Hispanic Heritage Month: Focus on Los Angeles


In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re focusing on Los Angeles, a city founded and built by people we would today call Hispanic Americans. The city was officially founded when California was still under Spanish control by a group of 22 adults and 22 children called los Pobladores (the townspeople) who arrived from Sonora, Mexico in September of 1784.  The city grew as soldiers and settlers entered and stayed and by 1821 as part of Mexico, the city gained independence from Spain.  At this point it had become the largest self-sustaining farm community in southern California. With independence, the city grew more prosperous and its population tripled in the next 20 years. After several revolts against Mexican control, a brief period of independence, and the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, the city and the entire state of California was acquired by the United States in 1847.

With the discovery of gold in 1848 came the Gold Rush and an influx of people of European, American, Chinese and other origins. The population of LA city went from around 11,000 to 100,000 from 1880 to 1900. During this time, Los Angeles became one of the toughest towns in the entire country, and many colorful bandidos such as Tiburcio Vasquez revolted against the new Anglo powers. By 1930, there were roughly 100,000 Mexican and Latino Americans living in LA.

The Great Depression caused a massive exit and repatriation of Mexican-Americans, but he number of Mexican-Americans living in LA would remain stable and eventually grow in the latter part of the 20th century. In the 1970s and 80s, the Chicano movement would be an important force in Los Angeles, empowering Mexican Americans to fight for their civil rights through protests, walk-outs and organizing voters to support Hispanic candidates for public office.  An important Mexican-American and Angelino during this time was Ruben Salazar, a Chicano journalist for the Los Angeles Times who was killed by police while covering a Chicano protest of the Vietnam War.

Political representation has been a struggle for the Mexican community in Los Angeles with no Latino representation in the city’s elected officials at all prior to 1949 and again between 1962 and 1985, but thankfully, the situation has improved in recent decades. Los Angeles elected its first Mexican-American mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (since 1872 when it was still under Mexican rule) in 2005. Los Angeles is arguably home to the most significant Hispanic community in the entire country with Hispanic people making up nearly half of the city’s population and Los Angeles County consisting of 9% of the entire Hispanic population of the United States. Some of the notable Hispanic Americans who also happen to be LA natives include Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, director/actor Edward James Olmos, actress Jessica Alba, and poet/novelist/critic Luis J. Rodriquez. Unsurprisingly, LA is where you can find some of the best visual art, music and food created by Hispanic Americans.  You can check out the city’s offerings and in particular the festivities organized around Hispanic Heritage Month here on the Discover Los Angeles website.

Want to enhance your appreciation of Hispanic Heritage with the Spanish language? Start learning Spanish today

Photo credit: Chicanos in Boyle Heights by lamusa via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0