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Remapping LA - Guernica
"Before California was West, it was North and it was East: the uppermost periphery of the Mexican Empire, and the arrival point for Chinese immigrants making the perilous journey from Guangdong."



"Open any contemporary map of LA and you can see the exact spot where the Mexican gives way to the American: Hoover Street, just west of downtown, in which angled Mexican streets bend to accommodate the US grid. In a 2010 essay, Waldie described that point as “crossing from one imperial imagination to another.” A shift in power, in place and identity—all marked by a single line.

***

In his map, Ord diligently marked street names, topography, and the families to whom designated agricultural lands belonged. (Many of these names now remain in Los Angeles memory as city streets: Sepulveda, Vignes, and Sanchez.) Ord, however, omitted one crucial feature: the plaza.

The city block that it occupies made it into the map. But the plaza itself went unlabeled. Perhaps it was an oversight, an urban feature that may have seemed inconsequential to a surveyor from the East Coast. The omission, however, marginalized a crucial feature of Los Angeles.

Under Mexican rule, the bare plaza—a photo from 1862 shows a rough square crisscrossed by footpaths—had been of critical importance. It anchored social and civic life in the city: a site of weddings and inaugurations, and, ultimately, the place where United States military commanders parked their troops when they invaded during the Mexican-American War—complete with brass band playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Even more, the plaza represents an important facet of the mestizo, an urban space that mixes elements of the indigenous and the European. In the early days of colonization, plazas in Spain were small, medieval affairs, tucked into a city’s available spaces. But plazas among Mesoamerican cultures were power centers—larger, more open, more ceremonial, more central, often surrounded by a settlement’s most important buildings. In his engaging 2008 book The Los Angeles Plaza, William David Estrada notes that the vibrant plazas that developed in Latin America, “especially in Mexico, were as much a product of the Indian world—the world of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec before the conquest—as they were European.”

The Plaza de Los Angeles, therefore, is not simply a random green space. It is the urban embodiment of a non-Anglo, hybrid American space—American, in the sense of belonging to the continent, not simply the US. Of the 44 pobladores who arrived from Sinaloa, Durango, and Jalisco, and who founded the City of Los Angeles in 1781, only two were Spaniards. Most of the people were indigenous, mixed-race, black, or mestizo. The plaza was their shared space—a space that reflected the city’s location, not as a Western outpost, but as a Northern one.

Today, the Plaza de Los Angeles is lined with stately trees and punctuated by a bright bandstand. It is a prominent tourist attraction, part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument that includes nearby Olvera Street, a passageway stuffed with vendors dispensing ceramics, ponchos, and hot churros dipped in sugar and cinnamon. The plaza is no longer the center of civic life in Los Angeles, but it remains an important social space. On weekends, musicians entertain Latino families who attend religious services in the area, then descend on the square to eat and dance.

In the popular imagination, LA is often cast as a Westside yoga girl who’s into colonics and kale. But Los Angeles is more likely to be a little Mexican girl, grooving to a cover of “Juana La Cubana” in the plaza—a space her ancestors helped devise.

***

As important as the plaza has been to Mexican life, it has been critical for other groups, too—in ways both poignant and chilling. That takes me back to the simple map that hangs at the Chinese American Museum.

Shown on the map is a short lane that once ran parallel to Los Angeles Street, just off the plaza. Sometime during the era of Mexican independence, it became known as Calle de Los Negros. As the story goes, one of the alcaldes (mayors) of the era baptized the street after the mixed-race families who lived there, and the name stuck. After California was ceded to the US, Calle de Los Negros was Anglicized to “Negro Alley”—never mind that most the people who lived there by the end of the nineteenth century were Chinese.

Calle de Los Negros, in fact, was the site of a notorious riot known as the Chinese Massacre of 1871. The ruckus started when a white man was accidentally killed in crossfire between two Chinese groups. In the wake of his death, a mob of 500 people “of all nationalities”—including police officers, a city council member, and a reporter—began a brutal assault on any and all Chinese people living in Negro Alley. Some were lynched; others were shot. Bodies were mutilated and dragged. An estimated 17 people died; seven men were ultimately convicted for manslaughter.

