Angie Dorame Behrens, a respected elder of the Los Angeles basin area, Gabrielino Tongva tribe, takes through a tapestry of early #WestLosAngeles, sharing her unique journey through the lens of both her #Indigenous #Tongva and #Mexican heritages. Her stories traverse decades and provide a rare and special glimpse into her journey as an Indigenous woman— truly Native to the coastal West LA area.
“You have to understand; The sides of Olympic were not paved. They were dirt roads,” Angie Behrens said. Olympic Boulevard and Federal Avenue looked a lot different when Angie was born 86 years ago in the “Sawtelle area.” Angie is a Native American activist. She is native to West Los Angeles in the truest sense. Angie was born on the land, but is also of Gabrieleno-Tongva descent.
“Where I lived, It was a varrio back then, but everything’s gentrified,” Angie said. She not only has memories of the first iterations of modern West L.A., but Angie’s descendants were the original inhabitants of Playa Vista.
“We’re really Playa Vista; A Village of Guashna,” Angie said. “We never sold our land and we never gave it away. My ancestors were taken to the (San Gabriel) mission as slave labor. They were the ones that built the mission.” The name “Gabrieleno” comes from the natives that were rounded up and forced away from their lands onto the Mision de San Gabriel Arcangel.
Angie is just one generation removed from when Indians went through casual bold-faced violence on a regular basis; as opposed to the bureaucratic colonization that would come later when the U.S. government would use racist laws and financial strategy to take away land. She recounts a story her uncle told her when U.S. cavalry men rode up on horses and slaughtered their livestock and put holes in their water supply before they rode off.
The racist laws that said Indians could not own land were a big reason that many people would claim to be Mexican, but Angie’s father made a point to instill that sense of Indian pride.
“We wouldn’t go to Olvera Street, we’d go to Topaa’nga!” Angie said, using the proper dialect, as she reminisces about her day trips to Topanga Canyon with her father as a young girl.
Something Angie talks about frequently is the blurred lines when it comes to Indigenous people and Californio Mexicans. These confusing divisions are something that remain to this day. While Angie’s mother was of Mexican descent, her father was Indigenous and she was raised more in the Indian culture. As an adult, Angie went through the proper channels and documentation to be a part of her tribe.
📸 & ✍🏼: Rigo Bonilla | @Snaccmanjones