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article imageOp-Ed: California's first female rebel is brought to life on the stage Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Aug 26, 2014 in Entertainment
San Gabriel - Inspired by the distant echos in Early California History, playwrights Andrew Morales and Matthew Lovio decided to go one step further in the annual depiction at the old Mission of San Gabriel.
They wanted to bring to life the lesser-known account of Toypurina,California's first native-American woman rebel. Each year the community honors the usual hallmarks of the Mission's past, such as Franciscan padre, Junipero Serra. Yet as playwright Andrew Guiding Young Cloud Morales explained, "It was over a year ago during the time of the rehearsals of the Mission Play. I approached Jonathan Salisbury, the play's director and pitched the story idea of Toypurina."
"I felt that it was an opportunity of perfect timing, he said, because the Mission Play was based on the life of Father Junipero Serra." "And, Morales noted, it was the beginning establishment of the California Missions, where as Toypurina’s life and the revolt that took place during the mission period was after Father Serra’s death." "You can almost say that Toypurina’s story is a take off after the Mission Play," said Morales.
Salisbury agreed, when he verified the origins of the production. "I first came to Toypurina's story via my co-writers Andy Morales and Matthew Lovio." "They took part in the the new version of the Mission Play I directed last year at the Mission Playhouse for the Centennial of the City of San Gabriel," said Salisbury.
"I had never heard of Toypurina before and knew very little about the Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe (as I am from the United Kingdom). I found out very quickly that very few people here knew about either of these subjects too." Fascinated, Salisbury wanted to know more and was eager to encourage collaboration on the project.
"Toypurina's story really struck me for several reasons," Salisbury said. "The first was the direct connection to the area in which I work, that the revolt (which took place more than 200 years ago) that she led took place literally around the corner at the San Gabriel Mission." "Also, he said, that this was a story about a strong woman. My impression of Native American culture, growing up in England as I had, was that it was the men who were the leaders, the fighters." This too, noted Salisbury, I learned was not necessarily the case. In general, in the culture here in the US and in many other nations, the hero culture is very male-centered."
Anna Cross is the director of the playhouse which featured the ground-breaking original play  Toypur...
Anna Cross is the director of the playhouse which featured the ground-breaking original play "Toypurina."
Courtesy of Mission San Gabriel Playhouse
"We have dubbed the production "A story of love, determination and loss," said Salisbury. "I'm interested in investigating the realities behind the story, he said, looking not just at the wider historical context." But, also the personal motivations of those involved in this heroic and tragic story." "I was struck by the brutality of the colonialists, said Salisbury, and by the lessons that the story holds for us today in terms of religious tolerance, the problems of doctrine, the effects of colonialism and - through my collaboration with the tribe - how a people can hold onto or recover it's culture in the face of the insistence of a dominating one."
Even though the account of Toypurina and of the revolt at Mission San Gabriel is documented, Morales mentioned some of the obstacles. "As a writer, I would say revising the script with numerous rough drafts is difficult." "Like most writers, said Morales, I feel that the script has to be perfect." "As far as production, I would say the most difficult aspect to the work is getting the funding."
Andrew Morales and Matthew Lovio are the playwrights of  Toypurina  a story of love  determination a...
Andrew Morales and Matthew Lovio are the playwrights of "Toypurina, a story of love, determination and loss."
Courtesy of and Mission San Gabriel Playhouse
Salisbury confirmed yes, "really, raising the money to do the show has been the biggest challenge." Yet, Salisbury really saw how important the story was, even if it was a difficult one to tell. David McLaughlin of the California Missions Resource Center who encouraged this reporter to find out more about the little-known Toypurina, noted that often the sentimental and ideal view of the old Missions as out-posts of Spanish culture and Franciscan hospitality and Christian virtue are a bit stretched. He applauds the playhouse's ground-breaking effort. "It is important for people to know the facts and to have a more accurate understanding, rather than some simplistic view."
Morales admitted that taking this bold step into a subject seldom examined by an audience was not easy. "At first, I was a little nervous that the story maybe controversial, he said. "And, I don’t want to offend anyone." "but I was surprised, he said, of how some of the community came forward and wanted to support this project." "And, that Included my family, friends and the tribal council," he said.
Salisbury is very pleased with the production, even with the obstacles, as he said, "I feel deeply honored in being able to help the Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe to bring this story to a wider audience."
Morales and co-writer Matthew Lovio are also honored to have had the opportunity. "There are heroes and heroines in all cultures around the world," said Morales. "Toypurina was a brave woman who fought to free her people from the abuse her peoples by oppressors."
Morales noted further, "She carried the royal bloodline of the chief. She was a powerful shaman and a healer."
This is a contemporary rendering  muralist Judy Baca  of what some researchers and historians believ...
This is a contemporary rendering, muralist Judy Baca, of what some researchers and historians believe Toypurina of the Mission San Gabriel native tribes looked like at around age 25.
Courtesy of David McLaughlin and California Missions Resource Center and courtesy of SPARC murals
She was engaged to marry her native husband and had a baby boy with him, but her baby was taken from her after the revolt had failed. According to official records the baby died. She was exiled and forced to marry a Spanish soldier. After having four children, she later died at a young age, (age 39). "This is her story of Love, Determination and loss," Morales said.
While some historians question the point of view that in her new life as soldier's wife in Mission society in Early California, that she was in exile. Professor James Sandos of Southwest University of Redlands noted, "she (as Regina Josefa) followed her husband in his assignments; she was not banished." She was, as Sandos pointed out, from the Christian perspective, reborn in her baptism in Christ. She then married and followed her spouse."
Perhaps, as official records say. But from the Native-American perspective, which is rich with its own understandings and deeply held believes, is that all? It is clear she agreed to convert or as like author John J. O'Hagan points out, was "clever enough to save her own life by converting to Catholicism." For in the official documents she expressed anger that the Franciscans and the conquistadors took away the Tongva people's land and way of life. And, that she was willing to fight back.
But in her converted life as Regina Josefa, who can say for certain that her training as a shaman did not live on in some way? What about the deeper aspects of her and of her people that were expressed in ways not written down or officially documented? As co-playwright Matthew Lovio noted, "our people did not all die out, we are still here."
Morales is pointing to that and this is why even after over 200 years Toypurina's story emerges from obscurity. "The lesson we all can learn from her story is the morals of our human nature," he said. For more information about the stage production of Toypurina's life, visit the Mission San Gabriel Playhouse web site. Or, to help support this groundbreaking production, visit the "Toypurina, a story of love, determination and loss" web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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