Assemblyman James Ramos seeks to be the voice of Native Americans in California – Press Enterprise
The San Manuel reservation on which Assemblyman James Ramos, D-Highland, grew up is a far cry from the one that overlooks Highland and San Bernardino today.
“I lived in a mobile home back then,” Ramos said.
James Ramos sings a Cahuilla bird song at dusk on Thursday, November 18, 2021 at the San Manuel Preserve. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG) He graduated from high school in 1985. Many of the tribesmen had moved away from the poverty of the reservation, but the family of Ramos and others stayed, trying to make money by any means possible: selling cigarettes, renting stables for horse owners, and operating food stalls to sell fried bread and soda to riders.
Then, in 1987, the United States Supreme Court effectively legalized tribal casinos in the landmark California v. Cabazon Band of Indians. Everything changed for the San Manuel Band. Mansions with infinity pools have replaced mobile homes on the reserve.
“But make no mistake: there is still a lot of need in Indian country,” Ramos said.
Memories of his youth led Ramos into politics, first in tribal government and then on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
When Ramos ran for county supervisor in 2012, political ads asked if he could run for non-tribal office. It was a matter settled by Congress nearly a century ago with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
“Then I was attacked being called ‘casino boss’ and all these different things,” Ramos said. “And that’s where you start to do a lot of soul-searching.”
“What’s worth it and going through all these things is standing up for that voice that hasn’t been heard,” he said.
Serrano’s story is now taught at San Bernardino Valley College. The board of trustees transferred 30 acres of land near Joshua Tree to the Native American Land Conservancy to preserve ancient Native American petroglyphs at Coyote Hole. Ramos intends to introduce a bill in the next legislative session incorporating more Native American history into the social studies and history curricula for public school students.
In 2018, he was elected to the California State Assembly, becoming the first – and currently only – Native American from a California tribe in the state legislature.
“Wherever we go, we are always trying to create a better place for all of us. But I think one thing is just to be grateful, okay, grateful where we came from, where we are now. And never forgetting that people have sacrificed their lives for us to be here. And it’s the voice we continue to raise, in everything we do.