.Remembering Sonoma County community advocate Doña Maria Cañas

I can’t remember when I first met Doña Maria Cañas, because she has always been part of everything that is important and that I love about Sonoma County. But I suspect it was during my first summer here in 2016, during an art show or the demonstration in downtown Santa Rosa after the promotion of the sheriff deputy who killed Andy Lopez.

Cañas fought for decades against racism and for immigrant/women’s/workers’ rights, police oversight, criminal law reform and students. Although her stature was short, her personality was gigantic. She had no problem telling the truth to anyone. A beautiful mixture of poignant words (including precise and necessary obscenities), her burst of laughter resonated throughout any space.

Beyond her activism, Cañas was a healer, artisan, poet and nurturing woman. She was the mother of three sons, but also the tìa to many of us. Worried that my work would make me ill, she routinely checked up on me. She valiantly shared the story about how her many years as a social justice warrior took its toll on her mental health, and how a literal dream told her she needed to paint, which healed her. Consequently, she started a group (that just recently became an official non-profit) for the emotional well-being of women. She invited loved ones to dance under the moon, to hug trees, to come to her driveway and paint or write, or to come to her home and eat pupusas.

Cañas also was a beautiful example of a healthy and long-lasting relationship between equals. Although her relationship with Don German began when they were teenagers, they still seemed like newlyweds. You often would see them holding hands or showing other forms of affection. She wrote the most passionate love poems for him.

She was one of the pillars of our community, and her departure shook us more than the Loma Prieta earthquake. Those who are lucky enough to have a copy of her book or a piece of her art will always have her by their side. I am thankful to have known her, loved her, and been loved by her.


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