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August 18, 2022

Letter: We have much to learn from Amah Mutsun

Naka Elelleh has told one side, an important side, of the El Camino Bell story (“These bells don’t jingle,” Dec. 31). But as we know, there are many points of view and the El Camino Bells mean different things to different people. There is no doubt that the missions were cruel to the native peoples in so many ways. Do we condone that? Of course not! Unfortunately history is often ugly. It should not be erased, but seen as an opportunity to learn and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The bells themselves were a creation of a garden club in Pasadena in the early 1900s. They were meant as guideposts for El Camino Real which links coastal California. I don’t believe most people think of them as symbols of the repressive practices of the missions. In our beautiful Paseo downtown the bell is slated to be erected near the depiction of an Amah Mutsun village. The plaque beneath it will explain that it stands at the crossroads of native pathways and El Camino Real.

I have great admiration for the partnerships which the Amah Mutsun have forged with State and National Parks and UC Santa Cruz in order to perpetuate their cultural practices. We have much to learn from them. Tribal Chairman Val Lopez helped archeologist Robyn Houts create a large display at the Gilroy Museum which traces the progress of the tribe. It includes photos, artifacts unearthed by CalTrans on Pacheco Pass and artifacts from Chitactac-Adams County Park. That park is on the site of a native village and has excellent interpretive displays. Gilroy has honored Ascencion Solorzano by naming a school after her. The Gilroy Historical Society has had Valentin Lopez and other tribal members put on programs for the public twice. We think we are helping the tribe educate the public and hope that they will understand that not everyone views the bells as they do.

Connie Rogers

Member of the Gilroy 150 Committee

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