When I was a child, my grandparents told me all of their fears for their harbor community in San Pedro, CA. They told me they feared that one day the Italian portion of the community would attempt to proclaim superiority over the rest of the community. They feared that certain “old country traditions” (ones that give honor to a very dark spirit) would take over this community. They feared that the majority of the community would miss the importance of finding ways of making amends to those in the Indigenous community. They feared that everyone would forget that this land was incredibly sacred to the Indigenous ancestors who once lived here. They feared that people would never learn that we are all on the same team, and it is our collective responsibility to look out for each other and to protect this Earth that our Creator entrusted to us. They feared that greed and ego would take over and that no one would care about retaining any of the historical aspects of this community. They begged me to promise that I would come here and attempt to be a voice of reason in the community, and spread peace and unity in whatever way I could. It felt (and still feels) like an impossible task. Based on the picture they painted, it felt like many of the people would never listen to logic or reason and would continue to see nothing wrong with their actions. Based on what I’ve experienced and seen in this community over the past several years, I can completely understand why my grandparents were worried.
My grandmother always told me to remember that we as Italian-Americans celebrate our heritage on the Feast of Saint Joseph, which is in March. That is the time when Italian Catholics celebrate the miraculous intercession of Saint Joseph for the community, preventing famine. Yet here in the Los Angeles harbor, it is suddenly Italian Heritage Month here in October. Does no one else here locally realize that Christopher Columbus was Italian?! We are in a time of crisis in this country, where we need to start to own up for our own mistakes, the mistakes of our leaders and the mistakes of our ancestors if we ever have any hope to move forward in a positive direction as a country. Many states, including Washington D.C. have declared it a state of emergency that we stop celebrating Columbus Day and instead start celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. Was the month of March just an inconvenient time to celebrate for political reasons, or is this a deliberate attempt to further show dominance over a culture that has been treated inhumanely since the very moment Christopher Columbus stepped foot on this land?!
Regardless of the motive or reasoning behind why people chose this month to celebrate “Italian Heritage”, I will stand firmly in support of the Indigenous community, especially right now. I was always told that when my great-grandfather on the Mexican branch of my family tree arrived to Los Angeles, he felt like an outsider in the white man’s world of Hollywood. He was welcomed by the Tongva tribe, who helped him feel at home here in Los Angeles. They gave him the support and community that he needed to thrive on his path as an artist. My grandparents told me that without the warm welcome from the Tongva tribe, my great-grandfather would not have stayed here. If he had left, he would never have created the artwork for King Kong and he would not have designed The Brown Derby, among many other accomplishments.
I cannot believe that in today’s society, there are still so many people who look to our Indigenous neighbors as “godless” and “savages”. I have joined the Tongva tribe in prayer both here in San Pedro and in Hollywood many years ago. I can tell you with confidence that they are some of the most deeply spiritual people I have ever met. They calmly remind me that we are all responsible for the energy we bring into our community. For someone with a Sicilian/Celtic temper, those reminders are always much needed. Without those reminders, my Medusa-like rage often tends to get the best of me at times. They remind me that our Creator has a plan for all of us and it is our responsibility to listen for guidance and direction. They stand with faith and confidence in a world that often fills me with terror and fear. They remind me to return to a place of peace, and to take a stand against injustice in this world, to work toward a better future.
I have been feeling overwhelmed lately at my path in life, feeling like I am a lost soul without a sense of community. I have always felt like I am the perpetual outsider in most groups. Most of the people in my past who I turned to for spiritual guidance have passed away, and I realized that a big part of my soul felt lost without my grandparents’ guidance. I realized I deeply longed for someone to hug me and tell me, “welcome mija!” and I found that warm embrace recently from the Tongva community and their Gathering of Elders. Words cannot express the depth of gratitude I felt at that moment. My own DNA only contains a very small percentage of Native American ancestry but I finally felt at home and welcome. The traditions and prayer services of the Tongva community are so similar in so many ways to the traditions of my Celtic ancestors, and I believe that’s a large reason why I have always felt so instinctively at home among my Indigenous friends.
I don’t have much in this world in terms of money or a political power, but I do have the four things that my grandparents asked that I use in aid of the Tongva community…I have my words, my camera, my ancestry, and my prayers. On my father’s side, we descend from the Fraser of Lovat clan. Our Fraser ancestors were strong warriors who attempted to prevent the British invasion of the Scottish highlands. I was always told that Fraser blood runs strong and made me born to stand up against injustice in the world.
I was told that battle was a particularly important one in history because it then marked the time when my Scottish ancestors were no longer allowed to celebrate their cultural heritage. Tartan plaid, clans, and all other aspects of the highlander culture were banned. Since the battle left (Catholic) Bonnie Prince Charlie without a throne, many of the Catholic churches in Scotland also started to be closed down after that defeat. We as Americans have collectively done far worse to our Indigenous neighbors and their ancestral traditions. Yet we are still debating about whether or not we should celebrate the holiday that commemorates an attempt to destroy their beautiful culture, and marks the start of a period when many innocent people were slaughtered. I cannot wrap my brain around why it even needs to be up for debate.
Since so many people seem to be blind to the struggles currently facing the Tongva community here in Los Angeles, I will offer them spiritual protection under Clan Fraser of Lovat. I do not understand why they are not currently recognized by the federal government, but I will do everything in my power to try to help them get the recognition and protection that they need. If you would like to help, they currently have a Go Fund Me account set up here to assist in helping them receive the federal recognition and protection that they deserve. They mentioned at the Gathering of Elders that they are struggling to maintain their lease at Angel’s Gate Cultural Center, and I am hoping some of us here in the Los Angeles community can help them in a very large way.
Thank you to the Tongva people for welcoming my family for generations, despite the sins of many of our European brothers and sisters. I pray that our Creator will bless your tribe in a very big way.