Celebrating Tongva Culture: A Creative Journey of Preservation and Empowerment


Norine Holguin

6/16/20232 min read

In a lively celebration of California Native American Day, the center pays tribute to the remarkable talents of two incredible Tongva artists - Mercedes Dorami and River Taco Garza. Get ready to be captivated by their awe-inspiring artwork and the profound messages it carries.



Mercedes Dorami: Weaving Stories Through Tradition

Meet Mercedes Dorami, a gifted Tongva artist whose creations breathe life into traditional baskets and jewelry. Drawing on her Tongva ancestry, she brilliantly navigates the complexities of visibility and cultural construction through her art. Dorami's pieces have found a home in prestigious museums like the Hammer Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, showcasing her immense talent and dedication to preserving Tongva culture.

During the American Indian Study Center's celebration, Dorami's exceptional work was recognized, and she shared her passion for preserving and promoting Tongva culture. With materials like feathers, fabric, and natural elements, Dorami infuses her pieces with traditional designs and techniques. But her art goes beyond aesthetics; it confronts crucial issues such as environmental degradation and cultural appropriation, sparking conversations for positive change.

River Taco Garza: Connecting the Past to the Present

Prepare to be amazed by the creativity of River Taco Garza, a Los Angeles-based artist of Tongva and Mexican descent. A proud paddler and member of the Tiat Society, Garza explores the essence of Tongva maritime culture in his contemporary artwork. He masterfully blends traditional indigenous aesthetics with influences from graffiti, Mexican, and low rider culture, resulting in striking and thought-provoking pieces.

During the celebration, Garza's art took center stage as he shed light on important issues through his creative expressions. His works often feature Tongva canoes, symbolizing the deep-rooted connection between the Tongva people, the land, and the sea. Just like Dorami, Garza's art becomes a powerful tool for advocacy, tackling topics like social justice and sovereignty.

Honoring Indigenous Contributions and Struggles

The American Indian Study Center's celebration embraces a broader vision - recognizing and honoring the invaluable contributions of indigenous communities, especially the Tongva people, to California's history and culture. Through insightful interviews, the PDF unveils the minds and hearts of artists like Votan Henriquez, who collaborate on murals that celebrate traditional village sites and indigenous languages.

This exhibition sheds light on the ongoing struggles faced by indigenous communities and emphasizes the importance of respecting the traditional caretakers of the land. As visitors immerse themselves in the vibrant artworks, they can't help but be moved by the collective effort to preserve, promote, and empower Tongva culture and heritage.


In a dynamic celebration of California Native American Day, the American Indian Study Center at UCLA brings together the extraordinary talents of Mercedes Dorami and River Taco Garza. Their artwork serves as a bridge, connecting the past and the present, the traditional and the contemporary. Through their powerful creations, they champion the preservation of Tongva culture and the recognition of indigenous voices.

As the PDF concludes, it leaves us with a sense of awe and wonder, inspiring us to reflect on the richness of indigenous heritage and the ongoing journey toward respect and understanding. The center's dedication to honoring and celebrating the indigenous peoples of California, particularly the Tongva people, ignites hope for a future where cultures are cherished, and traditions thrive.

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