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Toypurina is a new play co-written by two members of the Gabrieleno-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, Matthew Lovio and Andrew Morales and one honorary tribal member, Jonathan Salisbury, who also produced and directed the show. The three met as they who worked  on the re-imagining of The Mission Play at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse as part of the City of San Gabriel’s Centennial Celebrations. 

The Gabrieleno-Tongva are one of the indigenous peoples of the Los Angeles basin. They have been here for thousands of years (at least 7,000, according to anthropological and archaeological records).

Here, Jonathan Salisbury reflects on his experience in the development of the play, some months before it’s staging in October 2014. 

Since July of 2013, after they became part of the Mission Play at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, I got to know these guys and their family members, tribal members. I have been deeply touched by their trust in me and by the honor they have bestowed on me by helping them tell a story of their ancestors.

In June of this year, they gave me a further honor by bestowing on me a Tongva name: E-u’-ko soo-se-ot si-ra-va Hah-Kee Yah-rah-vit (North Star Speaks with Wisdom) at a traditional naming ceremony. With the Herculean struggle to get this play on (any play on, in fact), I sometimes wonder if I do speak with wisdom, but there you are!

They seem to me to be a very gentle people, and one from whom we can learn a whole lot about the importance of cultural identity, integrity and care of, being at one with, our environment.  The story they asked me to help them tell is of a 24 year-old woman from the San Gabriel area who led her people in a rebellion against the San Gabriel Mission in 1785. She had become sick of seeing her people enslaved, imprisoned, raped or killed; sick of seeing them subjugated by the colonial settlers, their culture suppressed and denied.

Toypurina rallied the surrounding villages and their warriors. On the night of Oct 26 (the date our play closes), the warriors stole into the Mission, but were captured by the guards. Toypurina and her compatriots were imprisoned and interrogated. Many of them received lashes with leather whips. Toypurina herself was held in solitary confinement for 16 months. Her child was taken from her and she was eventually moved 300 miles north. She was baptized with a Spanish name and was prevented from seeing her people or speaking her language again. She married a Spanish soldier (it is believed by coercion). She died at the age of 39.

The story is incredibly resonant because we are performing just yards from the scene of the actual rebellion and because – as I say – we are performing on the anniversary of the actual event.

It is important to note, this is not Catholic-bashing, or Spanish bashing, It is not about recrimination or reproach, but rather about telling a story of a people oppressed by Colonialism and one which looks at how we can learn from stories like this.

It’s also about giving a voice to a people who died in their thousands as a result of the settler’s actions, and who were almost completely wiped out. Although recognized by the State, according to the Federal government, the tribe is “extinct”.

They’re not. They are busy recovering their language and their culture, educating their youth, and protecting their ancestor’s graves from desecration. At their meetings and gatherings, they often repeat the words “e’kwa’shem” – “we are still here”. I urge you to come and experience this moving story, all the more so because it is based on truth.

Jonathan SalisburyDirector