EastBay Today

Posted April 25, 2017

Anthropology Exhibit Shines Light on Native Family, Past to Present

Cal State East Bay’s C.E. Smith Museum of Anthropology explores the history of Hayward

A collage of images from the exhibit "Against All Odds: Native Californian Stories of Endurance & Continuance."

With 150,000 residents, Hayward is sixth-largest city in the Bay Area — part and parcel of its rapid growth in outlying communities, and the region’s reputation at the forefront of tech innovation and culture.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Before it was called Hayward, the area was home to untold generations of the Jalquin, an Ohlone/Bay Miwok-speaking tribe, who began experiencing tremendous change when the Spanish founded, and built with native labor, Mission San Jose in 1797. The Spanish also introduced cattle grazing and began outlawing practices that had been intrinsic to indigenous people’s survival, for instance land-burning, which was used to increase the health and numbers of plants and, in turn, the animals the Jalquin relied upon.

In short, the native way of life slowly disappeared, and today, though countless local residents share lineage with the indigenous tribes of the area, few have preserved their culture — or share it.  

But Cal State East Bay’s C.E. Smith Museum of Anthropology hopes to change that. Through the story of a five-generation, 60-plus member family and its elder, Ruth Orta, a descendant of the Jalquin/Saclan Ohlone/Bay Miwok tribes, a new exhibit at the museum sheds light on this foundational aspect of Hayward’s past.

“My mom was so proud of who she was and always told me, ‘Don’t you ever forget that you’re native,’” Orta, 82, said in an interview with Bay Area News Group.

The exhibit, “Against All Odds: Native Californian Stories of Endurance & Continuance,” details Orta and her family’s tribal and ancestral history, giving visitors insight into indigenous life in the East Bay along the way.

“Despite more than two centuries of upheaval, suffering and change since the colonization of their homelands, this family continues to bring their cultures forward while living as modern Americans,” said Dr. Beverly R. Ortiz, exhibit adviser and former Cal State East Bay cultural anthropology professor.

Curated by Cal State East Bay students, the display is the result of two years of work gathering family mementos and cultural objects from the Orta family, and interviewing members of Orta’s seven children, 17 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren. It was made possible through the university’s A2E2 Student Success Fee and a $10,000 Cal Humanities grant, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Visitors to the exhibit will take a virtual tour of ancestral and family places, watch how traditional foods and cultural objects are made and learn about the family’s daily lives from the early 20th century to today.

“Against All Odds: Native Californian Stories of Endurance & Continuance” is open to the public Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., now until June 9 on the fourth floor of Meiklejohn Hall. A special, interactive cultural event will take place Sunday, May 7, from 1-4 p.m.

For more information and details, visit: http://class.csueastbay.edu/anthropologymuseum/current_exhibit.php