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Racial Justice and Social Equity

Afro-Filipina sisters reclaim ancestral healing in North County

The "Soultry Sisters" will host their third annual Summer Soulstice celebration this weekend in Carlsbad, a health and wellness festival by and for queer people of color.

In Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Center, Toni and Alyssa Junious prepare an altar.

They lay out books titled “Rest Is Resistance” and “Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Staying Human” alongside oracle cards and herbal guides.

The national flower of the Philippines, the sampaguita, is scattered near a statue of Yemayá, a Yoruba goddess of the sea.


In a bowl in the center, bayabas leaves for smudging surround a crystal. The bowl is flanked by photos of their grandmothers, Lola Winnie and Grandmother Rilla.

A communal altar is prepared in New Village Arts in Carlsbad on Monday, June 17, 2024.
Katie Hyson / KPBS
A communal altar is prepared in New Village Arts in Carlsbad on Monday, June 17, 2024.

The symbol of the Sankofa bird tops it all, body forward and head turned back, reflecting on the past to guide its next steps.

Among the offerings is a small photo of the Afro-Filipina sisters in 2019.

The year before, they saved up all their spending money to attend one day of a health and wellness festival. They arrived to find rooms of mostly white participants led by white instructors teaching practices that were created by people of color.

“A lot of things can appear ‘woo-woo,’” Alyssa Junious said. “But when you think of all those different wellness practices, they’re actually rooted in Indigenous communities.”


The price point was part of the problem, the sisters said. The people whose ancestors created now-trendy wellness practices, like yoga and burning sage, often can’t afford the workshops to learn them.

“Wellness, especially in California, is popular. But it comes with a high price tag,” Toni Junious said.

So the sisters created their own community, “The Soultry Sisters.” The photo on the altar is from their first event.

It was an extension of a personal journey.

After that 2018 festival, they began seeking wellness wisdom from their own ancestors.

From their mother, they learned about herbs she’d long grown in the backyard — like moringa, the "tree of life" — and how to cook them into soups and teas that heal.

They reclaimed the African roots of hip hop dance, and its lyrical writing as journaling.

They studied Kemetic yoga, practicing postures displayed in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Toni Junious teaches yoga at a Soultry Sisters gathering in 2022.
Soultry Sisters, Pauline Scully / No Ends Media
Toni Junious teaches yoga at a Soultry Sisters gathering in 2022.

“Art and wellness has always been a part of our liberation practice of our ancestors,” Alyssa Junious said. “There's no way we would have been able to make it through all of what we went through in our history without the joy of singing, dancing, eating good food, listening to good music, and just resting.”

In 2019, the sisters invited friends, family and community members to join them in exploring these practices.

“Coming from a Black and Filipino household, it's in our culture to always host parties and invite people into our personal homes and spaces. So it was very natural for us to just widen the net,” Alyssa Junious said.

Toni and Alyssa Junious hold photos of their grandmothers, "Lola Winnie" (left) and "Grandmother Rilla" (right), on Monday, June 17, 2024.
Katie Hyson / KPBS
Toni and Alyssa Junious hold photos of their grandmothers, "Lola Winnie" (left) and "Grandmother Rilla" (right), on Monday, June 17, 2024.

They see it as decolonizing wellness, figuring out what was practiced in their cultures before Western dominance.

They want to encourage people to explore practices beyond what’s been commercialized, to ask their families for wisdom and to look up their own cultural practices online.

In the “melting pot” of California, Alyssa Junious believes having a strong sense of identity can unify rather than divide.

“A lot of times people are like, ‘Oh, no, we're all the same. This is why we don't have separation between what's your ancestral healing, what's mine.’ But actually, we think the more you know deep down your roots, the stronger we are together,” she said.

They said it’s not just what they teach, but how they teach that differs from white-run spaces. They see the space as circular rather than hierarchical. Everyone offers something to the group and everyone takes something away. And they look beyond their own individual healing to the healing of the group.

This weekend’s festival is themed “reclaiming ancestral healing.” It’s their third annual festival to celebrate the summer solstice, back by popular demand of the participants.

“A lot of times after the festival, they'll say, ‘I didn't realize this was our thing, this is something that we do,’” Alyssa Junious said, using ‘we’ to refer to queer people of color. “It’s the unlearning of what is for us, what is by us.”

Participants dance in a workshop at the first Summer Soulstice festival in 2022.
Soultry Sisters, Pauline Scully / No Ends Media
Participants dance in a workshop at a Soultry Sisters gathering in 2022.

The sisters said it’s especially needed in North County, where it can be harder for people of color to find community.

At a basic level, Toni Junious said, the event conveys: ‘We do exist, obviously. We’re here, and we’ve been here.”

The festival will offer performances, workshops, mixers and food.

Even though space and finances have been their biggest obstacles to creating the event, they said they’re committed to keeping it accessible.

Summer Soulstice tickets start at $40 and are sold on a sliding scale of affordability. They also offer scholarships. This year, it’s partially funded by the City of Carlsbad Arts Commission and the William Male Foundation.

Tickets are still available and all are welcome.

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