It was an episode of vicious anti-Asian sentiment that drew international headlines. It also drew attention to a street whose name was born of racism—racism that carried into Los Angeles map-making. Calle de los Negros was frequently referred to in English as “Nigger Alley.” And in some early twentieth century maps, it is that appalling pejorative that appears as official map nomenclature, including on the historic sheet at the Chinese American Museum.

Today, all that remains of Calle de los Negros are the maps. The lane was later renamed Los Angeles Street. In the 1950s, it was razed and replaced with a freeway on-ramp and a parking lot. Sometimes ugly histories are also erased from the faces of cities and their maps.

In the 1930s, much of old Chinatown was bulldozed to make way for Union Station. The community was relocated a few blocks to the north, to a complex of fanciful buildings that bear the flourishes of Chinese temple architecture. The new Chinatown is less residential and more commercial, cluttered with restaurants and tourist markets and a photogenic statue of Bruce Lee (not to mention a singular Asian-Mexican gas station). Subsequent generations of Chinese immigrants have chosen not to live in this area. Instead, they have moved to communities such as Alhambra and Monterey Park, further east.

But one vestige of the old Chinatown still survives: the Garnier Building, a red brick, Romanesque Revival structure completed in 1890. The Garnier, which appears in the map at the museum, once served as an important hub for Chinese life in Los Angeles. It was here that residents could visit the herb shop, get access to financial services, and support organizations that fought for citizenship rights. (The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese Americans from applying for citizenship until 1943.)

The Garnier is now the home to the Chinese American Museum, which helps preserve the community’s history. A small courtyard marks the entrance to the museum, where paper lanterns bob in the breeze. It is a touch of Asia in a structure that lies between tilted streets with Spanish names, just steps from the Plaza de Los Angeles.

To look at Los Angeles as West is to see a charming, yet incomplete, picture of Los Angeles. It is one narrative that overwrites many. The Los Angeles of the West is a Los Angeles molded to Anglo preconception. It is a Los Angeles of railroads and Hollywood. It is the end of the line.

The Los Angeles of the North and the East has been here for centuries, and it is everywhere. It has given Los Angeles its name and its grid. It has shaped the city’s architecture and supplied its most distinctive flavors. It is Chicano teens drinking Taiwanese bubble tea on an avenue called Cesar Chavez. It is Latino families flocking to a 1960s American diner that’s been converted into a pan-Asian noodle joint. It is Asian low-riders and Salvadoran sushi chefs. It is the point of entry—the beginning."
carolinamiranda  us  california  losangeles  history  maps  mapping  cartography  2019  china  chinese  mexico  architecture  cities  plazas  power  east  west  orientation  chinatown  canon  djwaldie 
march 2019 by robertogreco
How to look at Los Angeles: A conversation with D.J. Waldie, Lynell George and Josh Kun
"Arriving at a not-quite-real place, falling in love after a sometimes brutal wooing, and love's disillusionment, is the briefest and truest history of California." —D.J. aldie



"I actually think most stereotypes about L.A. are true, and that's not only OK, it's part of what it means to live here." —Josh Kun



"for me, as the child of South American immigrants, California was never the West; it was the North. And it was never the last stop. It was the first. It was the beginning." —Carolina Miranda



"That is ultimately the key. To let go of these expectations of what L.A. is supposed to be, supposed to fix, supposed to cure — all of the projections we've lived in and around for decades." —Lynell George

[quote selections via: http://cmonstah.tumblr.com/post/125092712185/talking-with-josh-kun-dj-waldie-and-lynell ]
losangeles  djwaldie  lynellgeorge  joshkun  2015  california  cities  experience  immigration  immigrants  expectations 
july 2018 by robertogreco
What Does It Mean to Become Californian? – Boom California
"What does it mean to become Californian? It means being witness to an epic bender—a 169-year binge lubricated by gold, cattle, wheat, oil, suburban housing, the Cold War, and a marketing campaign of seductive power. At every stage of its history, each of the state’s exploitable ecologies has been dressed up as another paradise, pandering to the latest wave of hopelessly intoxicated newcomers. The come-on that seduced them—the elemental promises of health, wealth, and happiness in the sunshine—is the California Dream. For Joan Didion, the state’s renowned exile, there is in that dream a “dangerous dissonance…a slippage” between what we desire and who we are.1

