By Rudy Villaseñor
Though straight history lessons may be boring, new life has been breathed into the past by way of props, photos and drawings. Now the ancient Indians of Chula Vista are admired for their superior survival skills, Spain’s Father Junipero Serra is momentarily resurrected, and the ghost of Governor Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California, lives once again.
Local historian Peter Watry has written a well-received presentation on Chula Vista’s diverse history rooted Hispanic culture. And to date, it has been shown 42 times at local elementary schools since the beginning of the year.
Watry wrote the 45-minute presentation under the wing of the Chula Vista Heritage Museum, but the former Southwestern College professor believed he might have a hard time reaching elementary school children. So Watry searched for somebody whose enthusiasm would be downright infectious.
Enter Jill Galvez. Under the No Child Left Behind policy that dominates the educational system, Galvez is concerned that math and English skills have been emphasized at the expense of other subjects like history, art, and philosophy. She was all too happy to be the speaker for Watry’s presentation at the elementary schools.
Their efforts with the program will be recognized on channel 13 (XUPN) on Saturday, July 31 at 6:30 p.m. when her partner, Peter Watry, is honored by the California Lottery Big Spin as their monthly Education Hero. Galvez had submitted Watry’s name for the honor without his knowledge. “So we ended up in Hollywood and had a grand time thanks to Jill,” wife Susan Watry said. “None of this would have happened had it not been for Jill.”
“Many children know about the TV program Survivor,” Galvez said. “But I always tell them that the Chula Vista Indians were the true survivors.”
These Indians survived in an area without trees. They ate bitter tasting acorns, grass seeds, fish and rabbits. They conked the rabbits over the head with a stick called a rabbit stick. (A rabbit stick is sort of a boomerang that only flies one way.)
And, though technically less advanced than their Indian cousins of the midwest and east coast, California Indians not only survived they flourished. Their population became more dense per square mile than all other Indian tribes in North America. Perhaps this has gone relatively unknown to Hollywood because they were generally peace-loving people. “You never see them in movies because they never killed General Custer,” Watry said.
Spain comes into the picture as an animated Galvez puts on her Conquistador warrior helmet and displays Spain’s flag.
Cattle were introduced to Chula Vista during this period of time and the children listen, awestruck as Galvez shares with them ideas hard for them to believe. Nobody could own land in Chula Vista except the King of Spain! Trading wasn’t allowed with foreign ships docked in San Diego. Everyone was forced to depend on the King for their livelihood.
But things changed when Mexico breaks from Spain in 1821. A Mexican ranchero hat is placed on Galvez’s head as she covers Spain’s Flag with Mexico’s flag. “They all cheer when both the Mexican and American flags are turned over,” Galvez said.
The governors owned land and had the authority to give it to whoever they wanted. Foreign trade was plentiful and the economy flourished. “When Mexico took over, things really began to boom,” Watry said.
The 10,000 year Chula Vista history continues through modern days, moving through the Great Depression where Chula Vista’s then lemon-based economy protected the citizens. And the population of Chula Vista exploded during WW2 when many new jobs by Rohr arrive.
Galvez said that Chula Vista is currently in its bedroom community phase, a time perhaps less dramatic than Indians, kings, spanish missions, rebellions, wars and Manifest Destiny thinking. But with Watry’s writing and the vigilent Galvez these times could be every bit just as interesting.