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

By Vincent Brook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
LAtinos

The sixteenth-century novelist Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, whose mythic description of California as an island paradise inspired the first Spanish explorers, was not far off the mark. “Although physically attached to North America, California is still most accurately thought of as an ecological ‘island,’” explain historians Richard B. Rice, William A. Bullough, and Richard J. Orsi. “Its geographical history is distinct from that of the rest of the continent. Winds, currents, mountains, and deserts isolate the region biologically as effectively as if it were girded by an ocean moat.”1 Extending the metaphor, Southern California, which Helen Hunt Jackson a century earlier had likened to “an island on the land,… shut off from the rest of the continent,” can be thought of as an island within an island, with similarly “diverse and distinctive life forms unmatched elsewhere on the continent”—including human beings.2

Rhetorical flourishes aside, since its founding as a colonial outpost in 1781, Los Angeles has always already been uniquely multicultural. The twenty-two adults among the first forty-four pobladores consisted of one español (native Spaniard), one Criollo (born in New Spain of Spanish ancestry), one mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian), two Negroes (blacks of African ancestry), eight mulattos (mixed Spanish and black), and nine Indios (Indians).3 If we recall that American Indians themselves are likely of Paleolithic Asian ancestry, the ethnoracial spectrum is complete. A Tongva village until 1781, a Spanish pueblo until 1822, a Mexican ciudad until 1848, and in its first three decades as an American city still ethnoculturally Hispanic, Los Angeles, for all the whitewashing of its heritage, is rainbow-colored to the core.4 Moreover, each of these primary “colors” (red, brown, black, yellow, and white) has its own story to tell—or rather several, interrelated stories.

Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Anglos, beyond their instability and social constructedness as ethnoracial categories, can be broken down or disaggregated into a dizzying number of subcategories. Taking only the “Hispanic, Latino, Spanish” box in the 2010 U.S. census, for example, after

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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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