Simpler Times Here, by Anita Susan Brenner

“This is the story of our foothills and those who once lived here.

Before the Spaniards came, one native tribe lived all over what is now Los Angeles County. They lived on the islands off the coast. They lived in Glendale. They lived up in the Foothills. These natives called themselves the Tongva, which means People of the Earth.

Back then, the climate was mild. Food was abundant. Life was good.

The Tongva gathered seeds from wild plants. They fished and hunted. They made robes and clothing from wild deer and other animals.

After the Spaniards came, the Tongva were conquered. They were forced to construct local missions. The Tongva no longer traveled freely, but along the way, they learned to farm and to grow crops.

The Spaniards brought a new nomenclature. They named the mountains and islands after angels, saints and martyrs. Gabriel, the archangel. Monica, mother of Augustine. Anne, who died for her faith.

The river became Porciuncula, for an Italian chapel filled with angels. The Spaniards had never seen this chapel. They had never even been to Italy but they wished to honor a saint, so they named the river after their patron’s chapel.

The city became La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciuncula. Porciuncula means the smallest portion.

The smallest portion went to the Tongva. The Spaniards gave the Tongva a new name. They became the Gabrieleños. For the mountain. For the mission. For the saint.

This is their story.

Toward December, there are mornings when the fog drifts up from the ocean to cushion our valley in white mist. The story of the Tongva is like that — enshrouded in mist. Their ancient story is simple. We know that the Tongva believed in a deity. They believed that their god created the world in an unusual way — with a song.

In the days before the Spaniards came, the Tongva honored their god. They traveled down from our mountains. They floated down the river on cloudy mornings and sunny afternoons.

They traveled for miles to gather at their ancestral home, the exact spot where the world was created.

The Tongva gathered together at the exact spot where mists deflects sunlight and sunlight pierces mist. We know where it is. It is near the present site of Cal State Long Beach.

They gathered as a community. They gathered to give thanks. They gathered to honor their god who created this world with song. They sang.

Today, in our foothills, we also seek community. We travel long distances to be with the people we love. There are houses of worship, clergy of every denomination.

We gather together to give thanks. We do so with words and, like the Tongva, with song.”

-Excerpt courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, Glensdale News-Press, “Brenner’s view: Simpler times here,” by Anita Susan Brenner, November 23, 2007. (top) Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, “Los Angeles as it appeared in 1871,” by Women’s University Club of LA, 1929

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