The third episode of “La Brea” season three, entitled “Maya,” featured a poignant tribute to the late Jimi Castillo, a figure of considerable repute and spiritual significance within the Tongva community. The homage, delivered in loving memory, followed Castillo’s death in April 2023, an event confirmed by a post from the Center for Service Learning, Internships, & Civic Engagement at California State University, Dominguez Hills. A commemorative gathering took place on August 6, 2023, to celebrate his life and contributions.
A spiritual beacon for his people, Castillo‘s profound impact was felt across various spheres, particularly in his work with the American Indian Changing Spirits. This organisation offers a rehabilitation programme for Native American men battling substance abuse. Castillo, as a spiritual guide, enriched this initiative through the provision of sweatlodges, fostering a supportive environment for those on the path to recovery.
Tributes poured in on social media platforms like Facebook, where Castillo’s relatives reminisced about his life and legacy. A bearer of the Tongva/Acjachemen traditions, he carried the Pipe and participated in Sun Dance ceremonies. He was deeply invested in educating others about the complex history of America and the need for reconciliation with its past. His contributions were acknowledged in 2021 when he was called upon to bless the Academy Museum, given its location on land traditionally held by the Tongva.
Castillo’s dedication to service was not limited to his spiritual pursuits. He was also a veteran, having served in the Marine Corps during a pivotal era from 1960 to 1965, which included the Vietnam War. His valour was recognised with the Warriors Medal of Honor, an accolade established by Marshall Tall Eagle Serna, another Native American veteran with an impressive 14 years of service across the Army and the Air Force. Since its inception in 2002, the medal has been embraced by various tribes as a symbol of honour for veterans and active military personnel from all cultural backgrounds.
The breadth of Castillo’s work extended into the lives of the incarcerated youth in California. As a spiritual leader for the California Youth Authority, he was instrumental in devising programmes that aimed to quell gang violence and promote conflict resolution. Through his sweat lodge ceremonies, he provided a cultural connection and a means for healing, guiding young individuals towards a path of reformation by helping them unlearn harmful behaviours and practices.
Castillo’s influence also permeated the political landscape. In 2010, he stood as a candidate for the Green Party in the race for Lieutenant Governor, challenging figures such as the future California Governor Gavin Newsom and the then-incumbent Abel Maldonado. Although his chances of victory were slender, Castillo’s candidacy was emblematic of a broader aspiration. He sought to pave the way for other Native Americans to participate in political office. His campaign platform was progressive, advocating for prison reform and the separation of the Division of Juvenile Justice from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, citing the adverse impact of teacher and mental health counsellor layoffs on the rehabilitation of young offenders.
The enduring image of Jimi Castillo is that of a compassionate leader and a tireless advocate for the underserved. His life’s work, characterised by an unyielding commitment to uplift and support those in need, has left an indelible mark on the communities he served. His memory lives on, cherished by many whose lives he touched, and now honoured in a television series that recognises his profound legacy.