Santa Clarita resident Caroline Ward Holland walked nearly 800 miles to each of California’s 21 missions exactly three years ago to honor her ancestors and raise awareness of the brutal role those institutions had in the subjugation of the indigenous people after the missions’ founder, Junipero Serra, was canonized by Pope Francis.
On Monday, Oct. 1, Ward Holland was at San Fernando City Hall along with nine other members of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, asking the City Council to recognize history and honor the area’s original inhabitants instead of the person responsible for their expulsion and displacement — Charles Maclay, who has one of the city’s main streets named after him.
“You name a street after somebody, it’s a reward,” Holland later told the San Fernando Valley Sun/ El Sol. “It’s a reward to what they did to the people.”
Maclay is credited with founding the City of San Fernando in 1874 after he purchased 56,000 acres of a land grant previously held by the estate of Spanish settler Eugenio de Celis. There were Tataviam Indians living on the land sold to Maclay who were guaranteed protection to stay on those lands by Celis and Andres Pico, brother of former governor Pio Pico. (Andres had leased some land from Celis.)
In fact, according to recent tribal documents submitted to the US federal government for tribal recognition. “Both de Celis and Pico advised Fernandeño land users that they did not have to apply for recognition of title with the 1852 California Land Commission because de Celis and Pico would secure the land and then grant the Indians their claims.”
However, Maclay did not recognize that agreement and proceeded to evict the native people.
Now their descendants want Maclay Avenue — one of the city’s main corridors — to be renamed Rogerio Rocha Avenue after one of the native people Maclay displaced.
Rocha was an 80-year-old tribal leader when Maclay tried — unsuccessfully — to negotiate with Rocha for the land. Maclay subsequently had two sheriff deputies load Rocha’s and his wife Maria’s belongings onto a wagon during a huge rainstorm, and forcefully moved them to Lopez Canyon where Rocha, Maria and their possessions were dumped on the side of the road.
Maria later died of pneumonia because of the exposure to the rain. Rocha was left to fend for himself and lived out his last years in the canyon. This account is verified by multiple articles in the Los Angeles Herald, which criticized this cruel eviction and treatment.
“So what we are talking about today is, how do we honor Rogerio Rocha? How do we honor the true founders and the true leaders of not only a place, but peoples. Bigger than ‘place’ are the people who occupy those lands,” said Pamela Villasenor Avila, executive advisor for the Tataviam tribe.
At the close of her presentation, Villasenor Avila reminded the council that the City of San Fernando was one of the first cities in Los Angeles County to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
“And now the city has the opportunity to again be a leader and show that it’s time to have historically accurate and culturally competent street names and places in order to honor the many peoples that have been here,” Villasenor Avila said.
Ward Holland told the council that her grandmother, Mary Cook Garcia, was alive when Rocha was displaced from his home.
“You can imagine that after forced assimilation, genocide, slavery, and everything the people have gone through, what that must have felt like. That trauma is still alive today when we see symbols or street signs for that matter that celebrate people who have done so much damage,” Ward Holland said.
“So I would urge you to please consider adopting the resolution to change the name to Rogerio Rocha. It will make a huge difference in our generations to come, as a huge part of healing for all people.”
Bernice Cook said that as an elder council member for the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, and a resident of San Fernando, it is her duty to request Maclay Avenue be renamed Rogerio Rocha Avenue.
“Some of us were, and are, military service members, business owners, and school children who attended our schools. We became a bunch of new members of Anglo-American society. We proudly contributed, and continue to contribute, to the City of San Fernando,” she said.
Mayor Sylvia Ballin commented there is “a lot involved” in the process of changing a street name, saying she remembers growing up in East Los Angeles when Brooklyn Avenue was change to Cesar Chavez.
“It was a long process,” she said. “I don’t think it will take as long here in the City of San Fernando, as it did in the city of Los Angeles. But more than likely, this conversation will continue because the business owners need to get involved.”
She then asked city staff if they could provide input on the city’s current process (to change a street name), to which Public Works Director Yazdan Emrani responded that currently no such process exists for the city.