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First Person: San Diego Tribal Elder Turns 100

Joe Renteria on July 7, 2017.

Photo by Michael Lipkin

Above: Joe Renteria on July 7, 2017.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Soon after Joe Renteria was born 100 years ago in Emporia, Kansas, his Cherokee parents placed him in a Catholic orphanage. Renteria does not know much about his parents' lives, but he believes they gave him up because it would have been a struggle to keep him fed and healthy.

Renteria says he was the only non-white child at the orphanage, which made him a target for bullies. He was transferred to a state orphanage, which he ran away from after two years, spending time as a hobo and later working for a traveling circus. He served 20 years in the Army and Navy and later ran the photography lab at San Diego State University for more than 30 years.

It was not until Renteria came to San Diego that he began to think about his heritage. But he was a quick study and was soon leading groups including the San Diego American Indian Health Center and the Indian Human Resource Center.

As part of our First Person series, Renteria shares what kept him motivated since running away.

Special Feature First Person

KPBS Midday Edition's First Person series tells the stories of average and not-so-average San Diegans in their own words. Their experiences, both universal and deeply personal, offer a unique lens into the news of the day.

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