Joe Billingiere Memorial Expenses

Now I say goodbye to my father and my best friend at the same time.  Funeral expenses are costly and all the help is much appreciated.  

Thank you.


I found this today. An autobiography of a portion of his life and my heritage.

My Life

I had an unsual childhood. Not an unhappy one but an unusual one. My parents divorced when I was two years old. So, i grew up with my Mom in my grandmother's Home. I visited my Father's family from time to time. My many Aunts were wonderful to me. My aunt Val was my God Mother and she never forgot that role. Even when I was far away in the Navy during Vietnam she regulary sent "care packages" filled with Italian meats, cheeses and roles. Sometimes they were moldy by the time they reached me but my friends and I didn't care, they were wonderful.

My Dad's family came from Calabria Italy, they were very Italian and I loved them. But I was always a visitor and felt like an outsider no matter how hard they tried to treat me as family.

My Mom was selflis and worked several jobs to support us. We lived in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia known as K&A. I had lots of friends. But again, I neve quite felt that I belonged. The culture was racist and bigoted and eveyone seemed ok with that. I remember at least three times when I made friends with an African American (two beautiful women and a teacher mentor) I was seriously cirticised for it.

As far back as I can remember my Grandmother, who told everyone that she was Pensylvania Dutch, told me almost every day, "remember, we are Cherokee but we never talk about this outside of this house".
I thought that was cool and kept the secret but did not really understand why. As the years went by my Grandmother told me that her Mother an Father had lived in a villiage and were "Healers" My Great Gradmother healed people and when this made her ill my Great Grandfather would then heal her. Something happened to them and they had to leave the villiage and my Great Grandfather walked along the railroad tracks from Carolina to Pensylvania to make a new home.

My Grandmother lived in fear of people finding out about her heritage. She frequently told me that "Indians and Gypsys" had to be out of the city by sundown and that no one can ever know our secret. I thought this was odd but i respected my Grandmother and honored her wishes.

When I was about 13 years old a fullblood Cherokee and her white husband moved two house away from us. I felt a kinship while the rest of the neighbors made fun of her, called her "Wahoo" behind her back. I then began to understand my GrandMother's fears.

Nothing much changed until out of the Navy I took a class in Pre-Columbian History. I was overhelmed by this information. Then I took Post Columbian (North American) history. I can't describe how deeply I was effected by these classes and the incredible teacher, Mayo DeLaRoache. His inspiration eventually led me to a long career of teaching college.

My Mother was Psychic and I have had some remarkable experiences of my own. but that is anotheer story.

Some years later I began to have a series of events in which people singled me out and told me that I was Native. One of the most colorful events was at a biker party where I fronted off a biker that was rude to my then wife. He backed off but later my friends and I had to leave becuse we were warned they were going to "jump us." At the time I was training hard in the Martial Arts and was a bit full of my self. My friends convinced me to leave. While leaving the event we were followed by three leather clad badass looking bikers. Finally, I told everyone to go to the car an I turned and confronted the three. In my hubris I thought I could take three guys. But to my suprise they said "Whao Skin, your tribal, we got your back" I thanked them but was even more confused...what had just happened?

Recognition as a Native began to happen more and more frequently and often in the strangest places. Restaurants, on the street and in SAG Union events. Eventualy I accepted this reality and thought of my GrandMother and her struggle, out of fear, to hide her heritage. I decided that I would honor her spirit and embrace this part of me and make her proud of her Cherokee (probably Eastern Band) heritage. I have no way to trace this. I will never gain Tribal Membership, but that's OK, I honor the Spirit of my Ancestors.

I found "a home" in the Native Community. I found wonderful beautiful people. Great friends. I found a culture of such great beauty and honor. I found peace and belonging.

Today I honor my Italian Heritage and My Cherokee Heritage. I walk between two worlds and I am at peace.
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Organizer and beneficiary

Melissa Beth Balter 
Ventura, CA
Joe Billingiere