Mamita’s House: A True Tale of Tortilla Flat

“Mamita’s House: A True Tale of Tortilla Flat,” by Lois Robin. Robin will talk about a California Indian family in transition from tribal to contemporary life as she shows photos from her book Mamita’s House: A True Tale of Tortilla Flat. They lived in a Carmel house from 1900 to 1945 in a neighborhood called Tortilla Flat during difficult times when Indians were disparaged and the Depression was endemic. Through resourcefulness and stamina, the legendary Mamita found a way for her family to thrive while retaining their Indian identity. John Steinbeck came to the house and neighborhood to gather material for his books. His first successful book, Tortilla Flat, was published in 1935, and although his book was fictional, his characters were based on those he found at Mamita’s House. The talk will include photos and descriptions of these characters. A surprise guest in the story is the infamous bandit Tuburcio Vasquez, who was related to the family.

Lois Robin, a SCAS member, is a local writer/photographer with degrees from UCLA and UCSB. But her creative life began with classes at Cabrillo College in photography and anthropology. Rob Edwards was a mentor and a consultant on her first project, a photo story exhibit, Indian Ghosts at California Missions. Happily, Rob has continued to be invaluable. Indian Ghosts was followed by an adjunct exhibit We Are Still Here with photos of contemporary Indian people whose ancestors were in the California Missions. Her photos have appeared in magazines and books including the Time/Life book The California Indian, and various textbooks. Her article about California Indian methods of birth control was published in the Encyclopedia of Birth Control. She collaborated for many years with Patrick Orozco, headman of the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council, with various types of documentation needed for his tribal purposes. Patrick’s story, I’m an Indian, but Who am I? appeared in the Journal of Great Basin Anthropology. She has attended and presented at many California Indian Conferences and has visited tribal groups throughout California to document their dances and events.

An aficionado of the California landscape, her backyard is filled with native plants used by Indian People, and her commitment to environmentalism is evident in her work as the 20-year chair of the Sierra Club’s Pajaro River Watershed Committee and her production of two videos focusing on local rivers. To some extent this diversity comes together on her website,

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