Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

By Vincent Brook | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE

Nowhere has the discrepancy between Los Angeles’s rhetoric and historical record been more pronounced than in La Fiesta de Los Angeles birthday celebration. First held in 1894 and running in fits and starts through the 1930s, this “carnival, pageant, parade, fandango,” commemorating La Reina de Los Ángeles’s founding as a Spanish colonial outpost in 1781, epitomizes what D. J. Waldie calls the “city of self-inflicted amnesia.”1 Organized by the largely probusiness, virulently antiunion Merchants (later Merchants and Manufacturers) Association—a body composed largely of Anglo Protestants and German Jews—the initial La Fiesta served two interrelated purposes: as a “commercial boon and tourist lure” and as a diversion during the Pullman railroad strike then at its peak.2 “As an icon in the invention of regional tradition,” William Deverell elaborates, “the event proved a brilliant advertising stroke, boosting the city it simultaneously explained”—but also explained away.3 For in concocting “an entire artificial landscape” from its mythic Spanish-Mexican past, this paean to the city’s origins made a mockery of them.

The fiasco was seemingly most glaring in regard to the local Tongva Indians, whose participation in the celebration masked the confiscation of their lands, the changing of their name (to the quasi-Spanish “Gabrielino”), the devastation of their culture, and the continued lack of legal standing among the few who had survived their people’s near-total annihilation. If some representation is better than none, then another flagrant foul was committed against African Americans, who were excluded from the event altogether. This despite the fact that blacks and mulattos had made up the majority of the pueblo’s first forty-four pobladores (settlers), along with Spaniards, Mexican Indians, and mestizos.4 Technically, however, the most fundamental lacuna pertains to the (mis)identification of the region’s first settlers themselves, who were neither Africans nor Indians—although, in this instance, little blame can be attached to La Fiesta’s organizers. Indeed, in spite of the latest archaeological tools, and extensive ongoing investigation,

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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Prologue 1
  • Introduction 5
  • Part One - Original Si(G)N 23
  • Chapter 1 - The Ramona Myth 25
  • Chapter 2 - Ramona Revisited 43
  • Part Two - Si(G)N City 65
  • Chapter 3 - "City with Two Heads" 67
  • Chapter 4 - What Price Hollywood? 83
  • Part Three - L.a. Noir 103
  • Chapter 5 - Bright and Guilty Place 105
  • Chapter 6 - Neo-Noir 126
  • Part Four - Multicultural L.a 151
  • Chapter 7 - Latinos 153
  • Chapter 8 - Blacks 170
  • Chapter 9 - Lasians 189
  • Chapter 10 - Langlos and Lagbts 209
  • Conclusion 233
  • Notes 243
  • Index 281
  • About the Author 303
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