I Was Born a Stranger in A Strange Land
The land of my physical birth is an alien land to my very recent ancestors. The land that my infant body descended upon in this terra nova belongs to the “Gabrieleño-Tongva” peoples who occupied Los Angeles, the “City of the Angeles.” The City of the Angeles was not originally inhabited by “angels” as the European Spaniards named it, for in those days of old, there lived on that land earthlings. The “People of the Earth,” the original inhabitants living in Los Angeles County, have occupied it for at least the last 3500 to 5000 years, and some conjecture perhaps as far back as 8000 years.
So America, and my “home”-town of Los Angeles, is not a literal terra nova, a “new land,” except to me. It is terra antigua, an “ancient land.” An ancient land whose soil was fed by the blood of indigenous peoples whose ancestors were very different than me and mine. On the other hand, though technically born in Los Angeles and having spent 52 of my 55 years here, I still abide as an alien in it.
Where is Home?
If my infant body was birthed in the back of a cab, would that make the cab my “home?” Or, if my infant body was birthed on an airplane flying over Guam, would that make Guam, or the jet airplane my “home?” I no more belong to the City of the Angeles than she belongs to me. I do not (literally or figuratively) own an inch of land there. In Los Angeles, and in the Americas as a whole, I have been and remain to this day a stranger in a strange land.
I currently possess two pieces of paper that claim I am not an alien there; my birth certificate and my passport. Yet, those words are inked upon paper extracted from trees that are not from my people’s land. The laws behind these papers are merely ideas pulled from thin air– as permanent as a breeze. The ancient Babylonians and Romans had numerous laws written down that regulated their world and those ideas floated away into the air that bore them. Those ideas, being mere thoughts and beliefs, passed away with the death of those foolish enough to believe them.
“To Live and Die in L.A.” — Tupac Shakur
I first tried to leave Los Angeles to escape its hostility towards the presence of my body when I was 19 years old. I worked my ass off as a cook in low grade restaurants, saved the money, and went on a 4000-mile solo bicycle tour of the Western United States.
Specifically, I heeded a call of my spirit to travel through the reservations of the Peoples of the Earth, the original inhabitants of the Americas that survived the Conquest. A self-imposed “rites of passage,” trying to make sense of why my mind and body did not feel at home in my alleged “home”- town.
4000 Mile Bicycle Tour Through Hostile Territory
I peddled my bicycle through the land of the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache, the Dinetah (“Land of the Navaho”), the Mountain Ute, the Shoshone Nation, the Blackfoot Nation, and many other reservations and peoples along the South West, Rockies, Plains States, and North Western States.
The land was harsh, beautiful, and stunning. Yet, it nearly killed me with lighting storms, and sand storms with winds at 70 miles an hour. I got heat exhaustion and dehydration that nearly drove me to drink my own urine, and made my skin swellwith pus from the sunburn. Three weeks later, I got hypothermia in a freak snow storm in the San Juan Mountain Range.
I was too dense to get the message that the land was graciously trying to tell me the first week on my bicycle tour. When peddling through the Navaho Nation, I ran out of sunlight and had to camp off the road in some eerie ravines slit into large mounds of sand. At twilight, a flock of ravens kept cawing at me, screaming at me—to go. The whole night I felt an extremely hostile presence in that ravine. I could not sleep, so I stood guard. At times I cried. I hit the road at the first light of dawn. Not far down the road that morning I encountered the ancient walls of some Anasazi Indian ruins. A large community of people had lived here about a 1000 years before. My ancestors were not among them. I was here uninvited in their ancestral lands.
Africa is Calling
My wife, who is of African-American and Blackfoot Indian heritage, was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the racism and murdering of Black people in the United States. “I am going to Africa,” she told me one night. I had always wanted to go there. We had recently both written books and I had started a publishing company. We decided to travel in Africa promoting our books.
Our plane left for Ethiopia a few days after Donald Trump was elected president (we had already bought the tickets regardless of election results). We were both literally getting mentally and physically sick living in a land where the lives of Black, Brown, and Red peoples were treated as less than nothing.
In Tanzania, we visited a secluded river and water falls near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. My wife took these waters into her hands, holding it as gently as a new born baby. “I am home.” She baptized herself in the clear pure waters of her ancestral homeland. She has not been the same since. A healing has taken place in her life, one that I envied.
“London Calling” —The Clash
Later we had to fly to London for business at one point. Being of mostly Irish heritage, I had no desire to go to England. I strolled to the nearby park one cold morning to do my daily Qigong and Tai Chi training. As I was walking among those trees in the rain, hearing the bird’s cries and the winds whispers among the trees—I felt deeply at home. I felt a healing beginning to come over my body, my spirit, and soul.
To my surprise, I found out months later from my son’s genealogical research, that my father’s grandfather, though of Irish heritage, was born in London. I already knew my mother’s mother was of English heritage.
Later, I had very similar experiences in Ireland. My family and I visited the majestic 5000-year-old Irish Megalith “temple-tomb” of Poulnabrone, near Galway, Ireland. My whole time in Galway County, I felt something happening to me that I still an unable to put into words. The earth, the water, the mists, the sea, the plants, the rocks, the mud, the sky, and the rain all were healing me on some cellular level.
I felt almost like I was in a dream world or trance the whole time I was there near Galway. Something deep inside was changing in me. As a complete surprise to me, I found out months that my father’s mother and family were from “Contae na Gaillimhe” (In Gaelic) — Galway County, Ireland.
“Got to Go Back”—Van Morrison
It is time for us to find our true homes, among lands that welcome our bodies and souls. Among lands whose soil and air can heal our mental and physical illnesses. The terra antiqua our ancestors knew, whose trees and water caress our cells, and transmit a healing balm that makes us feel nurtured, energized, and loved. A place called home — where we are no longer strangers in a strange land.