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valentino Tzigiwhaeno Rivera

Valentino Tzigiwhaeno (LIGHTNING) Rivera was born April 6, 2008 to George Rivera (descendant of Pojoaque Pueblo and Spanish families, born in Santa Fe, NM) and Felicia Rosacker-Rivera (descendant of Spanish and Italian New Mexico families and Danish families from Kansas, born in Santa Fe, NM). Valentino's DNA can be considered a triptych of Santa Fe Blood and Culture. His soul and his life here on Earth can be considered a perfect example of a beautiful appreciation of life, culture and love of humanity and New Mexico. 


Valentino's uniquities became apparent even before birth, during an ultrasound when the tiny strawberry-sized fetus turned 360 degrees, fast as lightning. At this moment, his father, George, knew this energetic soul would bear the name Tzigiwhaeno, the Tewa name for the phenomenal force of nature we call Lightning. Valentino's natural energy, rhythm and love for his place on Earth did not go unnoticed. Before he turned 1 year old, he was able to stand long enough to bust out dance moves with his sister PoQueen. By 2 years old, he was running the Pojoaque Pueblo Butterfly Run, 1-mile, with his brother, PaaWee, and Mom and Dad. By 3 years old, he was dancing his traditional Pueblo Buffalo Dance at the Feast Days. Also by 3 years old, he promised to teach his new baby sister, Iris Paloma, everything he possibly could. 


Many saw the willing teacher and student in Valentino, and in his appreciation of others, he has become a healer. Valentino was 4 years old when he first saw Nakotah LaRance perform the traditional hoop Dance. The meeting coincided with his admiration and study of Michael Jackson's music and specifically Michael's dance abilities. Valentino's love and appreciation of dance was already well established. After seeing and meeting Nakotah (this moment pictured above), Valentino said "I am going to be a Hoop Dancer!"  A few months later, Steve LaRance, Nakotah's father, approached Valentino's Mom, who was the Director of Education for Pojoaque Pueblo at the time, asking if a hoop dance workshop could be planned. With Valentino's proclamation in mind, Felicia said "Absolutely!" That conversation birthed the creation of the original Pueblo of Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dance Group, of which Valentino was the youngest member at 5 years old.


Valentino immediately started sharing Nakotah and Steve's instruction, showing gratitude and blessings for the well-being of others any time he was able: at family parties, at school, in the park, for relatives, when they were sick or well. During one of the group's fundraising dances, Deborah Abeita Torrez inquired about the identity of the littlest dancer of the group and his parents told her "that's our son!" Through Deborah, Valentino was offered the amazing opportunity to dance at Pearl Harbor for the Homecoming of the USS Santa Fe. Valentino performed with his fellow dancers around New Mexico, in San Diego for National Indian Gaming Association and in Phoenix at the World Hoop Dance Competition. In 2014, the Hoop Dance Group set their sights on a larger goal: to travel to Europe and share their gift of hoop dance. They succeeded and performed in Paris and La Rochelle, France, then to Geneva, Switzerland where they were honored guests and performers at the US Embassy for U.S. Ambassadors.  The audience included the U.N. Human Rights Council, Keith Harper, and Ambassadors from many other countries, where they were presented with a generous scholarship from the US Embassy. The world wind trip finished up in one of Valentino's motherlands, Florence, Italy. Valentino left a lasting impression everywhere he danced. While many are advised to "dance like no one is watching" to help with the inhibitions of dancing in front of a crowd, Valentino danced like the whole universe was watching, much like his instructors, Nakotah LaRance and Michael Jackson. He performed the same way, alone, in the kitchen at home, filming himself, as he did for an audience of over a thousand people. Valentino performed here, in Santa Fe, on Museum Hill, in the dance circle that now bears his name, graciously allowed and supported by Museum donors. 


The serious spinal cord and brain injuries that were acquired for the car accident in Spring of 2015 did not change Valentino's soul. With his parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family and friends by his side, Valentino's integrity never faltered. When he couldn't speak, he smiled and laughed. When he could speak, he told everyone that he was willing to put in the work to recover. He never complained or blamed anyone for his tragic fate. There were many notable and strong leaders in Indian Country and beyond, who came to support and love Valentino during his days of recovery. In turn they left positively changed by the strength, love and warrior spirit he exhibited. When he knew he wasn't going to recover and upon his impending transition into the next world, Valentino was clear about how he wanted his loved ones to learn and grow from this unfathomable tragedy. He wanted to be remembered as he was: a dancer, a teacher, a student, and a healer. His family and friends are following through with his wishes and coping with their loss, in this very way: through creation of art and a Foundation in his name, Lightning Boy Foundation. The Foundation's mission supports a tribally inclusive Lightning Boy Hoop Dance Group and other youth performance and visual arts objectives, and above all, trying to love others and our place on Earth unconditionally as Valentino did.

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