Someone San Diego Should Know: Martha Rodriguez

Ana Gloria Rodriguez, known to friends as Martha, lives in San Ysabel and is a member of the Kumiay Nation from San Jose de las Zorras, known as Mat’perhaw. It is between Ensenada and Tijuana in Baja California. The Kumeyaay Nation of San Diego County have relatives in the Kumiay communities of Baja California, and the tribes have been reconnecting and building a stronger relationship for many years.

Rodriguez is a local leader who is committed to improving the international community of the Kumeyaay and works tirelessly on many fronts. She was born and raised in San Jose de las Zorras and lived there until she was 18. Eventually she moved to Mexicali, where her hard work as a preschool teacher and honoree as “Best Teacher Award in Baja” led to a job at the district offices. Later, she married Stan Rodriguez and moved to Santa Ysabel more than 20 years ago.

Her native language is Kumiay. “I was always bilingual. I always liked talking to the elders, hanging out with them, asking questions, and learning about peon games and songs, and how to make baskets. My mother always shared lots of stories, and when I moved to the U.S., I heard the elders tell the same stories. I felt like I was at home because it is the same community on two sides of the border.”

She continued to work in education at Sycuan-Viejas and then for the Sycuan Kumeyaay Cultural Center as the interim director. There she helped create displays at the Center and at the US Grant Hotel. She led cultural exchanges with the Yaqui Nation and other nations, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and was developing an exchange with the government of Australia when COVID interrupted it. She always looks for ways to educate the public on tribal customs and culture.

Tipey Joa/Native Warriors is another brainchild of hers. It is an international grass-roots organization of the Yuman groups that focuses upon health, education, and culture. “We bring together all the Yuman tribes like Hualapai, Maricopa, Havasupai, Paipai, well, all the parts of the Pai (she jokes) including the Kumeyaay, to encourage the people who live outside of the reservation to help the people on the reservation and to also empower the youth.

“Our goal is to help natives on both sides of the border, but right now there is a greater need in Mexico, so we donate food, clothing, blankets, and toys to the people in Baja.”

The pandemic has hit hard the native communities. “With COVID we worked with the Aduana/border officials to take cleaning supplies and masks to Baja. We went to most of the reservations in Baja, but unfortunately, many of us got sick with COVID, so we had to curtail our activities.”

Martha Rodriguez is a dedicated community leader, and she has now opened a new store in Old Town, called Kosay Kumeyaay Market. “My mother, Gloria Castaneda, was a traditional basket maker and was one of the first people to learn Spanish. She started to move the arts and crafts in Ensenada by buying and selling arts. After she passed, many of the artisans asked me to help them sell their wares, so now we have this store where you can buy traditional Kumeyaay arts made by artisans from Baja and San Diego.

“The Kumeyaay presence is here as it has always been. We didn’t disappear 500 years ago. We educate the public about our culture. It’s a great feeling to know we are helping the public to understand.”

The Kumeyaay Market has a traditional house outside at the entrance and children can explore and learn. There are basketry, pottery, geography, language and culture demonstrations.

“It would be easier not to do this work, but it’s important and I enjoy it,” Rodriguez said. “My family enjoys giving to the community. It brings us happiness.”

About this series

Beatrice Zamora is a member of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board. She is a local author, community activist, and retired community college educator. She is also a lead woman dancer in the Danza Azteca Chichimeca tradition, indigenous dance of Mexico.

Someone San Diego Should Know is a weekly column written by Community Advisory Board members about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.

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