Thanksgiving from the Lived Experience of an Indian

Thanksgiving collage from Sunnie Whipple

Thanksgiving collage by Sunnie Whipple

by Sunnie Whipple, former co-chair of the LACDMH Cultural Competency Committee (2018-2021)

Have you ever wondered?

  • A turkey’s head is bald without feathers, so why don’t we call it a “Bald Turkey;” compared to an eagle whose head is covered with feathers, that gets called a “Bald Eagle?” This makes no sense.
  • Everyone is thankful, except the turkey who gets eaten. So, thankfulness is dependent on whose stomach gets filled—although the turkey’s stomach gets filled with stuffing, so it can’t be thankful cause it’s dead.
  • My grandson is part of a new generation getting his culture instilled in him through ceremonies like name-giving at the Sundance, or sitting with a drum group at powwows, which is consistent with his love for the turkey drumstick.
  • Why are we not more thankful to the Creator for providing? We often just think about the food.
  • Indians who celebrated Thanksgiving…I’m one of them, but not necessarily like others think. And I don’t mind being called “an Indian.” I’ve been called an Indian all my life. I don’t mind celebrating Thanksgiving either. The food is good and so is getting together with family and friends.

So How did I celebrate Thanksgiving at home as a boy? Let me tell you.

As a boy, Thanksgiving wasn’t a big celebration. The attitude of the dominant culture was primarily negative toward us Native Americans (still called Indians back then), and we were more interested in keeping our family and community alive. In an era where reservation settlement, forced relocation, assimilation efforts, termination goals, and everything was “cowboys versus Indians,” (and the Indians usually lost), there wasn’t that much to be thankful for other than the presence of family and a deeper understanding that the Creator was still looking out for us. We never had a problem being thankful to God. We were thankful to survive the oppressions we faced and for having each other. There weren’t that many jobs on the reservation so the economy was bad and most families had to depend on food commodities. Along with an introduction to alcohol, which affected the well-being of many families, we went from being independent hunters and gathers, to being dependent on the federal government.  So, we just didn’t get very connected with the history or the celebration of Thanksgiving.

read more…

National Recovery Month: Locked Up from Employment

Mental Health Burden and Financial Stress Cycle

The cycle of mental health stressors and financial burden; image courtesy of Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

by Johana Lozano, Cultural Competency Committee Co-Chair

Finding work is an overwhelming task for anyone. However, it is a distressful journey for individuals who have a behavioral condition and a history of incarceration. Discrimination, stigma, and mental illness caused from being in a correctional institution all contribute to low hiring rates. As a peer specialist at the Peer Resource Center, Laura Kerr uses her lived experience to help citizens of Los Angeles County find meaningful employment. Her group, entitled “Work Readiness,” is more than just a handout. This support group provides career pathways, guidance, and training to improve upon basic job serving skills, understand employer expectations, and learn life skills needed for self-sufficiency.

“There is such a thing as work etiquette that we often don’t know about,” said Kerr.

As part of National Recovery Month, she wanted to emphasize the importance of learning how to earn, manage, and spend money when people have a history of imprisonment. A former participant of her group who is now fully employed at an esteemed entertainment company spoke highly of his experience.

“The group provided a great support system that kept me engaged and accountable. They genuinely cared and knew what I was going though. She checked in to see why I had stopped coming to the group. That was really helpful,” the participant, who wanted to remain anonymous, said. Within one year on the job, the participant was promoted twice and received a bonus at work.

If you would like to learn more about this gathering or want to participate, please contact Laura Kerr at LKerr@dmh.lacounty.gov

Information about the group is listed below:

1 to 3 p.m. on 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the Month (audio only)
+1 323-776-6996
Conference ID: 612 716 535#

Food for Thought

squash, tomatillos, and chiles at farmer's market

by Johnathan Maravillas, Community Member

Through food, we are exposed to the culinary artists’ culture and way of life. Similarly, to cooking competitions like Master Chef and the Great British Bake Off, I joined a competition where the chefs had to use solemnly native Mesoamerican ingredients. This opportunity came during a time in my life when I was connecting with my native roots. As a native of the Wixárica subtribe from Nayarit, Mexico, I want to invite you to find your element in Mesoamerican cuisine. Here are some vegetables whose origins you might not have realized: Squash, chiles, tomato, tomatillo, zapote, avocado, and papaya are native to the Mesoamerican region while peppercorn, cilantro, aloe vera, rosemary, lettuce, and garlic are foreign to the Americas.

Cooking the traditional cuisine of my ancestors is part of my self-care. My recovery journey started when I realized my family was not spared from generational trauma. My great, great grandparents were taught to hide and deny their Wixárica roots to prevent persecution and death. Thankfully, I have stopped the pattern and no longer pass down the shame my parents battled with for years. My son embraces his identity and takes part in native activities. Both my wife and I use traditional ways of cooking and farming that were passed down from our ancestors. We share this knowledge with our son and neighbors. From making ovens from adobe, to participating in a temascal (Mexican sweat lodge), we continue to persevere and heal our family and communities. I leave you with some food for thought. How has your cooking helped others? What dishes do you identify with and are close to your heart? What Mesoamerican ingredients will you eat today?

