Her Dance a Rebellion: A tribute to Sali Grace

Trigger Warning (TW): gendered violence.

Sali Grace was a dear friend of mine. She lost her life tragically in 2008. Her spirit and her memory continue to inspire my life and my work. Sali Grace, Rest in Power <3

We shared a room and we forged a friendship. I admired Sali’s tattoos and the way she moved in stride, in dance and in the self-defence skill-shares that she and Méti hosted in the courtyard of a downtown community theatre. I had arrived in Oaxaca wanting to shake the hands of the participants in the Oaxacan uprising of 2006. It was an inspiration to me that the people had claimed their city in the face of corrupt government, police and paramilitaries. Together, Sali and I visited the deathplaces of some of the fallen, and participated in human rights accompaniment for the most visible members of CIPO-RFM.

After leaving Mexico, Sali and I stayed in touch. “When will you return to visit us?” she wrote. Sometime soon, I hoped.

Two weeks later, My mom and little sister were in the room when I opened up the computer to check my email. “I don’t know if you got the news,” the email read, “Our compañera Sali has been killed.” “No!” I shouted. “No No No NO!” I didn’t even feel my sister’s arms wrap around me… I was cold while I searched the screen for either answers or for contradiction. No.

Sali was gone.

Friends found the guy who did it in Mexico City. They kept him drunk for days until they could arrange for his arrest. They beat him and handed him over to police.

Is this justice? I don’t know.

Through the tears I have drawn inspiration from my memory of her and her own commitment to ending violence against women. Her loss has been so painful and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that. Since then, I undertook my own journey to become a Wen-Do women’s self-defence instructor. I made a t-shirt using a marker and I drew a portrait of her face… There’s a saying in Mexico… “Sali esta presente,” which means that Sali continues to be with us. On the last day of my teacher’s training, I wore Sali’s shirt under my Wen-Do t-shirt. I like to think that her own fist has traveled with mine and that together we have smashed through the agony of her loss.

I don’t know what happens to people when they die, but I do know that a piece of her continues to live on through me. I’ve often said that you throw a stone into a pond without ever knowing how far the ripples will travel. Even if they don’t know it, all of my students get to experience some of the joy, commitment and strength that Sali continues to inspire in me.