Aja Fonseca-Arnold grew up in a multicultural household. She is an Afro-Latina in America, which makes her a very powerful human being. Her power comes from the strength to seek answers for what she needed to live. In her quest, she turned to nature to find not only physical healing, but also spiritual rejuvenation. “Absolutely, that’s my jam!” Aja states.
Across generations, indigenous people have believed in plants and the sustenance they provided. As was natural in cultures, plants provided relief from illness, pain, and the “evil” spirits that affected individuals. People would communicate and share what the land provided as that was their custom. Over time, remedies would be handed down from generation to generation and as tribes intermarried, the remedies would soon become blended and shared. There was this love for the earth and the bounty she provided, together with a common respect and love for those who revered it. Balance was experienced by all, yet undistinguished as such.
In the modern era, there is a yearning for society to strike a balance, bring love to the fore, and an ever-growing desire for wellness sourced by plants. It is a love for ancient remedies and “respect for the souls’ right to choose to heal in its own way” that have been the source for what Aja created more than 10 years ago with Alchemy Elevated.
“What’s interesting about my family background, especially where the medicine is concerned, is that everything was so shrouded in mystery.” Her natural curiosity and persistence drove her to “dig around” for answers doing research within the family and in books. She found out that in fact, her grandmother was a medicine woman in the Aguadilla-area of western coastal region of what is now know as Puerto Rico. Aguadilla was founded in 1775 by Spaniards, yet the Taino natives who had been there for much longer, were know as Boricua, as they called the island Borikén before 1493 when the Spaniards named it for it’s richness and enchantment.
Her research within her family drew unease as “people were not comfortable” discussing natural medicine as it was so tied to spirituality. She shared about her journey and the challenges of obtaining information from family who wanted to keep the family secrets hidden as family members were uncomfortable with her sharing about that part of their history. “Certain religious practices, certain spiritual practices are not for the world,” she continues, “there really has been a little bit of back and forth with me being so free to share.” Had these remedies not been so good for herself, especially after rejecting Western medicine, she may not have been here to share her story. Through it all, as she learned about the gifts the plants provided, her spirituality evolved to what she alluded to “because of where the journey” took her in her path to healing. “I became so much more connected to the mother (earth),” she said. Due to this journey, she learned to not just blend some herbs for a headache, she delves into what else is going on with her patients so that the remedy provides for the whole person, not just the one thing. “I need to know what else is going on, I need to know what’s going on with the spirit and then in turn, heal the body” in order to provide the remedy for the person. “My belief is that you become ill in the spirit before sickness comes to the body.”
Cannabis became a key ingredient as she learned about its healing properties through a traumatic medical event she experienced. “Because of the high effective anti-inflammatory properties in this plant, I am whole today.” As a miraculous remedy, she avoided having to go through a highly invasive medical procedure that would have prevented her from baring children. She recognized that the medicine she created was a full circle relationship she has “with the mother, the earth, the creator, the herb.”
Through this, she has built a couple of businesses in a world that has seen upheaval in society, cultures and our global issues with the evolution of climate. She has been able to sustain this by maintaining focus on what she provides to humanity and her community and offers “herbal remedies, energy healing and esoteric essentials.” Successful and sustainable brands have existed on the premise of keeping the formula “simple and organic.” She contributes many of her remedies to people who cannot afford medicines including veterans, the terminally ill, cancer patients, diabetes patients, or those who struggle feeding their families. It is a fact that businesses who give to their community and follow a simplicity formula tend to be around for generations.
“We’re always just going to be who we are,” she says. She had started a foundation called “Can I Liv?” that has becomes the Liv wellness brand of herbal remedies, a delivery service called the Liv Collectiv, and Alchemy Elevated, which provides herbal remedies together with energy healing and esoteric essentials.
It is evident that Aja is driven by her spirit and soul to contribute and honor community. Not just her community, but the global community.
Aja and I set down to have a conversation and I asked her six questions:
You are an Afro-Latina in America. How has the expression of that been received by people?
“A little bit more of our back-story is that in doing our events, we always gave out free product samples. We were pursued by a publicly-traded company from Canada, who commissioned us for research, development, and “clinical trials” just to see what the medicine would do in different ailments and discomforts of the body. We went as deep as we possibly could from nutrition and meal plans to the actual trials of products to patient data collecting.” She shared an example. There’s a shampoo we were able to create that stimulates the follicles for hair growth in chemotherapy patients, there’s a balm for foot fungus, there’s something for pets, there’s something for people with anorexia.” For two years of the contract, Aja lead her companies to use cannabis combined with roots and herbs “to create sustainable working remedies.”
What was the big aha moment that moved you into naturopathy?
