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Around The World In An LA Prius: Part III

Do Angelenos really get along? With hundreds of cultural groups living and working together, you decide. From my own personal research, I doubt it’s all been kumbay-aa.

El Pueblo: Los Angeles is Established

By the order of King Carlos III of Spain, on September 4, 1781, twenty-two adults and twenty-two children established a pueblo in what would become one of the largest cities in the world. The settlement was named “The Town of the Queen of the Angels” and the people were called pobladores (or townspeople). The pobladores were to be an assistance to the nearby Mission San Gabriel, founded in 1771 as the fourth California mission.

Three years after the founding of the pueblo, two intermarriages between the Spanish and the Native American Indians were recorded. As the number of settlers grew, so did the need for Native American help. Unlike the missions, the pobladores paid Native Americans for their work, which included farming, ditch digging and being vaqueros. The pobladores also traded their wares for Native American sea otter & seal pelts, baskets, and other woven goods. Diversity in Los Angeles existed from the beginning.

But the medicine woman, Toypurina, reminded the church as well as settlers that not everybody was happy. A Tongva Indian, Toypurina used her Japchivit rancheria (the small Indian settlement) as a base to orchestrate a revolt against Mission San Gabriel. Unhappy that the Spanish took over Native American land and forbade them to continue their traditions, Toypurina and several others launched an unsuccessful revolt in 1785.

One hundred years later, Helen Hunt Jackson would tour Indian villages in Southern California and write the book Ramona, which elucidated the atrocities suffered by the Indians in California.

Today, Los Angeles houses the second largest collection of Native American Artifacts in the world at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian.

The Chinese Massacre of 1871

By the 1850’s the California Gold Rush prompted a wave of Chinese immigration. The Chinese were, at first, employed as builders of the transcontinental railroad. They became the largest ethnic minority in California and, like many others, hoped to strike gold. But after the railroad was complete and gold became harder to find, racism settled in. Rhetoric in the media began to stir up sentiments that the Chinese were taking away jobs during hard economic times. Chinese immigrants increasingly settled in segregated city slums where they took on menial jobs.

In Los Angeles, a Chinatown grew on the eastern edge of the original El Pueblo. Considered a rough area, in 1871 a gunfight broke out between two rival Chinese gangs and a white man was killed in the cross fire. An enraged mob of 500 Anglos and Latinos then set off on a lynching spree against the Chinese, leaving 19 dead. Homes and businesses were looted too.

The Chinese Massacre wasn’t the end of discrimination. A decade later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 forbid any immigration from China. In addition, any Chinese immigrant already residing in the country would not receive U.S. citizenship — ever. These rules were not fully overturned until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Today, the Chinese American Museum has an informative exhibit about this history, located appropropriately where Chinatown used to be. (The small LA Chinatown is now about three blocks away from El Pueblo.)

Interestingly, while discrimination against the Chinese raged, Japanese immigrants came into Los Angeles and did well for themselves, even inventing the Fortune Cookie. However, during World War II, the Japanese were carted off to internment camps. (I’m a big proponent of bearing witness to the internment camps of California, so more will be said about them in future posts.)

The Watts Riots and Rodney King

In 1910, Los Angeles had the highest percentage of black home ownership in the nation, with more than 36 percent of black residents owning their own homes.

But in the 1920 the tide of segregation and discrimination confined blacks to areas such as Watts, Venice and South Central. By the 1960’s LA had the fifth largest black population in the United States, but they lived in segregated areas. Fed up by discrimination, the Watts riots broke out in 1965. Then, twenty-seven years later, the Rodney King riots broke out, resulting in fifty deaths. The California African American Museum documents this history and holds lectures about the African-American experience.


Los Angeles is also home to the largest concentration of Mexicans outside of Mexico, plus there are a substantial number of other Hispanic cultural groups who stem from Central and South America. Their history, due to the fact that California once belonged to Mexico, is layered and complicated. East LA is often associated with Chicanos and its main square, Mariachi Plaza pays tribute to the famous Mariachi singer, Lucha Reyes. Also there, the bookstore Libros Schmibros is decorated with Mexican paper flags and Chinese hanging lanterns.

Two incidents in the city’s history demonstrate continuing Anglo-Mexican tensions: the 1942 Zoot Suit Riots and the more recent 2006 La Gran Marcha on City Hall that protested an anti-immigration bill. It was the largest demonstration in California history.

Even so, you can find Latino contributions throughout the city, from music and murals to cuisine and service to their country. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the first Latino elected to the office since 1872. I also found a moving memorial next to El Pueblo dedicated to the Latino-Americans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

So what do you think? Do Angelenos really get along?



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