About Martin Rizzo-Martinez

Like so many living in California today, my ancestors are not from these lands, as I am a guest here on the ancestral lands of Indigenous Californians. As such, I find it important to learn about, learn from, and work in solidarity with the Indigenous communities on whose lands I live. My family came to this area from a diversity of places. My paternal grandmother and her family moved here from Italy, while my maternal grandparents moved to California from Pennsylvania after my grandfather’s service in the Pacific during World War II. But my interests in history, colonialism, and indigeneity stem from my curiosity about the history of my paternal grandfather, Santiago “Jim” Martinez, who was born and raised near Gallup, New Mexico. Our ancestors – the Martinez, Chavez, Baca, and others, trace back to early colonial New Mexico. I grew up hearing stories like rumors of our connection with Enrico Martínez, the engineer who helped to drain Lake Texcoco in Mexico City, or other stories of our connections to Santa Fe settler, Hernán Martín Serrano. My grandfather and his family moved to California in the 1920s.

As a seven-year-old child, I learned about my grandfather’s mixed blood heritage – which is common with many New Mexican families. This revelation had a profound impact on me, and planted the seeds in my young mind, leading me to ask questions about colonialism, indigeneity, race, and identity. While my dad’s family emphasized our Spanish (Mexican) heritage, I grew up wondering about our Indigenous ancestors as well. As a first-generation college student, it was these stories that drove my academic interests.

After completing my PhD at UC Santa Cruz in 2016, I became a UC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow to work with Dr. Cliff Trafzer at UC Riverside. Following my postdoc, I have been working with California State Parks as the Historian for the Santa Cruz District, which has allowed me to continue working closely with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and our other tribal partners in the region.

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