Photo by Hayk Shalunts / Shutterstock
Photo by Javen / Shutterstock
Olvera Street is in the heart of historic downtown L.A.
A locals’ guide to Latinx history, shopping, and of course, some food to keep you going.
Few places in the United States offer such a depth and breadth of Latinx history and culture as Los Angeles. L.A. County’s population is 49 percent Hispanic and East L.A. in particular has the largest Hispanic community in the U.S.
As the city’s mayor Eric Garcetti put it recently, “Latino heritage is part of our history and an inextricable part of our cultural fabric. From the founding of our city to present day, Latinos continue to shape L.A.”
We asked some L.A. residents for their suggestions for celebrating Latinx heritage across this sprawling and rewardingly diverse city.
We asked: Michelle Garcia-Ortiz, who leads tours at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. Often referred to as the birthplace of L.A., it’s near the site of the early Los Angeles pueblo “where settlers of Native American, African, and European heritage . . . from northern Mexico established a farming community in 1781.”
On Olvera Street in Downtown LA, “the América Tropical Interpretive Center is a Los Angeles gem hidden in plain sight. This museum examines art and social unrest in 1930s Los Angeles and discusses the life and legacy of [Mexican painter and muralist] David Alfaro Siqueiros. It highlights a controversial mural that was whitewashed and hidden, but has now been conserved and unveiled here in partnership with the Getty Conservation Institute.
“The Avila Adobe Museum is the oldest existing house in Los Angeles [dating back to 1818] and its restoration led to the creation of the world famous Olvera Street Marketplace. It tells the story of life in Los Angeles during the Californio period [in the early 19th century]. With its beautiful antique furniture and 200-year-old grapevines, it’s a must-stop on any tour.”
We asked: Diane Scalia, who runs food tour company Melting Pot Tours.
“I don’t think people understand how significant the Mariachi Plaza landmark is in Los Angeles. It’s a kind of kiosk, like a gazebo. It was a gift from the state of Jalisco to Los Angeles because Los Angeles was the birthplace of the mariachi in America. Mariachi culture dates back to the 1700s in Mexico. It came here in the late 1800s. Across the street from the plaza is a hotel [the Boyle] where mariachis would come and stay. It was their home. The plaza is where they would look for day work.” The plaza is still a hub for musicians that you can visit.
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“I love Espacio 1839 [in Boyle Heights and on Instagram], for their cultural swag and art shows . . . and High-Fidelity Records in Mid City; they have a great and wide selection of local and international artists on vinyl.”
Visit: Espacio 1839 is open every day except Monday at 1839 E. First Street. High-Fidelity is open daily from midday for new and used LPs, accessories, and refurbished vintage hi-fi equipment. Latinx With Plants is open Wednesday to Friday at 2117 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue. It has some great masks too.
We asked: Maite Gomez-Rejon, the founder of ArtBites, which weaves “art and culinary history through cooking classes, lectures, tastings and stories.” Her essay, “Mexico’s Early Cookbooks,” appears in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. For more see her YouTube channel ArtBites: Cooking Art History.
“The streets of Boyle Heights in East L.A. are a veritable art gallery where walls act as canvases. Many of the murals in this part of the city coincided with the birth of the 1970s Chicano Movement. With few—if any—Latinx people represented in public office, murals became a way to communicate concerns about police brutality, immigration, violence, etc. Although many murals have been vandalized over the decades, they are as timely today as they were 40 years ago.”
Visit: The murals of Boyle Heights can be seen in East L.A.
We asked: Bricia Lopez, who runs Guelaguetza restaurant, a hugely popular Oaxacan spot in Koreatown renowned for its mole.
“I absolutely love Chichén Itzá for regional Mexican food from the Yucatán region. I can’t live without their Panuchos [crispy fried corn tortilla with black bean puree, turkey, tomato, pickled onions, lettuce, and avocado] and Poc-Chuc [wood-grilled pork shoulder]!
“You can’t leave L.A. without having proper Mexican seafood. For this, my favorite place is Mariscos Jalisco. My go-to order is a tostada de aguachile and a shrimp cocktail (I mix the two and make the perfect combo) with two shrimp tacos on the side.”
Visit: Chichén-Itzá is open for takeout, delivery, and patio seating at 3655 S. Grand Avenue. Mariscos Jalisco is serving seafood at 3040 E. Olympic Boulevard. Guelaguetza was named the best Oaxacan restaurant in the country by Jonathan Gold. It’s open for patio dining and takeout at 3014 W. Olympic Boulevard.
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