LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, better known as LA Plaza, is a cultural museum dedicated to telling the story of the Mexican origins of Los Angeles and the evolution and contribution of Mexican culture to the city. Given the city's roots, it is rather astounding that it took until 2011 for this cultural center to come into existence. It was definitely a welcome addition to the Latino Landmarks in LA and the Los Angeles County collection of cultural museums.
LA Plaza occupies the first two floors of the 1888 Vickrey-Brunswig Building and the 1883 Plaza House at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. The buildings are adjacent to La Placita Church, across Main Street from the gazebo and Mexican Market at Olvera Street, a popular tourist attraction. The entrance to the museum is at the back of the shorter building, away from the street. The campus also includes an outdoor stage and gardens.
Despite the fact that the name of the museum is in Spanish and its subject is the Mexican and Mexican American experience in Los Angeles, the exhibits are almost exclusively in English.
The first floor is organized chronologically. In the exhibit LA Starts Here!, storyboards, artifacts, and multimedia displays introduce you to the 44 individuals recruited from the Spanish colonies of New Spain in 1781 to settle in Los Angeles. The original 11 families were identified in historic documents as Indio, Mulato, Español, Negro, and Mestizo. From those multi-cultural roots, the story traces the history of Los Angeles from Old Mexico to annexation, and from the first settlers to the new immigrants.
The stories of Mexican and Mexican American individuals, families and communities who contributed to the evolution of Los Angeles are highlighted. Voces Vivas is a series of video clips of Mexican Americans from all walks of life playing on multiple screens. It's worth stopping to watch some of the videos, but the fact that they are all playing at once creates a distracting cacophony, making it hard to focus on the videos or on reading the other exhibits.
Notable personalities featured in the video clips include actors Edward James Olmos and Carmen Zapata, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, mariachi Jose Hernandez and my friend Anthony Morales, Tribal Chairperson of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Indians of San Gabriel, whose ancestors preceded the Mexicans.
Other themes include Mexican Americans and Mexican culture in the arts and prominent Mexican American athletes like tennis great Richard "Poncho" Gonzales and LA Dodger Fernando Valenzuela.
Adding Your Story
Touchscreen mosaics allow you to explore stories, photos and video clips of notable Mexican Americans from the archive. You can become part of the ongoing story of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles by adding your story or photos to the digital archive. There are several ways to do this.
The LA Starts Here! video booth behind the orange wall on the first floor lets you record a video on the spot that gets fed directly into the mosaic. If you'd like to take your time and add something more in depth, you can make an appointment to come into Centro Yo Soy upstairs to record your story and receive a copy of the video.
If you have historic or current photos that you would like to add to the archive, you can join LA Plaza's Flickr pool at flickr.com/groups/laplazala and upload your photos to the collection.
Another way that LA Plaza will be gathering stories is in 140 character tweets via their Twitter account @LAPlazaLA. Follow @LAPlazaLA and respond to questions with the relevant hashtag and your tweets will become part of the ongoing story.
La Calle Principal/Main Street
Upstairs, La Calle Principal creates a mini Main Street with a variety of shops designed for kids and adults to explore. You can try on period clothes at the Main Street Department Store or have your photo taken at the photo studio. Learn about where foods originated in Mercado Plaza, based on a Japanese-owned Mexican market that used to be here on Main Street. Listen to Mexican music of the 1920s and 30s and learn about the music technologies of the time in Repositorio Musical Mexicano, or investigate Spanish language news and literature in Los Angeles in Libraria Lozano. Calle Principal has its own Plaza, where speakers can get up on a soapbox to share opinions while discovering the limitations that were put on free speech.