C. Delia Mulrooney: The subtitle to your book is “My Journey to an Open Heart.” How did your idea of openness determine what you would include in this memoir, and what was your goal in publishing it?
Deborah Santana: It was the writing that opened me. Revealing the angst of racism, the personal coming-of-age experiences that broke my heart, and the landscape of my marriage was a transcendant lesson of acceptance and love of self. I re-wrote so many times that I no longer felt concerned about allowing readers into my life, but I had problems reading the painful sections of my memoir aloud.
Truly, my main goal in publishing my memoir was to be seen and respected as an individual in the world. Being married from such a young age to someone the world knows so well (I married at 22), I had grown frustrated being referred to daily as Carlos Santana’s wife, as if I had no identity of my own. In raising our three children, I saw the need for all of us to step out from under the world’s identification of us as “Santanas” and live the essence of our souls. That goal has been met, and it is extremely gratifying to encounter people who have read the book. They see me, they know who I am, what I do, how I have guided and maintained our family, and served humanity. They know the fabric from which I was cut.
CDM: Tell me about your writing routine. How has it changed since the days when your children were small?
DS: When the children were small, I grabbed minutes to write. Early in the mornings, I’d sit at my computer trying to create magic before they awakened. At night, after they had fallen asleep, I would edit. Sometimes I would sneak into the quiet of local libraries to research and work a few hours without interruption. Now, I have three days of complete solitude when I do not go into our office. I love being in the house alone, able to stretch out my writing time and edit while the sun still shines. Writing has become my life, rather than a snatch of time. The only regret is that my little ones are now 22, 21, and 16, and those precious times of being their star have gone. Many people ask me what I feel is the greatest accomplishment of my life. My answer is my children. They are my Grammys.
CDM: You confront the realities and repercussions of the fallout from your first relationship (with Sly Stone) in which you were the victim of domestic violence. Looking back these years later, how hard was it to return to the mindset of the young girl you were then?
DS: That’s the scary part of violence — it lives in your body, as well as your mind. Those incidences when Sly hit me were right on the surface of my skin when I began my memoir. The beauty of writing was that some of the intensity and fear that remained inside of me left. One of the areas that we address through our Milagro Foundation is abuse. Carlos was sexually abused as a young boy and both of us want people [who are victims of abuse] to know that they are pillars of light and what was done to them can never touch their souls.
CDM: Your children were in adolescence and young adulthood as Space Between the Stars went to press. Were you concerned about how they would react to your revelations?
DS: I did worry about my children reading my past — not that they would judge me, but that it would make their hearts hurt. However, I wanted them to learn from my choices. Our youngest chose not to read it, which I applauded. She is too tender. Our oldest, Salvador, was so angry about Sly’s abuse and wanted to protect me. It brought up a great conversation about how mean and evil people can be. I reassured him that Sly was a lost soul, and what he did to me was more about himself. Our middle child, Stella, said she laughed and she cried; she was angry with her father. She had to make peace with the reality of her father’s infidelities.
I am very sensitive and overly responsive to the pain of others, and I abhor violence. I cannot see the movies that my children watch without flinching. Although my memoir is truthful about my life, it does not seem as shocking as the entertainment and news of today.
I learned that it is not good to protect our children from our truth. It is best to have come through the fire and offer healing with the lesson.
CDM: You have carved out a compelling identity and presence as an individual, not only as a wife and a mother. What advice do you have for other women who are laboring to do the same?
DS: Every person must do their own work to discover their identity. What freed my spirit will not necessarily free someone else’s. My bi-racial upbringing — once I accepted the beauty of it — offered me a oneness with all people. My help in every situation is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Here are the lessons I learned:
First, don’t take anything personally. Just because people pushed past me and stepped on my toes, or elbowed me to get to Carlos did not mean they did not like me. Nothing they did was because of me. It had to do with them and their need to touch someone that they admired. Growing up watching the hatred and dehumanization of people of color and experiencing ostracism because of my skin was never about me. It was about the fear and lack of spiritual oneness of others.
Second, don’t make assumptions. I had to learn to ask questions and to communicate my needs very clearly. In carving out who I was, I had to separate from expectations of me as a wife and mother. Why was I expected to be the stay-at-home mom while he traveled the world? I learned and gained so much by asking questions.
Third, always do your best. I love change and what my best is has changed over the years. I have learned to challenge myself and push through my fears so I could excel and surpass who I was the year before. I have taught this to our children as well. The outcome doesn’t matter as long as you have done your best.
