Nicolas Rosenthal. Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles.
Nicolas Rosenthal provides a thorough American Indian perspective and incorporates the story and role of American Indian peoples in the history of the Los Angeles community. This book is about bringing an awareness of the evolving identity of American Indian people. Many Indians do not just live on the reservation; rather, many American Indians have been impacted by federal policy and negotiating power and agency. Understanding the evolving identity of American Indians and the impact it has on these communities is important, as Rosenthal states: "Without adequate assessments of American Indians and the relationships they have to cities, policy serving American Indian populations is bound to be ineffective, whether it is formulated on the local, state or federal level, by government officials or by Native people themselves" (8).
A brief overview of some of the chapters is provided to provide insight into the subject areas that are covered in this book. In the first chapter, "Settling into the City: American Indian Migration and Urbanization, 1900-1945," Rosenthal tells the story of the migration of American Indians in the Southwest and California Indians to urban areas and places where labor was needed before World War II. He talks about the struggles of the tribal communities to have a consistent and vital economy on their own homelands after European settlers came in and harvested the land and diverted the water for irrigation. The types of jobs that American Indians would find themselves in ranged from agricultural, industrial, and service sectors. This migration to cities and areas where labor was available also meant that tribal members would migrate back to their own communities for their seasonal harvest or ceremonies. During this time, the establishment of the Sherman Institute resulted in more local California Indians and tribal members from the Southwest going to school there. Many then attempted to move home, but with limited employment at this time, some would find themselves back in California, working in the cities to make a living for their family. Rosenthal describes stories of inaccuracies in the counting of Indians in the city due to the neighborhoods they lived in to the phenotypic features of being mixed with other races. This narrative depicts the migration and journeys many American Indians found themselves in to make a living for their families while maintaining their cultural identities.
In chapter 2, "Representing Indians: American Indian Performance and Activism in Urban America," Rosenthal describes the emergence of American Indian performers in roles from live performances to becoming American Indian actors. The emergence of western films in the United States and an interest in the culture and "history" of contact with American Indians birthed the live performances and film industry. The challenges that American Indian actors faced included having to compete with non-Indian actors, who were often chosen over them and paid more. American Indian actors who came from the reservation often chose this opportunity to work in lieu of the restrictions imposed on them on the reservation by the government. Live performance was a way to continue cultural traditions that were restricted on the reservation or threatened from being lost, as in Florida and Hawai'i. Other ways that American Indian actors found to advocate and support one another was to create organizations like the War Paint Club and American Indian Actors Association. The American Indian Actors Association was successful in advocating for better wages and acknowledgment of using more accurate depictions of American Indians. As American Indian actors became more known they were able to utilize their power and influence to become activists for Indian civil rights and to serve the greater Los Angeles Indian communities.
In chapter 3, "From Americanization to Self-Determination: The Federal Urban Relocation Program," Rosenthal discusses the history and impact of this federally imposed program, which was designed to assimilate tribal citizens away from the reservation. The program began in the late 1940s and continued to the 1970s. Over 155,000 American Indian women, men, and children were relocated to urban communities and cities. When the program was first started the goal was to remove Indian males or single Indian females from the reservation to the urban communities only by first fulfilling certain criteria. Those who met these criteria were able to relocate directly or for the purpose of adult vocational training to gain employment in the city or towns near the reservation. Those who relocated were encouraged to fulfill certain standards of living. In the 1970s self-determination really took place, so that urban Indian centers were able to advocate and provide opportunities for free health care and social services. Urban relocation programs provided opportunities for tribal members to leave the reservation and find a means to make a living and gain new perspectives.
This book provides insight into the evolution of the American Indian population in the Los Angeles area, dispelling prior inaccuracies that this movement did not take place during World War II or relocation but had begun in the early 1900s and before by local California Indian tribes and Southwest tribal members. The American Indian urban community in Los Angeles had to negotiate the existing norms of society as well as find ways to maintain their cultural identity and provide a sense of community they had left behind in their home tribal communities. Reimagining Indian Country would be of interest to historians and to Native studies professors and students as well as anyone interested in better understanding the history of Los Angeles infusing the American Indian perspective and involvement.
Robin Minthorn, University of New Mexico