History and the people who make it: Phil Fixico

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

This is the 34th in a series of transcript excerpts from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection at the University of Florida.

Phil Fixico [F] was interviewed by Ryan Morini [M] in 2012.

M: Your date and place of birth?

F: July 23, 1947. Los Angeles, California. Racially, I’m African-Native-American. Culturally, I’m an aspiring Seminole Maroon descendant, but to the people of America who see me on the street, I’m just another flavor of black.

Racially, I say I’m African-Native-American, my ancestry is a mixture of Africans that came from Sierra Leone to South Carolina. They were rice growers in Sierra Leone. They didn’t wanna do slavery so they escaped and formed an alliance with Native Americans.

In the case of my ancestry, there was a mixture and when I say that I’m an aspiring Seminole Maroon descendant, I’m not a Seminole Maroon because I didn’t do the things that qualify you to be a Seminole Maroon based on the scholarly definitions of that.

I was born in LA. I grew up around a community known as the Central Avenue Community on the east side of town.

Because there was no integration, you had a full range of people, the person who worked at the shoe-shine stand and the person who owned a business or who was a doctor or a lawyer, all within that community.

When integration came, of course, the more affluent moved out. Nickerson Garden Projects. Over the years it had been classified as one of the most dangerous projects, little houses off the alley and dirt in the yard with cans and rocks and stuff.

When we moved to Watts, the projects were new. Two story, new plumbing, green grass. Wow, it was like a plush condo. It was below poverty-line housing that someone cared enough about poor people to build. Not only did they care, somehow had fought the necessary battles that it be built.

All of the people that lived there were poor. You had two classes of people, the poor rather financially helpless and defenseless. And those among the poor who decided, I’m gonna prey on the people closest to me.

It would’ve been a great idea if they had somehow could have integrated the different socio-economic classifications of people.

When you moved in, all the children literally lined up to see what you were bringing into your house. Shortly after we moved in, a man was stabbed in the back, killed. And he bled over the back porch.

Soon thereafter, a young girl—fifteen at the most—she was raped at 7:30 in the evening in front, and people pulled their shades down, closed the door. That’s where we lost it, the predators were in control.

That’s where our culture disintegrated so I’ve never forgotten that lesson. It’s not about the buildings, it’s about the people.

M: Your parents, who were they?

F: My biological parents, I didn’t confirm who my father was until I was fifty-two. You say well how does that happen?

Well Mom was confused and she was desperate and she was just worrying about getting us out of those projects and you know she wasn’t about to be concerned about my identity.

Hey, well, if you getting something to eat and you got a place to stay. I developed an identity problem very young and I survived, but it was a devastating upgrowing, you know. Four years old, I was having night terrors.

I was raised in a web of secrets and lies, but the worst ones were the half-truths where I would think I’d have it and then I’d run into the truth and I don’t have it.

The same nightmare, night after night. We moved to the projects and so by age 8, a predator. I got two pennies and I snuck off and went to the store. And I was violently molested. I didn’t tell my mother, I told a neighbor. He told my brother who took some street vengeance on the guy. But I lost my smile, I began staring. I’m still affected by [that] [laughter].

When I was 9 I got a gang tattoo, what I was really saying is leave my body alone. My ambition was to be a hustler. Those were my heroes because they were predators but they weren’t the violent, hurt you predators.

My fantasy was, I could take a ice cream truck, not the kind that makes the noise, but that supplies the ice cream truck. I would get it and I would bring it to the projects and I would open the door and I would walk away, and everyone could just go in there. So that was my sense of self.

I started getting in trouble. By 14, quite naturally, I was in a gang, eventually I hit the wall – airplane glue, weed and wine.

I had become a plague on my family, my school and my community. My mother got us out of the projects by marrying a guy with a small business but she wanted me to call him daddy and she had never told me who my daddy was.

So it became this epic battle between me wanting to know my identity and her feeling, hey no you not gonna. So, she put me out and my mind said — huh, I could handle it because I had a gun, a twenty-five single-shot. I had a burglary kit. I had some locksmith tools but I didn’t know how to use them. Of course I had a knife.