Jonathan Maravillas is an East L.A. native and entrepreneur. He runs his own business cleaning windows and homeschools his son along with his wife in the tradition of native wisdom. They were part of the Native Based Cultural Center which is now closed. His family is working to start a new center to teach native practices of Mesoamerica free of charge. To get involved, please contact Mr. Maravillas at (323) 404-4730.

Untitled Poem

photo of cats

by Youth Community Member Aisha Ketani



I am grateful for these colors

Because they are the colors of my cats

my cats who swing their bats

as they go into combat.

Ah I love my cats

Gratitude starts with my cats.



The Evolution of Juneteenth

Juneteenth Flag

Juneteenth flag designed by Ben Haith (“Boston Ben”) & refined by L.J. Graf; learn more about this flag’s symbolism here.

By James Coomes, LCSW, Olive View Program Manager and DMH-ARDI Staff Advisory Council member

I wanted to share with you a little bit about Juneteenth, which was recently celebrated on June 19th, 2022, the second year that it is officially recognized as a Federal holiday in our nation’s history. Juneteenth was established on June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, when Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived at the end of the civil war. The civil war had ended two months prior and the emancipation proclamation had been signed two years prior. It took this amount of time for Union soldiers to reach Galveston Texas and inform those enslaved on plantations that they were now free. It is my understanding that three days of celebration erupted and included food, dance, music, culture, and family.

I’ve been celebrating Juneteenth for the last 15 years myself. I go to a church in Pasadena called Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, and we have been working really hard within the denomination for the past 25 years to address issues of racial equity, justice, and inclusion. It is a liberally religious denomination, but it like a lot of the work we do, struggles with institutionalized structures that have not necessarily been welcoming to all comers. A small group that I’m involved in called Neighborhood People of Color decided we wanted to have a Juneteenth celebration every year. We spend a Saturday cooking ribs and chicken for the entire congregation and community members. On Sunday we reheat, cook hot links, and invite the community to bring potluck dishes. This has easily become one of my favorite events at my church and it’s become a really important community event for our congregation.

We took this on in part because we wanted to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company and reach out to the larger community, stigma-free, to participate in this national celebration. Over the last three years, Juneteenth is taken on additional significance. We have collectively experienced issues of racial inequality, hostility, and pain in the Black community and in other communities of color. Last year the federal government named Juneteenth a federal holiday, and many labeled it a second Independence Day. Doing this was significant to acknowledge the experience of African Americans, and has lifted up that that despite not having universal acceptance, it is important to acknowledge this history and these struggles and where we are at in American culture. This month, we celebrate Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month. Although Juneteenth happened last month, we wanted to take a few moments to just acknowledge this important day and its important time in America’s ever-evolving history.

My Struggles as an Immigrant

Flowers and Light House
by Mercedes Moreno, LACDMH Cultural Competency Committee Member

I was born in El Salvador, Central America.  My mother was a single parent raising five children, four daughters and one son.  I was the eldest of the family.  From the moment I was born, I never used shoes until I was nine years old.  My brother began working and he was the one who bought me my first pair of shoes.  We lived in a tin roof home with walls made of palm leaves from coconut trees.  In the winter, thunder and lightning would scare me because the strong winds would blow away the palm walls of our home.  We would end up drenched and without a home as a result of these relentless storms.  I remember the yard would be inundated and it would all turn to mud.  There was no drinking water, restroom, or electricity.  But I had fun playing in the rain and playing make believe with my friends.

When I was four years old, I was very sick from diarrhea and as a result, my belly grew large, and my legs became swollen.  After a stay in the hospital, my legs returned to normal, but my belly stayed enlarged.  In first grade, I went to school barefoot, at least until my brother was able to buy me my shoes.  When I was ten years old, I was in charge of chores at home while my mother worked.  My three older sisters attended school.  During this time that I was alone at home, I was sexually abused by a neighbor.  As a result, I could no longer attend school during the daytime, I had to attend night school due to the societal norms that looked down upon me for having been raped.

As a teenager my stomach was still large.  When I was fifteen years old, I fell in love with an older married man.  I had unprotected sex and ended up pregnant.  I had no clue how children were born.  I thought they were born out of one’s mouth.  I ended up leaving my home because I was scared.  I did not inform the man I was with about my pregnancy.  I went to look for work in the state capital.  After my child was born, I returned to my mother’s home and decided to look for the father of my child.  He denied that my child was his stating that it had been several months since we had intimate relations.  I then filed a petition for him to pay child support, but he never paid a dime. read more…

A Brief History of Our LGBTQIA2-S Pride Flag

Progress Pride Flag 2021

June is Pride Month! You may have seen different kinds of Pride flags at community events and parades, outside people’s homes, on crosswalks, and even raised over Capitol buildings throughout the country. Flags are sociopolitical symbols of community membership, unity, and visibility. Over the years, the Pride flag has evolved to promote greater inclusion and recognize the many communities that celebrate Pride. Read on to find out about the history behind this imagery.

