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Navigating Identities: A Conversation with River Garza

7:30 PM - 8:30 PM on Thursday, May 18, 2023
Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles

In March of this year, How to LA host Brian De Los Santos (he/him) visited his country of origin, Mexico — a place he had not lived since he was two years old. As Brian put it, he “wanted to see my abuela, experience mi tierra, as many call their homeland.” It was a special trip, but not an easy one to take.

Brian is a recipient of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. As an undocumented person, it has allowed him to get a driver's license and a work permit, but his whole life he was never able to leave the U.S. That is, until he went through the arduous process of applying for “advance parole” — a travel document that allows people under DACA to travel outside of the U.S. for work or school or for a family emergency, like visiting relatives who might be ill or getting older.

Even though he had not set foot in Mexico for 30 years, he felt a deep and lasting connection to it. Now, having been there to explore his roots, meet family and grapple with his identity as an Americanized Mexican, that feeling of “home,” in Mexico, will always be with him.

Artist River Garza (he/him) was born and raised in Southern California and has been steeped in the customs and ancestral beliefs of his Tongva and Mexican heritage since birth. He says his “artistic practice is inseparable from his Tongva heritage.” His tribal community, the Ti’at Society (named after the Tongva canoes used to navigate the Southern California coast and the Channel Islands), has helped him maintain a connection between the past and his present.

On May 18, as part of a special partnership with the Autry Museum of the American West, Brian and River will talk about the ways in which their cultural identities shape and inform how they show up in the world. They’ll explore how they keep traditions alive, honor their past, and how that makes them who they are today.

Arrive early and take a stroll through the galleries —open late just for us—to view the Autry’s Waterways exhibition, featuring River’s Water: Bringer of Life & Community. dublab DJ Encarnación (she/her) will spin music starting at 6:00 p.m. and the Trail Grill will be open for food and drink purchases.

This event is part of Site & Sounds - an experiential live event series, curated by LAist, and centered on site-based discovery.

What questions do you have for River Garza and Brian De Los Santos?
Your question may be asked at the event.


The City of Angels has been (mostly) good to me. Yes, I’m that friend who — sometimes annoyingly — reps L.A. hard. And maybe that paid off? I’m the host of the LAist Studios podcast, How to L.A. It’s a dream job for this city boy. I get to help Angelenos discover, explore, affect change and connect with our beautiful — yet complicated — city. I don’t have all the answers, but let’s find them together. As an Angeleno via Mexico (I was born in Veracruz, Mexico and came here when I was 2), it’s important to me we tell the stories of our unique communities here in L.A., and we reflect them accurately. Fun fact: I was an intern in our newsroom when I was 21. I returned to our news organization in 2014 — working in digital and audio — and then was back again in 2021 as editor of LAist. I’ve spent hot summers in the 818, lived in KTown where a waft of delicious food is constant and grew up near West Adams/Mid City at a time when racial tensions were high in the 1990s. When people ask me why I love L.A., my answer is simple: It’s not the beautiful mountains, Hollywood or skyscrapers, it’s the communities and their stories that make living in the region a rich experience.

River Garza is an artist from Los Angeles,CA whose work draws on traditional Indigenous aesthetics, Southern California Indigenous maritime culture, skateboarding, Graffiti, Mexican culture, and Low Rider culture.

My artistic practice is inseparable from my Tongva heritage. I am an amalgamation of centuries of resistance, forced assimilation, and resettlement and my work reflects those disjointments of memory, tradition, and identity. My practice focuses on how differential treatment under settler governments construct Indigenous identities. I employ physical layers of cultural artifacts in my work, such as oil, spray paint, pen, and Western magazine cutouts which integrate Tongva ancestral iconography and contemporary experiences. My work acts as a critique of settler capitalism while exploring how the literal and metaphoric layers of colonialism add weight to contemporary Indigenous identity that is both painful and a source of creativity. Visual sovereignty is another critical aspect of my practice. Due to my tribe’s lack of access to our traditional land base, visual sovereignty, the act of creating work free of the demands of the Western canon, becomes a crucial site for the practice of tribal sovereignty and for the perpetuation of our collective memory. Through artifacts and artificial physical landscapes, I create sites that are sacred spaces and begin to reclaim Tongva sovereignty and provide an imagined future where my people can exercise their full right as original peoples of this land.


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