By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
To talk about her heritage, Louise Miranda Ramirez fishes out a green binder thick with documents from a pile of papers in her San José home. In the binder she has photocopies of a family tree that goes back to the 1770s, when the Misión San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo was established near Monterey.
Ramirez’s grandmother was Chumash. Her great-grandparents were Esselen, and they were all given Spanish names by the Franciscan missionaries, who had come to Alta California to support the military expeditions of the Spanish government. These are documents that Ramirez, chair of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, needs to have handy in order to prove her lineage and be taken seriously.
“Nobody believes us. If you can’t prove who you are, the cities are not going work with you, the cities don’t even want to meet with you,” she said. “If you are registered with the Native Heritage Commission, they’re supposed to accept us and that’s that. But they always want to know” what kind of proof she has.
Ramirez scored a great victory for her tribe last year, when she was able to convince top Army officials to have the remains of 17 of her ancestors reburied in the Presidio of Monterey – at the site of an ancient village. It was a process that took her almost one year of direct work but more than a decade of lobbying and knocking on doors.
On Sept. 25, she scored another victory when Native American Month was recognized at the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, a ceremony that had not taken place in 24 years. She will also be recognized on Nov. 8 in San José by state Assemblymember Ash Kalra.
“It’s important,” she said. “It shows that we’re acknowledged in our homeland.”
It’s also an opportunity for Ramirez to feel her ancestors as she speaks in their language (something she learned not long ago) and tells her family stories. For the music of her forefathers to be heard in a public space. For her ancestors to come back to life for a brief moment in time through words and songs
“I especially feel the Ancestors when we are receiving and/or reburying their remains. It’s like a happiness inside out of control. It’s worth the fight,” she said.
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