Rainbow Flag

You may be familiar with the rainbow-striped Pride flag. In recent years, this flag has been updated and expanded to represent the intersectional diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQIA2-S) communities.

Before rainbow-striped Pride flag, many LGBTQIA2-S communities used a pink triangle as visual representation. This was adapted from badge that gay prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps. Perhaps the most well-known usage of the pink triangle symbol was by ACT-UP during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Other symbols used by LGBTQIA2-S groups include green carnations, purple hand prints, Greek symbol lambda, blue feathers, and ace playing cards. read more…

About Pride Month

by Rebecca Gitlin, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and LGBTQ+ Services Specialist

June is Pride Month, which is a time to uplift and celebrate sexual and gender diversity in our communities. For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit (LGBTQIA2-S), and other sexually and gender diverse individuals, Pride Month is a reminder of the importance of visibility, community, and acceptance. This month also represents political resistance for many LGBTQIA2-S community members, as we continue working toward a society that is free from discrimination, bias, and victimization toward diverse genders and sexualities.

Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which took place in New York City. At the time, police harassment toward LGBTQIA2-S community members – drag queens, sex workers, and transgender and gender non-conforming people in particular – was not uncommon. LGBTQIA2-S bars and other gathering spaces were often at risk for police raids and mass arrests. On June 28, 1969, patrons at the Stonewall Inn responded to a police raid with resistance, leading to five days of protest and other political action. The Stonewall Uprising is credited for spearheading the Gay Liberation Movement, which ultimately led to modern-day LGBTQIA2-S liberation movements.

Less known, however, are previous acts of resistance against police violence by LGBTQIA2-S communities in California. In May 1959, patrons at Cooper Do-nuts, a popular hangout for LGBTQIA2-S communities on Main Street in downtown LA, responded to police harassment with resistance and public protest. This is sometimes credited as the first uprising by LGBTQIA2-S communities in the United States. In San Francisco, an uprising occurred in response to police harassment of transgender patrons at Compton’s Cafeteria in August 1966. Just a few months later, a protest at the Black Cat Tavern (which still stands in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood) in response to police harassment and brutality represented one of the first and largest organized public protests for LGBTQIA2-S rights in the country. read more…

Thoughts on Covid

Orange Flowers

by Guadalupe Aguilar

Each day may seem like the day before. You don’t know which day of the week it is or even what month you are in. It is day 145 since this pandemic invaded our world, or could it be day 500, it felt like it. Some days I wanted to cry (and I did), some days I just laughed and some days I wanted to scream.

My mental health was off the hook the first couple of weeks, I will admit. I found it hard to breathe. And as the days turned into weeks and then months, I closed my eyes and I acknowledged all that I was feeling-anxiety, stress, a bit panicked and scared. And as I processed these feelings, I transported myself to the ocean and in my mind, I could hear the ocean waves, remembering how the sand felt between my toes. In the ups and downs of this pandemic, there were good days and bad days.

It is important to accept what you are feeling, let it go through you, let it OUT. But through it all, ask yourself what is it that is most important to you. For me, it is my family, husband, sons, extended family, close friends, the treasure of memories of loved ones no longer here. read more…

What Works for Me and My Mental Health

Multicultural Mosaic Image

By the LACDMH Cultural Competency Committee and Sandra T. Chang, Ph.D., ARDI Division – Cultural Competency Unit

With a strong acknowledgment of “May is Mental Health Month”, the LACDMH Cultural Competency Committee (CCC) took the initiative of sharing their members’ favorite practices to promote personal mental health. All these coping strategies have been bundled as a gift from the committee to all Los Angeles County communities with a very special message:

  • Each life matters, our lives and wellbeing matter
  • Our physical and mental wellbeing require active acts of kindness coming from ourselves for ourselves
  • It is when we take good care of and love ourselves that we can best love and take care of our families, friends, and others around us

“What Works for Us May Work for You” read more…

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About This Blog

The project has its roots in the Cultural Competency Committee’s “Share your Culture” initiative introduced by Co-Chairs, Mr. Sunnie Whipple and Ms. Bernice Mascher. This initiative engaged community members, consumers, family members, peers and staff alike in presenting on different aspects of their culture; thereby fostering cross-cultural learning, understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation.

The Cultural Traditions and Connections Blog came out of the need to connect with our committee members, inclusive of consumers, family members, peers, advocates, community members, colleagues and co-workers. It was fueled by the need to tell everyone that we care about what is happening within our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, and our world.

We can all share and find nurturing connections by engaging in reading heartwarming articles and reflections that help us relax our tired minds, draw smiles across our faces, and comfort our spirits with a sense of collective caring found in the richness of who we are as human beings.

This blog’s content is managed by the members and staff of the Cultural Competency Committee.

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