had to proclaim her own independence through the act of her hanging, in a country founded on the belief in the God-given right of freedom and equality for all.
Understanding Josefa’s messages this past month at moments felt like putting together a large puzzle. When her energy first arrived, much of it surrounded her story here in Downieville and all the hurt and anger that she endured. As the days went by, I began to notice another side of Josefa: the almost angelic being filled with knowledge and wisdom. This part of her energy was bright and light and engaging. Through that energy, she taught me that the only constant in emotion is its changeability. While emotions do provide information, they do not really offer any type of stability to our nature. Emotions are a very human experience and can often be a barrier to connecting and learning about our individual and true self. Josefa taught me that if you can still experience but also look past emotions, you will find your home of personal faith and love. This is the root of being. From this place, we can be stable and reliable for our own safety within the instability in expansions with growth. This lesson blew my mind on impact. I have practiced this technique steadily since receiving this lesson and have noticed some new and subtle shifts in my decision making process. They have allowed me to release resistance of the unknown influences in life and instead trust in my own love and faith in myself as the root of my stability.
A moment of prose from Josefa: Be your biggest, greatest and most independent self. Honor your spirit’s gifts and live its inspiration. To settle for less from your life is the truest crime in being a human. This life is a precious gift; don’t waste it in trying to fit in or just cruise through by being comfortable. Challenges, decisions, they provide the gift of growth. Live in a meaningful way and be more than you expect from yourself.
From time to time I visit this bridge and think of Josefa. I admire her strength and determination to be her own self no matter the circumstances. I am so grateful she has come into my life to impart her teachings, moments of humor, and general bad-ass-ness. Thank you, Josefa, for sharing your story with me. Your time has meant more to me than gold.
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