Visiting the Urban Rez

On a recent rainy Saturday I grabbed my umbrella and coat and headed to the Los Angeles State Historic Park.  It wasn’t exactly the best weather to head outdoors but I had been given a ticket to the latest performance of Urban Rez – an interactive outdoor play. Honestly, I didn’t want to go and trolled the company’s twitter feed hoping the rain would cancel the performance. But, as they say “the show must go on” and there was no cancellation in site. So, I forced myself out of the house and headed outdoors.


Have you been to the State Historic Park? It’s an interesting place. Nestled between Chinatown and an industrial area it’s a strip of land with not a whole lot happening. Or I guess I should say seemingly not a whole lot happening. I just checked the website and there’s a lot of historical elements to see and now I want to go back and check them out. Anyway, that’s not why I was at the park that day. I was there for the Urban Rez.


I’m fascinated with all aspects of Southern California culture. I love learning about the rich history of the area and the various peoples that came together to make Los Angeles the vibrant place it is today. So when I learned about Urban Rez  – an interactive tale of the attempt to put together a new Native American tribe in LA – I was intrigued.

I arrived at the park shortly before the performance and waited with a group of folks huddled under umbrellas. Soon we were led to the Urban Rez – a circle of minimalist booths offering various insights into native culture. Some where tongue in cheek ( Xavier’s Guilt Reduction Booth – offering opportunities to alleviate white guilt) while others were serious (Red Circle Project – an HIV prevention program for Native Americans). I wandered around and was most struck by a display on the Indian Relocation Act. Embarrassingly, I was completely unfamiliar with this attempt to lure Native Americans from the reservation to assimilate in the big cities. This display was one member’s personal account of his family’s connection the act which brought them to Los Angeles. It was a heartbreaking insight into the continuous displacement of native peoples.


Soon the performance began around us as the folks manning the booths turned out to be the actors in the play. Traveling from the “rez” to the stage and back they told the tale of a young Native American’s attempt to avoid prison by creating a local tribe in 24 hours. For the next couple of hours we were in the midst of a tale that gave insight into Native American’s continual struggles with the federal government, their feelings of displacement in the city and what it really mean’s to be an American Indian.


To me, a piece of art truly succeeds when I find myself thinking about it long after I witness it. This was the case with Urban Rez. I couldn’t forget it. Now, that’s not to say it was perfect. At times various plot points were performed simultaneously around the audience and I had a hard time following along. Despite that I was immersed in this story of what it means to be a Native American in 21st century Los Angeles. It may be a story filled with struggle and sorrow but it’s also a tale of resilience, passion, and (to state the obvious) love.  I’ll never forget my visit to the Urban Rez.


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