By Leah Young
Original publication date March 19, 2010
This past December I was privileged to sit down in an InnerViews exclusive with published author Deborah Santana. For more than 30 years Deborah was almost solely identified as the wife of music icon Carlos Santana. She likens it to being the space between the stars and even titled her memoir the same.
Deborah Santana published her compelling memoir Space Between the Stars in 2005. It was a seven-year journey of self-discovery. “Publishing my memoir was an act of radical love,” declared Deborah Santana during our conversation.
“I was very afraid in publishing my memoir that people would think ‘Oh my God, she is really an idiot.’ But I didn’t face any of that,” she explained. “I really didn’t expect that people would accept me. I was surprised that people accepted me as my authentic self.”
This writer found Deborah Santana to be powerfully honest and a reservoir of life-changing lessons. But more than that, Deborah Santana is an author, philanthropist, supporter of peace and social justice, and mother of three extremely loved children: Salvador, Stella and Angelica Faith.
Ms. Santana is founder of Do A Little, a donor advised fund at the San Francisco Foundation that helps women become healthy, educated and happy, and a Board member for ANSA (Artists for a New South Africa). She mentors girls and young women, and is a supporter of Marian Wright Edelman’s Freedom Schools in New Orleans.
While still married to Carlos Santana Deborah co-founded the humanitarian non-profit The Milagro Foundation, which supports young people in health, education, and the arts. In 2000 she was awarded the UCLA Cesar E. Chavez Spirit Award, and in 2004 received a “Woman of Distinction” award for her foundation’s efforts in social justice and humanitarianism.
In our candid conversation Deborah shared with me an inner view of her personal journey and its fruits. In response to my query about what reinvention means to her, Deborah had this to say, “Reinvention for me really means transcending who I have been & allowing life lessons to expand me in really positive ways. I look forward to change. I see it as an opportunity to grow. It’s pretty thrilling.”
Although I happened to share Deborah’s view on change, I still had to ask if she maintains this perspective even when the process of change is challenging. “ It’s not always easy; but, if I can sit with whatever is happening in my life that is propelling me forward, then more than likely I know that I am going to have an amazing educational lesson that I can grow from & touch more of who I really am.”
Many women moving into the reality of their authentic selves are doing so after having been “merged” with a powerful and sometimes public spouse or partner. The separation is often even more difficult in these situations. Deborah has the dubious distinction of having two such relationships. Prior to meeting & marrying music icon Carlos Santana at the tender age of 22, Deborah had extricated herself from a tumultuous and abusive relationship with entertainment personality Sly Stone.
“In my marriage I had a beautiful life, so much beauty with my children, and so much opportunity to connect with others and grow. Yet I recognized that I was constantly compromising my self-worth. Writing and publishing Space Between the Stars and standing in my own truth was the catalyst for many changes in my life. In the solitude after my divorce, I realized that I did not love myself enough. There were times I had to just practice saying ‘I love myself’.”
The prospect of living in alignment with your authentic self is an undertaking that requires immeasurable courage. Deborah confided that she encourages having one or more mentors to model. Deborah’s strong mother was one such mentor to her. “My mother was such a radical feminist and radical woman. She showed me that example. I was pretty fearless except for choosing myself. I think that is an issue for a lot of women. We have to listen to that inner calling. Coupledom, marriage, family is all great, but there is a great difference between blending one’s life into the whole and compromising one’s individuality because you feel that another person’s life is more important than yours.”
Women often suffer for lack of a support system, since they are most often everyone else’s support system. Some two years after the initial defining events of her transformative work, Deborah found herself excited to move forward but needing some help. She hired a coach.
“It took a long time for me to integrate what I’d learned with what I wanted to do. I wanted to be active in the world and moving and shaking in business. What I did was find a life coach, a former minister of mine that I really like and admire. We began discussing a list of eight life intentions that would make my life sing. From this list, I decided I didn’t want another business, I wanted to be free to travel and serve humanity.”
Once the vice president and COO of the New Santana Band, Inc. responsible for the entire business side of a surprisingly vast array of Santana-related ventures & the former vice president of the Milagro Foundation, Deborah is now content to focus on herself, her writing and her philanthropic and humanitarian concerns. “That was an amazing letting go. I learned that sometimes I was holding on too tightly.”
Transformation is pervasive and by nature impacts every aspect of someone’s life. I asked Deborah how hers has affected her activism. “Before I lived and spoke as a couple, often as the little finger of the couple because people didn’t give me the credibility or just weren’t interested because Carlos is such a force, a wonderful force in the world,” she began. “In my transformation I have room to breathe and this room to just be. I love being in communion with other people. This humanitarian activism that I have is just coming from my soul. I don’t have to represent anyone else. I can walk through the world and touch people as a person, not a name.”
Deborah’s main interest is gender equity and education. “Women are still further behind in the world in education, job opportunities, sexual rights and freedom to choose how they live. I work with the Global Fund for Women, a non-profit that addresses these issues and supports women in wars. I fund a school for girls in Kenya called Daraja Academy which I’ll be visiting at the end of February. I am on the board of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), which provides education and anti-retroviral medicines with people and suffering from HIV/AIDS.”
Although Deborah names several female mentors as influential in her life and transformation, her own mother was at the top of the list. I asked how her journey has impacted her own children. “The most important thing that I hope my children saw from my transformation is that I was able to choose myself with great integrity, courage and love. They saw me suffer and then watched me come through the experience with great respect and acceptance of the vagaries of life, moving forward in a way that made me a lighter being.”
She continued, “I hope that they remember my experience when they come to a place in their lives when they have to make an amazingly difficult decision that will affect their futures and the ecology of their family and friends. I hope that they know they can choose themselves.”
Deborah spoke about the intensity of her life as a parent mostly raising her children alone because of her husband’s career. “I was sometimes like a drill sergeant. I wanted the children to be successful. I wanted them to do well in school. I think it was a little too much. I may have held too tightly to things that I was in charge of because I did not want to fail.”
Creating a life from your authentic self is holistic process that includes mind, body & spirit aspects. I spoke to Deborah about whether or not she’s taken the big step of being in a romantic relationship again. Joyfully she shared that she has. “I have been dating a man for about six weeks. He’s sweet and kind. It’s a wonderful experience.”
I asked her how she feels about the possibility of losing herself in this relationship and she had this to say, “My prayer and one of my eight intentions for my life is to be a life partner in a loving and joyful relationship. And that we would be in alignment in building something for a better world. I really believe that being in spiritual alignment is what it’s about. This man & I are in alignment. My goal in a relationship is to resonate at the same level in looking out at life. I long to have a man support my life and be able to adore me.”
My InnerView with Deborah Santana revealed a woman who knows where she’s been, is happy with where she is and has the future in perspective. Deborah Santana is living fully from her core and has been refined by the fire. Learn more about her latest endeavors and read her blog at http://www.deborahsantana.com.