The official story of California is told as a pageant of bonanzas, but belief in the official story requires forgetting so much. We want the story to record what had been hard won, but it’s actually full of lucky accidents. We bought the Californian sales pitch, but we became remorseful buyers afterward. We want to be Californian, but we don’t want to earn it.

These paradoxes were built into the subdivisions that absorbed thirteen million dream seekers between 1940 and 1970—the great years when California retailed to America its mix of Arcadian ease and technocratic élan. The greatest paradox is, of course, that the success in getting so much from California has been turned into so much loss. Californians tend to use the state’s compromised environment as the screen on which to project what they can no longer find in California—something missing from becoming Californian—and the suburbs, the traffic, and the presence of too many of us are said to be the cause. But perhaps what Californians can no longer find is in themselves, in what they lost by becoming Californian. We forget that the California Dream didn’t come with a moral compass.

I cannot say that the dream did not serve us. It provided the goods of a middle-class life to millions, including me. It remixed popular culture in exciting ways. It built beautiful and lasting things—and the dream still inspires. A neighbor of mine—with a tract house, two grown daughters, and a husband who is a teacher—wonders if it means anything to say that the dream is ending. “They’ve been saying that for thirty years at least. It hasn’t ended yet,” she told me.

Kevin Starr has written nine volumes of history about California and America’s feverish dream of it, and in 2009 he hadn’t yet reconciled whether California would become a “failed state” or would reinvent itself again, and if reinvention would be another arc of boom to bust to regret. Starr’s faith was in the state’s genetic and cultural rambunctiousness and the possibility that a retooled dream, suitable for a less-Anglo California, will replace the parts of the dream that served us so poorly. But Starr, like many of us, had his doubts.

***

What does it mean to become Californian? It means seeing nature without romance or despair. California has been uniquely intoxicating, but it was also a place on the national periphery in the nineteenth century and far from the familiar place where hearts might feel at home. Merchandising the state’s natural grandeur answered some of Californian longing. From William Henry Jackson in the 1870s through Ansel Adams in the 1950s to the latest coffee-table book, California has produced gorgeous and misleading environmental photography, promoting the view that sacred wildness is out there, unmarred by our presence and ready for our contemplation.

The iconic photographs make the rapturous assumption that none of us was ever here——but we were! We’re sluicing mountains into rivers to get at the gold, taking down forests to build a wood and iron technology gone before our parents were born, erecting groves of derricks over oil fields, extracting harvests from the compliant ground, and assembling communities from tract houses and strip malls. I’m tired of my own sentimentality for landscapes that are rendered either as an open wound or a throat pulled back, ready for the knife. Pity is misplaced if there is no place in it for you or me.

The choice for Californians north and south after the Gold Rush cataclysm was not between nature and its despoiled remnant, but the terms on which our encounter with nature would be framed. The environmentalist John Muir gave nature a privileged autonomy, a kind of green divinity. Frederick Law Olmsted, a builder of New York’s Central Park, concluded that nature in California would never again be sublime, despite what the photographs implied, and that nature must be enmeshed in the community of people living here. Olmsted struggled for a word to describe the tie that might bind a place and its people. He settled on “communitiveness.” It’s an awkward word for something that tries to define both loyalty to one’s neighbors and trusteeship of the land. Olmsted, as Muir and others did, sought to read a redemptive narrative—and something of the wider American experience—into the landscape of California. The Californians who were led here by their longing for the redeeming qualities Muir and Olmsted saw in California’s nature—qualities variously ennobling, consoling, and therapeutic—unalterably changed California.

