by Deacon Andrew (Andy) Orosco

The Journal of San Diego History
San Diego History Center Quarterly
Summer 2019, Volume 65, Number 2

I approach this reflection as an Ipai-Kumeyaay whose ancestors have been one with these lands for over 10,000 years, as a deacon of the Catholic Church—the church that was a part of the Spanish colonization of California lands—as one who also has Spanish blood running through my veins, and as a proud citizen of the United States who nevertheless understands that his nation inflicted cultural genocide on Indigenous peoples. Based upon all these facts, it might seem I would be confused and at odds with my very self because of my ancestral lineages, but I am not. Because of my strong ties to each one of these cultures I believe they in their own way have made me who I am today. I will share with you my personal reflections about the 250th anniversary we are commemorating throughout 2019 and how it has helped me to listen, understand, and acknowledge to the citizens of San Diego, the citizens of California, the citizens of the United States and the world, the importance of knowing where we come from so that we can know where we are heading.

I am a proud lineal descendant of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians of the Ipai clan of Kumeyaay. My Ipai-Kumeyaay ancestors are the people who have been a part of this landscape for over 10,000 years; among them were those who met Fr. Junípero Serra on his journey north from Mexico to present day San Diego, California. These ancestors were also the Ipai who did not participate in the martyrdom of Father Jaime on that fateful night in November 1775.
Not being raised on the reservation because of my father’s choice, we were always there for tribal meetings and family gatherings. I have fond memories of the Orosco clan gathering before the tribal meetings at Tino Orosco’s home on the present-day San Pasqual Indian Reservation in the late 1960s to talk and to tell family stories. I remember hiking and climbing the rocks of San Pasqual. It was a great time to be an adventuresome young person. At that time I did not understand about the reservation system; all I knew was that it was where some of my family lived and where I enjoyed visiting. My father Donald Orosco, from whom I receive my Native heritage, was a very quiet, very strict, very caring, and strong-willed man. He and my Spanish-heritage mother Christina (Ybarra) Orosco raised me and my two brothers from the late fifties to the early seventies in San Bernardino. This was a time of turmoil, unrest, and changing times for us as Americans.

I myself clung to my native heritage at a very early age not because of my father, but because of my elder aunts and uncles, the brothers and sisters of my Grandfather Frank Orosco, who served in the Army’s Twenty-sixth Regiment of the First Infantry Division (Big Red One), survived the D-day landing, and was killed in the area of Langerwehe, Germany, near the end of World War II, seven months after volunteering for service. It was these proud elders who spoke about our native heritage and the importance of letting others know we were still here on these lands, the lands of our Ancestors. My father did not openly share about his childhood, his father Frank, or his native heritage. I believe this was because he grew up in a time when being native was frowned upon because of the abject poverty on the reservations and negative stereotypes that were common in the media. My mother tells a story about how one of her sisters questioned her decision to marry an Indian. My mother denied my father being Indian until she asked my father if it was true, to which he answered, “yes.” After some thought she said to him that it was OK. “Now you are my Indian,” she told him.

I remember going to the reservation of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in San Bernardino in the 1970s where some of the families were living in adobe homes with dirt floors and outhouses, so it wasn’t just the San Pasqual reservation that tried to get by with limited means. What the greater American population does not know are the reasons for the poverty on Indian reservations. To begin with, when reservations were created, government officials often selected lands that were remote and not coveted by white settlers. This is certainly the case with the rocky, mountainous terrain of the San Pasqual Reservation. Furthermore, Native lands are not owned by the native residents themselves or by the tribe; instead, the land is held in trust as sovereign lands for the native people by the federal government. Land is an important asset; however, these reservation lands cannot be used for equity because they are held in trust by the federal government. Until just recently there were no programs to fund the building of homes on reservations. That is why when you visit reservations you will see homes built in sections, room by room as funds are acquired by the residents.

Illustration by contemporary artist Gene Locklear of daily life in the plaza at the Presidio de San Diego, c. 1790.

Because of the self-sufficiency brought by gaming, there are now programs available to members to build dwellings similar to tract homes. My San Pasqual tribe has worked very hard to be self-sufficient in all ways. There have been struggles and failure, but the successes and accomplishments are what make us who we are today. This is the same for all federally-recognized tribes in California: they all have their unique struggles and successes that demonstrate the strength, courage, and resilience of native peoples.

It is for this reason I visited the 248th commemoration of the founding of Mission San Diego de Alcalá in the summer of 2017. I wanted to witness for myself how my Kumeyaay people were acknowledged for their historical contributions. What I experienced at the Mission was disheartening: the celebration was vibrant and joyful with many cultures joining in on the celebration, except for the Kumeyaay, the first people of these lands who were the first neophytes and the builders of the mission. During a tour of the mission I voiced my disheartenment to a docent. I also questioned the lack of Kumeyaay at the 248th anniversary. By the end of day, I was asked by the head docent to discuss my Kumeyaay concerns. At that impromptu meeting, we were able to briefly discuss my concerns about the lack of Kumeyaay representation at the celebration, and this led to a later meeting in preparation for the upcoming 250th celebration. It also led to an invitation to join the planning committee for the 250th. I know being both Kumeyaay and a Deacon for the Diocese of San Bernardino, serving the Native American community, helped me to be listened to regarding my concerns for the Kumeyaay at the mission.