Aja shared how she got sick and what the doctor she saw recommended. “I got sick… I didn’t know what was going on with me and finally, I go to the emergency room. They tell me that I have cysts and tumors throughout out your womb and go see your doctor.” Her doctor looked at her emergency room medical scans and schedules an immediate hysterectomy at the age of 32! All this without even an examination or conversation for that matter. She thought to herself “I have 8 more years if I want to have children.” There were so many aspects of this that just felt so very wrong to her. Nonetheless, she scheduled the surgery with the front desk, still worried and concerned that this so-called “specialist” was in a rush to schedule the operation within the next week. “They provide no comfort to me.” She was scared, yet knew she needed to find an alternative. She moved fast doing research, all the while dealing with the manifestations of her symptoms. “I remember being so sick that I couldn’t sleep, I was shaking, I was nauseous, and my husband passed me a joint.” He said “Just smoke this.” On top of all of this, she had just been ordained as a minister and now had to reconcile with the “devils weed.” She had never consumed cannabis medically before this time. She found that it eased all of her symptoms in literally seconds, in her estimation. This was about 10 years ago and the medications that she endured for about two months had not provided the relief, rather it brought out of the side-effects from the pills. She thought “why… how… can this plant be illegal?”
This is where anger within her grew to drive advocacy for legalization. The anger was about having her husband risk his freedom looking for medical marijuana “when we didn’t have dispensaries, there were no delivery services” and about the doctor who ordered the operation. In fact, she cancelled the surgery the morning it was scheduled and chose to heal following a very different path. She returned to her doctor for a check-up sometime after, and he was amazed at the healing. She shared what she had done and the doctor validated her by saying “You did the right thing, but we can’t tell you that.”
Over the last 10 years, herbal wellness has been evolving. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a woman of color?
“Several times, when people have come to me, they have already allowed the chemo to come in, so many patients with 2-3 weeks to live and then their families are mad because the herbs didn’t work. There’s all these different ideas of the miracle cure that cannabis is. First and foremost, you have to believe enough in your own healing to make adjustments in your life to do the right things for yourself before you take any medicine. It will always come down to what you are putting in your body.”
“The stigma around cannabis is one thing. Being a woman of color is another,” she stated. She shared about having her wellness events or events she was part of being sabotaged by sponsors pulling out because she didn’t sound like what she looks like. And then they see her and decide they don’t want to support. Back in 2015, a prominent cannabis advocate had come to attend a gala event fundraiser that she and her husband held. Upon being greeted by Aja and her husband, the advocate expressed his disbelief of the event and of Aja stating that “cannabis is an old white mans game.”
“Even as a black woman in this business, I have been shunned by black men in this business… and my Hispanic counterparts…” Being 4-5 years in the legal market, her quest is in answering “What are we going to do to help each other?”
I am clear that you are one of hundreds of people in the business that is committed to people of color and indigenous people. What would you say are the key drivers for success among BIPOC-owned businesses need to keep in front of them for them to make it?
“What I have found, and what I know to be true is that the way to survive in cannabis, if you fall under the category of what BIPOC actually is, you’re creating strategic partnerships and building from within, and you will survive… make it… build… and grow and not let any one be the final word on the imprint that you’re leaving, the mark that you’re leaving, the legacy that you’re leaving just because your name is on it.”
You are a driving force for celebrating BIPOC-owned businesses and are hosting an industry event called Can I Represent BIPOC Gala & Awards Ceremony. What is the purpose and who does the event serve?
“The key purpose is to introduce unlicensed BIPOC brands to the industry with the intention of incorporating those who lack the license to collaborate on their product offerings and services,” she stated. This approach in networking will bring cultivators, edible producers, and topical developers and other suppliers to activate with professionals in cannabis law, compliance, finance, production, and manufacturing along with other producers and distributors in the legal market. The invite-only event slated for July 12, 2021, in a discreet location for comfort and making it a safe space for all to share possibilities.
If you could stand 50 years into the future, what would you have been known to have done in the previous 5 decades?
“First and foremost, I am really excited at what my children have been able to see, so hopefully, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are able to see the same thing. Dedication, getting up and making it happen, creating a yes when there is a “no” because that is the foundation for me,” she thoughtfully stated. “I am very well known to just jump off the ledge and that parachute is coming just in time, because I just know that if I believe in it, it’s just going to happen,” she continued. “It won’t be the money in the bank, it won’t be anything material, it’ll definitely be that spirit I know that I am walking with that I know includes thousand and thousand of ancestors that give me that energy.”
For Aja, healing and empowerment go hand in hand given by her personal story, the knowledge she has gained and a deep desire for healing body and spirit in people, the community and the business environment she has chosen for her journey.
“You’re not a failure unless you quit. And we just don’t quit.”
For more about Aja and her brands, visit any of the following sites:
Great interview on the power of believing in a higher power, Mother Earth, and yourself. Never give up BIPOC, together we stand!