***

Californians had presumed that California would always deliver whatever they deserved. Now we know California can’t. Even more self-knowledge is needed, now that our revels are ended. If we are to become brave, new Californians, we will begin to dream differently."

What does it mean to become Californian? It means finding that California is increasingly ordinary (for which I’m grateful, because the commonplace is necessarily the place where we find love and hope). But if California isn’t the “great exception,” isn’t the best or worst of places, then how do we describe California when it is not exactly “Californian” anymore, not as alluring or lurid as the clichés of the utopian or dystopian accounts said it was? California is riven—north and south, coastal and inland, urban and rural, valley and foothill—but that which unites these “islands on the land” is the question of what had been gained by becoming Californian.

For Joan Didion, becoming Californian was a prize for leaving the past behind, although the result would be brokenheartedness. For essayist Richard Rodriguez, becoming Californian meant becoming mingled, impure, heterogeneous, and discovering that your color, whatever it is, is just another shade of brown. For the novelist and playwright William Saroyan, becoming Californian was to see this place, finally, as “my native land.” For the two million or more Californians who, in the past two decades, have migrated to “greater California”—which is now located in Texas, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada—becoming Californian meant finding some measure of inadequacy in California. Maybe becoming Californian means laboring to undo the toxic effects of what California has been: a commodity, a trophy of Anglo privilege, and a place of aching, unmet desires.

The Anglo possessors of California after 1847 took on habits that began with the first gold claim staked on the American River and continue each time a house lot changes hands today. Imagine considering those habits with a “truth and reconciliation” commission whose members are a skateboarder, a “mow and blow” gardener, a rap artist, a real estate agent, a vintner, a Gabrieleño elder, a Chinese immigrant, and someone employed in the adult entertainment industry. Maybe becoming Californian means facing a ravenous “hunger of memory”2 and having only California’s clichés to offer.

***

What does it mean to become Californian? It means locating yourself, according to environmental historian Stephanie Pincetl, in a panorama that includes Hollywood, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Big Sur, San Francisco, Disneyland, the redwoods, and Death Valley.3 She might have added Compton, Route 99 from Fresno to Bakersfield, the Silicon Valley, the San Fernando Valley, the Central Valley, and the whole of la frontera from Yuma to the Tijuana. Pincetl included in her list the seductive mirage of El Dorado, the folly that led to all of the state’s ruined paradises. An imagination so spacious as to dwell in all of these Californias requires a different kind of intelligence, attuned to many vernaculars. The alternative is living daily with the experience of estrangement, discontinuity, and forgetfulness.

Californians who need something to stand with them against these disorders might find it in Michel Foucault’s notion of “a particular, local, regional knowledge, a differential knowledge incapable of unanimity.”4 The desire to sustain “ecologies of the vernacular” and live in “habitats of memory” may be the new requirement for becoming Californian.

Foucault distantly echoes Josiah Royce’s notion of a Higher Provincialism,5 which finds the potential for moral order in a shared sense of place and in the common habits of being there. This embodied knowledge becomes “critical regionalism”6 in turning away from the comforts of nostalgia toward “interrogating the local and proximate precisely in order to demonstrate its universality, its connectedness, and its differences with the wider world.”7

California happened to the world in 1849, and in the rush to extract something from becoming Californian, the world—in the form of every race and ethnicity—met itself here.8 The meeting was chaotic, brutal, often tragic, and sometimes redemptive, and its energies are not yet spent. For all its potential to create a hybrid American (and, I believe, a better one), the collision left Californians haunted by the spirit of El Dorado—the illusion that being Californian requires being perpetually the object of someone else’s desire.

To become truly Californian, dwellers here will recover from that malign dream to “awaken the stories that sleep in … [more]
california  future  djwaldie  kevinstarr  2017  foucault  josiahroyce  universality  connectedness  difference  diversity  change  history  stephaniepincetl  joandidion  fredericklawolmstead  nature  landscape  johnmuir  goldrush  williamhenryjackson  richardrodriguez  ordinariness  inadequacy  race  ethnicity  commonplace  everyday  michelfoucault 
april 2017 by robertogreco

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