Latinos from various countries make up the largest cultural group in Los Angeles. 4.7 million people of Hispanic heritage live in LA County, which is not surprising since the area was claimed as New Spain, then part of Mexico before it was ceded to the Unites States in 1848. You can pretty much find Mexican culture and great Mexican food, as well as Guatemalan, Peruvian and other contributions all over the city. However, there are specific landmarks, museums and neighborhoods that celebrate the city's Mexican roots, immigrant culture and the art of Latin America. Most of these are related to Mexican culture, because the other Latino communities in LA have fewer or no physical landmarks, despite thriving cultural communities.
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The most accessible place to learn about the Mexican history of LA is at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument at Olvera Street. The one block pedestrian zone includes the 1818 Avila Adobe, the oldest house in the city, as well as a Mexican street market, restaurants and museums. Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistencia is a small Catholic church across the street from El Pueblo.
02 of 12LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes is one of the museums at Olvera Street. It is dedicated to telling the story of the first Angeleno settlers. The eleven original Old Mexico families were identified as Indio, Mulato, Español, Negro, and Mestizo, so the city has had a muticultural personality from the beginning. Beyond the first settlers, the museum documents the contribution of Mexicans and Mexican Americans to the story of Los Angeles including famous actors, athletes and politicians.
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The Missions and RanchosBefore the first house was built, there were the missions. Those first 11 families that founded Los Angeles came from Mission San Gabriel, built in 1771 just over the hills in the San Gabriel Valley. Further west, the San Fernando Mission was built in 1797. These two missions were instrumental in spreading the Spanish catholic influence among the Native American population during the time when California was part of Mexico. In the 1780s, King Carlos III of Spain granted huge swaths of Southern California to a few Spanish families who set up ranchos. Here is a full list of Missions and Ranchos in the Los Angeles Area that you can visit to learn more about LA's years as part of Mexico.
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Mariachi Plaza is a landmark in the predominantly Mexican Boyle Heights neighborhood, one mile east of downtown Los Angeles. Mariachi musicians gather near the gazebo at this plaza in their various colored and black charro suits embellished with metal ornamentation to be hired out for parties, weddings, quinceañeras and restaurant gigs. Over 100 mariachi musicians live next to the plaza in the Boyle Hotel, a historic four-story brick building with a turret. Across the street, a colorful mural depicts mariachi musicians. There is a weekly farmers market on Fridays from 3 to 9. On the Feast of St. Cecilia in November, the mariachis gather for a blessing of their instruments, and after parading around the block, all the mariachi bands play together as one. It's quite impressive.
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2724 Cesar Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Musicians from around the world travel to a humble storefront in Boyle Heights to visit Candelas Guitar Shop, where fine custom guitars and other stringed instruments are still made by hand by luthiers led by Tomas Delgado, like his father and grandfather before him.
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1836 E 1st St,
Los Angeles, CA 90033
After musicians stop in at Candelas in search of beautiful guitars, they head over to La Casa del Mariachi to have their mariachi suits custom tailored by El Maestro, Jorge Tello, just a few doors down from Mariachi Plaza. The tailor hails originally from Guatemala, where he was discovered in his father's shop by a visiting mariachi tailor from Los Angeles. He's been making mariachi suits in Boyle Heights since 1984. Tello isn't the only tailor who makes charro suits in LA, but his work is considered the haute couture of mariachi-wear, worn by musical royalty.
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Iconic Mexican Neighborhoods
Mexican Americans and other Latinos live all over Los Angeles, but there are a few iconic neighborhoods where you will feel like you are in Mexico or get to know the particular Mexican-infused culture specific to LA.
Boyle Heights, just east of Downtown, where the three attractions above are located, is an interesting combination of 3rd and 4th generation Angelenos of Mexican descent who don't speak Spanish and new immigrants. It has been going through a revival in the last few years. Among many restaurants, bars and shops, the touristy El Mercadito de Los Angeles is an indoor Mexican mall with lots of snack vendors and a very large restaurant upstairs known for its weekday mariachi music.
Broadway in Downtown LA south of the high-rise buildings could be Mexico City or Guadalajara. All the signs are in Spanish and there are throngs of people on the sidewalks buying and selling merchandise. Interspersed between them you'll find some historic movie palaces in various stages of... religious use, disrepair or renovation.
The Macarthur Park/Alvarado Street area is not exactly thought of as a tourist destination, but it's kind of interesting to drive through. On summer weekends and some evenings you can join local families gathered for free concerts and festivals at Macarthur Park. You may recognize the park with the pretty little lake from the numerous crime dramas where someone meets a guy here to get a fake ID, but a visible police presence has significantly reduced crime in the area, especially during events.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Plaza Mexico in Lynwood
With replica landmarks from various parts of Mexico, Plaza Mexico in Lynwood, just south of LA is a popular destination for the local Mexican community as well as tourists for shopping, dining and photo opportunities.
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The Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles hosts exhibits and events that showcase Mexican culture.
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Latino Events in LA
Major Mexican events include
- Tres Reyes/Three Kings - January 6
- Fiesta Broadway, and Cinco de Mayo - near the 5th of May
- Mexican Independence Day Events - near the 16th of September
- Dia de Los Muertos - Nov 1-2
- Las Posadas - Dec 16 for 9 nights
There's an Ecuadorean Festival at Olvera Street in August. Fiestas Patrias Central American Independence Day is celebrated in mid-September at Macarthur Park, sometimes in conjunction with Mexican Independence Day. There are also a couple Puerto Rican Festivals that move around.