BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A single long streak of tear duct juice flowed down either side of my face as, per their request, I and the rest of the audience joined in the welcome song/chant that the threesome of Chumash (indigenous people of coastal California) recited at the June 9th opening of the new inter-agency Anthony C. Beilenson visitor center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
This facility has been (arguably) 30 years in the making. It is the product of cooperation among the National Park Service, California state Parks, Santa Monica Mountains conservancy, and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. It is the converted barn of the King Gillette (inventor of the safety razor) ranch. Be sure to visit it. Not only is it informative, but it has also received certification as a Platinum LEEDS building— in plain English, it is very environmentally friendly.
But it almost didn’t happen. After Gillette died, the property changed ownership a few times and prior to its acquisition for the public, was in the hands of Japan’s Soka University. That institution proposed to build a campus for 5000 or 6000 students on the property. This triggered an extended struggle for the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains where this ranch sits. Finally, the good guys won, though at great cost, tens of millions of dollars. Now this property is part of the 55% of Santa Monica Mountains land that belongs to the public for all time. Former congressman Beilenson’s name is on the visitor center because of his commitment to this project—he carried the legislation that created the national recreation area.
But let’s get back to the Chumash. It turns out the location of Telepop, one of their villages, is King Gillette ranch. Any digging is done with them and archaeologists on hand in case artifacts or human remains are found. Now, here were three Chumash, despite the generally brutal history of European settlement and expansion in the Americas, welcoming us all to their home.
I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between the abuse Native Americans and Armenians have suffered. Luckily for the former, the U.S. has had the decency and maturity to (admittedly slowly and as yet incompletely) work on reparations to the indigenous peoples. Unfortunately for Armenians, our abuser, Turkey remains unrepentant and stuck in the invader/marauder mindset of its founders.
I couldn’t help but hope that one day we too will be able to welcome formerly genocidal Turks as neighbors on OUR home lands. Don’t you?
And maybe the tear duct juice will flow again…