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Orange Salutes Its Mexican and Indian Heritage

June 26, 1988|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Some say Orange began 100 years ago when the township, developed by law partners and landowners Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell, received its incorporation papers.

But others take the long view. To them, California once was called Aztlan, "the place of the stork." Its citizens danced with fire, sang bird songs and roasted their corn in smoldering oak.

That legacy was honored Saturday in "Early Voices of Orange," a cultural melange of Aztec and Mayan dancing, Cahuilla singing and mariachi bands presented by the Friendly Center in Killefer Park. It was held as part of the city's centennial celebration, which will continue throughout the year but may become an annual event, said Manuel Baca, president of the center's board of directors.

Home to 20,000 Indians

Indians and Mexicans lived in Orange when the city was incorporated, "so we all feel part of the centennial," said Paul Apodaca, folk art curator of Santa Ana's Bowers Museum, whose heritage is Mexican and Navajo. Today, Orange County is home to 20,000 Indians, 2,500 of whom are descended from the California mission Indians, he said.

"Culture is a shared thing," Apodaca said. "Only when we have interest and regard for each other can we keep culture alive."

The aromas of fried bread, carne asada and burning wood mingled with the sounds of drums, bamboo flutes and trumpets as several hundred people wandered among two dozen booths. Brownies and Girl Scouts released multicolored helium balloons. Speeches were made by City Council members, including Fred Barrera, 65, who was born in a barrio only a few blocks from the park. Xipe Totec, Aztec dancers from Mexico, performed in long feathers, chachayotls (Mexican seeds) and sequined costumes.

"It's important to teach the children the old ways, to care for the elements of nature, to learn of harmony and love," said Lazaro Arvizu, 31, of Anaheim, the troupe's director. Arvizu amazed young viewers by dancing over a flame.

"He has strong skin," said Steven Dalton, 6. "Now, don't you ever do that," chided his mother, Carolyn.

Apodaca sang bird songs with Robert Levi, 69, of Riverside and Alvina Siva, 65, from Banning, both descendants of Cahuilla Indians. "Some of the words sung we don't know anymore," said Siva, who learned the songs as a child in his home near Palm Springs.

"We're trying to hang on to what little we know," Levi said. Fewer than 100 people remember the Indian songs of the Southern California desert and mountain birds, Apodaca said.

In a booth of the Eagle Lodge, a Long Beach-based alcoholic recovery program for Indians, men and women rolled out dough for what they called Navajo tacos--fried bread filled with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

Recovering alcoholics in the program noted that settlers introduced alcohol to the Indians. "Everything that was negative was brought from the outside," counselor Winslow Bull Child of Montana said.

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