‘SEMINOLE-MAROON DESCENDANT’ — Community historian and performance artist Phil Wilkes Fixico speaks at a Black History Month event Feb. 27 at the AC Bilbrew Public Library. Fixico, who is featured in the “IndiVisible:African-Native American Lives in the Americas” traveling exhibit and companion book, explained to those in attendance how he discovered he was a “Seminole-Maroon descendant.”
March 11, 2010
BY DARLENE DONLOE
Phil Wilkes Fixico’s life is more dramatic than virtually any soap opera.
It took him about 52 years to find out who he was after growing up in what he calls a “web of lies.”
His intriguing story is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” a book and exhibit that will tour the country for five years and make its Los Angeles debut at the California African American Museum, tentatively in March 2011. The book speaks to the challenges and triumphs of dual African American and Native American heritage.
A “home-grown” kid who grew up in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts, Fixico, 62, came up hard. His mother not only hid the identity of his biological father, but as a kid he was in and out of four juvenile institutions, experienced rejection, used drugs, committed crimes and witnessed domestic violence, said Fixico, who lives in Inglewood.
Fixico, a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry, and the “Seminole Negro Indian Scouts,” said he “grew up as a troubled youth because I kept bumping into the truth and half-truth.
“I knew there was more than what I was being told, but I didn’t know what it was. I certainly didn’t know it was this.”
What he discovered 10 years ago rocked his core: He is a “Seminole-Maroon descendant.” He now describes it as an “identity crisis.”
By appearance, Fixico looks like a black man to some, but he doesn’t think of himself that way; instead, he describes himself as a “Seminole-Maroon descendant.”
Seminole Maroons descendants, Fixico said, come from free black and fugitive slaves who settled in Florida after having escaped slavery by forming alliances with Native Americans. (“Some descendants take issue with the term ‘Seminole Maroon descendant’ because they feel it makes them less Indian to be connected to Africa,” he later said in an e-mail. Some prefer to use the terms Seminole, black Seminole or Seminole of color. There are also others who contend that some Seminole Maroons were never slaves).
To understand why he calls himself a Seminole-Maroon descendant is a long story that he pieced together through research.
“I don’t call myself black,” said Fixico, who is one-eighth Seminole Indian, one-fourth Cherokee Freedman, one-fourth Seminole Freedman, one-fourth mulatto and one-eighth Creek Freedman, according to a Smithsonian researcher. “The reason I don’t say black is because that doesn’t really describe the nuances of who I am. I’m a shade of black, a flavor of black.
“When someone asks, ‘Are you black?’ it gives me pause. I can’t take the same credit as someone coming out of Africa who is pure. I can’t take their same degree of blackness.”
To be clear, Fixico doesn’t have a problem with being called black or with black people.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be black,” said Fixico, who explained his mother was African and Cherokee and his father African and Seminole. “I’ve been the product of a mixture. The one-drop rule says I’m black as anybody.
“Under America’s concept of black, I’m black. But when I look at it as my own sense of self, I’m a flavor of black.”
Fixico, the grandson of Pompey Fixico, whose parents were a pure Seminole woman and a Seminole Maroon, has admittedly become a passionate advocate for positive relations between Seminoles and Seminoles of color.
At a recent Black History Month celebration at the AC Bilbrew Public Library in Los Angeles, Fixico, who created a Seminole Maroon Peace Belt to “promote positive thinking,” spoke openly about his life before an audience.
In recent years, the public historian and performance artist has made it his mission to pass on the history and the knowledge of his true heritage.
“I don’t want others to go through what I went through,” said Fixico, a widower and father of eight (one is deceased). “Once I found out about my heritage from family members on my father’s side, I promised that I would speak 300 times for the ancestors. I promised that I would take their story to the nation.”
Not only has he spoken about his story and his birthright hundreds of times to various groups, including local schools, but it is now included in the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit and companion book “IndiVisible African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” published by the National Museum of the American Indian. His is one of 27 essays included in the tome.
“We thought the story was compelling and also that it was appropriate to feature a story about his experience because he had uncovered his tribal roots to the Seminole,” said Gabrielle Tayac, historian at the National Museum of The American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. “What was intriguing is that many people in the African American community don’t have a full understanding of their genealogy.
“He always felt there was something missing. Now he has a more complete picture of himself and his identity. What we found is that this kind of story, that yearning, is something very representative of many people. It was compelling to link him to a broader history. Through him we were able to look at the story of the Seminole.”Discovering his roots has been no easy task for Fixico. But he trudged on because he felt it was his duty.“I want to be the catalyst for a cultural renaissance similar to the Harlem Renaissance, where this part of our history is told for the first time and it tells about those people who wouldn’t say ‘Toby,’ who gave creative resistance to the slavery and whose story was unreported or underreported,” Fixico said.Tayac, who was the general editor on “IndiVisible,” said the book offers a more complete understanding of the American experience. “We don’t really hear a lot about Native and African Americans coming together. It’s a story as old as the country. It preceded the country. It’s important to understand that the histories are so intertwined. “We have the notion that perhaps people of color can only be understood as part of white history. That is so not the case.”When asked if he was proud of what he’s discovered and his efforts to promote harmony between Seminoles and Seminoles of color, Fixico took a moment to reflect.“You know that’s a very good question,” he said. “If you mean, am I black and proud and loud — no; I’m not like that. It’s just what it is. “It’s like a record that I have to set straight. Because it fell to me it’s like a hole was cut out of my heart. Now, I have to at least make an impact. After that, I’m fine. Let someone else come and do better than me. I’ll go fishing or salsa dancing.”
For inquiries or to book Fixico for a free community seminar, contact him at refixico@ aol.com.
The 2011 Inter-Ethnic Relations Awards
Winner: Journalist, Darlene Donloe
Darlene Donloe is a seasoned entertainment and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, Black Meetings & Tourism, L.A. Watts Times, and more. Her publicist career began in 1990 after she received a phone call asking if she was interested in being Nelson Mandela's publicist during his Los Angeles visit.
In "Phil Wilkes Fixico — A True Native Son," Darlene Donloe informs readers about one man's intriguing journey to discover his identity. This story is important for readers because it reveals one aspect of relations between African-Americans and Native Americans, which is not seemingly discussed in the Black community.
2011 Inter-Ethnic Relations Awards
Sponsors of the Awards
The Los Angeles Multicultural Leadership Network (LAMLN) is composed of leaders from business, media, nonprofit, and philanthropic organizations. LAMLN meets to discuss significant challenges and solutions for the residents of the greater Los Angeles area. One of LAMLN's goals is to foster better communications and understanding amongst the many racial and ethnic groups in greater Los Angeles.
New America Media (NAM) is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. Over 51 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries and to America through 3000+ ethnic media, the fastest growing sector of American journalism. Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with offices in Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., and partnerships with journal- ism schools to grow local associations of ethnic media. Learn more at newamericamedia.org.
"better understanding and more frequent dialogues among ethnic groups"