I was put out, then [it] occurred to her, he’s a minor, I can’t put him out. So she called the police and said I ran away. Now the police are looking for me. I had already sold my gun to get money for the glue. When they drove by, I got rid of the burglary kit.

Eventually I hit the wall. I was fast discovering that I couldn’t make it in the streets. There was a lady, a big strong black woman. I did attempt to snatch her purse, she was stronger than me. She literally could have lifted me up, broke my neck and killed me. But she restrained herself [laughter]. Thank God. I’m here today. Bless you lady for letting me live.

I felt a extreme sense of shame that I had failed to be a hustler. The next day I attempted suicide. I was at my girlfriend’s house and I lock myself in her bathroom. I took a bunch of prescription drugs, drunk a bottle of iodine, which probably saved me.

So I wound up going into the juvenile system for a year. From being in jail at 14, I was in solitary confinement. I escaped. I was in the day room of the psychologically mentally problems and that is something you never forget. You got 30 people in there and they’re attempting to break you.

After I finally got through that and went into forestry camp, I was helped. The help came from professional people doing their job. I’m sure that’s why I was able to have a life and not return to what I had came from. I never forgot that.

My mother, her father was black as a 1920 telephone, with straight hair. He was Cherokee. He was a Pullman porter. He had ran off the reservation when he was 12.

I didn’t know about the Seminole Maroon side. And we lived briefly with my biological father. But she wouldn’t tell me that he was my father and she wouldn’t let him reveal that he was my father. They were doing a trial relationship when I was four to five so I remember him. Oh boy, he had problems with alcohol. Very smart.

I had an aunt who said he could pick up any instrument and play but he never could finish the song.

There was some physical abuse from him towards her. I saw the blood and I was plotting how I could take his life. But they broke up.

One morning she walked in and she just threw a sheet on the floor, she threw a few clothes in it. And she said, let’s go. She tied that sheet and we just walk right out into a cab.

I’ve just discovered that his family, they were Seminole. His father was a famous Black Seminole leader. Poppy Fixico, which is my Indian name, Poppy. But Poppy Fixico was his father and he had received an allotment for land with oil.

Within one year of that, they murdered him. The family had to take refuge in other states like Colorado, Kansas, and they did receive a considerable amount of money from it. But his mother viewed my mother as another person who wanted to come in and get some Indian money. So she shut the door on my mother.

They had to run off and leave his property. It was on a huge deposit of oil. At 52, I put together all the facts that I knew. I found family in Los Angeles and I connected with them. And then in Texas and Oklahoma, and some members in Missouri and Mexico.

When I went to one of the ancestral homelands, they put me in the parade in a limo like I was a returning son. And at the school on Seminole days I told them, I said, well sorry I wasn’t here as part of the community, you don’t know me. But I promise I will speak 300 times for the ancestors and I’ll take your story to the nation so I did it.

I was able to complete it and take it to the Smithsonian Institution, where you know, I’m featured.

That was thirteen years ago. It’s not even what I really wanna do. But I basically do it because I’m afraid not to do it.

My activism required thirteen years of research. But, it was precious to me because it was denied to me. I’ve now spoken over five hundred times. When I reach a platform where I can give my take on it, I’ll be free. I can go do what I really want to do. So.

I’m basically into the arts—music, art, theater—and I’ve come to the conclusion that one reason there are so many frustrated, musicians, actors and artists is because we do it for the wrong reason. We do it for the obvious reasons of fame, prestige, and money.

But the true value of a lot of these things is medicinal. I graduated from a two-year junior college arts school and they advised me, well, with your drawing skills you should do black family art.

What a blow to me, because I had no family that I knew of. So you know I was crushed, I went into abstract expressionists and if you do that you gonna stay home and not have no money.

I created about128 from Minimalism to Rococo using this process of attempting to take the artists out of the creation of it and then I realized, wow, this is not art. I destroyed most of them.

So I would like to do art, music, theater. But I just wasn’t able to pursue it because you had to take care of the family.

Search for “Phil Fixico” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu/collection/ for the full transcript of this interview.

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