CDM: In Space Between the Stars, you write, “All of the constraints I had assumed as the wife of a rock star were sheared from my life while I hung out with myself on the hills of San Francisco. . . . There was a moment of revelation that ruffled through me like a great wind and I knew I would be a magnificent person with or without Carlos.” How has this shadow of celebrity affected you?
DS: I do not flourish in the life of fame. There is a distortion of reality that places people who receive media attention in an unrealistic place. It can destroy a person’s ability to be comfortable with simplicity and not being noticed. This is a difficult road to maneuver.
Generally, I believe as my mother raised me: we are all human beings; no one person above another. Someone who is famous might be someone whose gifts have been recognized. I would encourage people to find meaning in their own lives, to uplift others and volunteer or mentor young people.
CDM: As the mother of two daughters and one son, has your children’s genders had an impact on your approach to parenting?
DS: I never considered their talents or abilities as gender-based. Our oldest and youngest are the creative children; our middle daughter, the sports jock. Yet they all do whatever they are drawn to, with my support. I did tell our children that because of their multi-ethnic background they would have to work harder to make it in the world.
My approach was not different with our son. Carlos wanted them all to be musicians! I wanted them to find their passion and work diligently to learn all they could.
CDM: You and Carlos have been married for nearly 33 years now. With so many relationships faltering today, how have you managed to maintain your bond?
DS: Marriage is a puzzle — a magical puzzle that you can either accept as a challenge of joyful discovery, or you can give up and sweep all of the pieces off the table! Carlos and I have similar hearts that are romantic and thrilled with expanding our capacity to love. These 33 years have been seasons of growing, like the iris in our garden. There have been times of winter, when I did not know if the bulbs would sprout again in spring, but they did with renewed love and deep gratitude.
CDM: One of the most heartbreaking passages of the book was your first exposure to racism as a young girl. You reveal: “A girl hissed in the meanest voice I had ever heard: ‘Your mama’s as white as day, and your daddy’s as black as night.’ . . . I would not [be] able to make the picture of my family colorless again. One side was black. One side was white. I stood in the middle.” You recount a similar experience your daughter, Stellla, had at about the same age. What is society still missing about the issues of race and identity?
DS: This is a topic of great magnitude. I do not know if it is society that is missing the issues of race and equality, or if it is individuals. I try not to generalize, but the struggle is daunting. So much has improved since I was a child when people of color in the South could not even vote — were killed for trying. Yet, institutionalized racism prevents progress in education, health, and leaves the poor behind. This has not changed that much. We only have to see photos and video footage of the people devastated by Hurricane Katrina to realize the grave disparity in our communities. It is greed. It is being concerned with ourselves and not our sisters and brothers. It is choosing to harm those who are not able to be financially independent. Not a day goes by when we can forget that healing and helping others is the price of being alive.
CDM: A large portion of the book is about your journey and experiences following a guru from the 1970s until 1981, and of your ultimate departure from that faith group. Does spirituality still impact your daily life?
DS: I meditate each morning and invoke a spirit of peace and light. I try to fill my body, mind, and soul with loving energy and truth principles. I spend time offering prayers for my family and others and then try to carry this wholeness into the day.
CDM: Your book discusses how connections to other women have empowered you. How important is it for you to uphold bonds with women in your life?
DS: My mother is the baby of five strong, wild, beautiful Irish-English women. She is the only one still living, and I often smile with memories of growing up in their energy and joy. The bond they had, and the bond my mom taught my sister and I to strengthen and cherish, is most important to me. I try to honor women and love each one I meet and, when I feel the competition that sometimes exists between women who have not yet found their power, I smile and attempt to dismantle the fear.
CDM: What are you working on now?
DS: I am still managing Santana, with the assistance of our staff, planning new projects and looking forward to our son Salvador’s band going out on tour again this year, as well as Santana being in South America, Europe and the states.
I have been asked to speak at bookstores and conferences for my paperback release in April, and I am writing fiction with a new writing group and trying to devote more time to this.
CDM: You’re active with charitable and social justice organizations. Can you tell us a little about them?
DS: Artists for a New South Africa, an organization that Carlos and I are so honored to support, sends money, medicine, and education to people suffering in the AIDS pandemic in South Africa. We have been able to help the 600,000 orphans by keeping family members together through our donations. Our Milagro Foundation allows me to touch the lives of children and teens all over the world. What more could I want?