At subsequent meetings, the docent and I met with the pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcalá, Father Peter Escalante, who is concerned about the historical relationship between the Kumeyaay people and the mission. One of the first issues we discussed was terminology. Given the complexity of the history of the mission, we determined that the term “commemoration” was more appropriate than “celebration.” We also spoke about the importance of inviting the Kumeyaay in advance of this event rather than including them as an afterthought. We discussed the importance of all events being started with a welcoming by the Kumeyaay. Such a welcoming recognizes and respects them as the first peoples of these lands and the first neophytes of this mission church.

Especially difficult was the discussion of the bitterness Kumeyaay continue to hold in their hearts because of the mission system and how this would affect their willingness to take part in the commemorations. I believe this bitterness, along with continuing effects of discrimination at various levels of government, causes many of the ills suffered by my people, including alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. I believe addressing this bitterness will allow for eventual forgiveness and healing. This lasting legacy on the bodies and well-being of Indian people is my main reason for being so insistent on addressing the effects of the mission system, the secularization of the missions, and the forced assimilation of natives into the American way of life. I hope to use my ability to represent both the Kumeyaay and the Catholic Church to bring these groups together. Opening this dialogue will be a vital first step towards understanding so that we will not allow such tragedies to happen again and so that we may educate others about the atrocities our ancestors endured and survived.

Reflecting on the last two years, the meetings and events I have been blessed to be a part of have been both challenging and historic. The challenge has come from the recognition that before we are able to forgive and heal, we must give voice to the pain, a pain that in the past was discounted, ignored, or denied. This time, we are determined to face these pains nose to nose. In doing so I have been able to meet with concerned individuals, tribal leaders and organizations, officials of the Catholic Church, and representatives of the City of San Diego. All listened, some to understand and others to respond. I too listened to their hurts, pain, frustration, and anger. At one such meeting I listened for three-and-a-half hours to all the Kumeyaay representatives. I chose to stay and listen to my Kumeyaay people and not be like the others who came to listen but could not stand the pent-up heat from so many years of being voiceless. I encouraged them to speak their minds, and after all was said and done one lone voice said, “OK, where do we go from here?” That was all I wanted to hear: it was their invitation for continued dialogue, an opportunity to be able to meet and speak again with my Kumeyaay people.

The first event in January 2019 was the opening ceremony where dignitaries from all cultures were present at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, except for the Kumeyaay. I was disappointed, but as my oldest son reminded me, there were five other Kumeyaay there, my sons, and my grandchildren. I spoke as one Kumeyaay voice from many others who should have been there. I offered a sage blessing to all those attending and for the coming year of commemoration.

From this opening event came many invitations to speak to groups and organizations interested in knowing more about the history of the Kumeyaay people. In February was Heritage Weekend where representatives of many peoples were invited to the mission to celebrate and share their cultures. The Spanish were present, the Franciscans were present, and the Kumeyaay were present in peaceful protest. I educated many on the Kumeyaay people that day, as did the protesters whom we welcomed and encouraged again to voice their grievances and tell our story about our people and the mission. Many Kumeyaay spoke, and it was good. This event led to my invitation to take part in a protest against the opioid crisis that has a stranglehold on our native community. I showed up and walked in protest with my people down the streets of Alpine for this important cause.

Next was the Scholar’s Symposium in March. I was invited to speak on the Kumeyaay people and their history with the mission. I learned from other speakers’ vast knowledge and years of experience collecting and deciphering fact and artifact from our ancestors and those they encountered. With this experience I was able to confer and confirm my personal understandings with the likes of Richard Carrico, author of Strangers in a Stolen Land, a phrase I often use to describe the plight of my people. On April 11th, 250 years after the arrival of the San Antonio, the replica tall ship San Salvador sailed into the harbor. This event, like the first, had the Kumeyaay present; only this time they discussed how we were treated after the San Antonio landed 250 years ago. This was a memorable event in many ways, especially as Chairwoman Erica Pinto and Chairwoman Angela Elliott Santos of the Kumeyaay Nation courageously spoke out for a future of healing and reconciliation.

I too pray for the same, so that the Kumeyaay people can continue on their red road in a healthy and good way. This is what I pray for all people: that they may be healed from all their past iniquities so that they may continue on their road of life in a healthy and good way. These events we have experienced have opened doors of opportunities in the deeper sense, opportunities to heal as a people, a culture, a community, a city, a state, a nation. My reflections bring a question for us all: do you and I have the courage to let go of the past, thus allowing us to step forward into the future as was always intended for us? For me I choose to learn from the past, to let go, and to heal and reconcile because life is short. The past is gone and the future is now! Aho!