James Ramos celebrated his election just the way you would expect from the first California Native American elected to the California Legislature: Singing bird songs, dancing and promising social justice to his constituents.
He was sworn in by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Saturday, Feb. 9, at an impressive ceremony at the Santos Manuel Student Union at California State University, San Bernardino — a building named after Ramos’ great-great-grandfather, a tribal hero.
Cal State President Tómas Morales welcomed Ramos, who earned a bachelor’s degree there before earning a master’s at the University of Redlands.
“When I received by bachelor of science degree here at California State University, San Bernardino, I went home and told everybody, ‘I’m an official Coyote.’ My family members told me, ‘Well, you were born a coyote. That’s our clan. You didn’t have to do all that work, since you were already a coyote.’”
There were speeches by Rep. Pete Aguilar and three Assembly members praising Ramos as a freshman legislator who gets right down to business. Aguilar said he has known Ramos for about 15 years.
“Throughout my time on the Redlands City Council and now in Congress, James has always been a devoted partner dedicated to working with me to improve the region that we grew up in,” Aguilar said.
He added that Ramos is a “proud product” of San Bernardino public schools, graduating from San Gorgonio High School.
Ramos is a former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and served as a San Bernardino Community College District trustee. He represented the Third District on the county Board of Supervisors from 2012 and was elected to the Assembly on Nov. 6.
He was officially sworn in on Dec. 3, the first day of the 2019-20 legislative session. But Saturday’s ceremony was a chance for fellow Democrats to lavish praise on him and for his family, tribal people and local supporters to cheer his accomplishment.
Early in the program, Ramos was on stage singing Big Horn Sheep Songs with six other tribal members. Near the end, he was up there again singing Intertribal Bird Songs with a couple dozen, dancing excitedly at times.
Ramos thanked Morales for allowing the celebration to be held at Cal State.
“To be sitting inside a building that was named after my great-great-grandfather Santos Manuel — the first building named after a Californian Indian leader in the state of California is right here at Cal State University, San Bernardino,” he said, drawing hoots and hollers.
The building was named after Santos Manuel because of the atrocities that pushed the tribe out their sacred territory.
“In 1866, there was a 32-day battle that took place in the San Bernardino Mountains,” he said. “A militia was formed here in San Bernardino Valley to go into the mountains and rid the mountains our people.”
Men, women and children were killed.
Santos Manuel, a Yuhaaviatam tribal leader, safely led the remaining clan down to the valley floor, never to return to that way of life again, he said.
Only 30 tribal members survived and a village was set up where the National Orange Show now sits. The tribe moved to Highland where Base Line and Victoria Avenue intersection is today, not far from the San Manuel Casino stands and where a 14- to 17-story hotel is being constructed.
They later moved into the foothills, where the San Manuel Indian Reservation was established in 1891.
“To be able to be inside the building named after Santos Manuel, who was not only persecuted out of the mountains … to be here today, it’s a historic time,” Ramos said, his voice rising. “That now we finally have a California Indian representing in the state Assembly.”
The crowd clapped and hollered, but Ramos was just warming up.
“The presence of the Indian people not only on the reservation and the voice that they share throughout the community … California is home to more individual native people than any other state in the nation we finally have a voice in the state legislature!”
Ramos thanked his dad — who once picked oranges in Highland and was there to see his son sworn in — for the work ethic he instilled in his children.
“That’s the thread that brings us together to fight for everyone because we know what it’s like to be forgotten,” Ramos said. “We know what it’s like to make that voice be heard, we know what it’s like to move people forward, the whole community working together. And that’s my dad.”
Dad got a round of applause.
“There’s more to get done,” Ramos said, his voice louder still. “There’s more to get done together as a community, to move people forward, to make sure that we’re representing our district, the 40th Assembly District.”
Ramos vowed to work with his colleagues in the Assembly on the issues that are important to the district such as jobs, education, homelessness, homeless youth, mental health, public safety, small business and social bullying in schools.
“We need to make sure we have the resources,” he shouted. “We’re going to make sure that California has a voice for all of our people.”
This brought the clapping crowd to their feet.
Ramos the saluted Robert Levi, who taught tribal members the bird songs, then put on an energetic performance of several songs.
The San Bernardino Pacesetters Drill Team & Drum Squad put on a thunderous performance before leading the crowd to the dining room for a reception.