LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes opens Saturday in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s the city’s first permanent Mexican-American cultural center. And it’s right across the street from the popular Olvera Street marketplace.
La Plaza's president, Miguel Angel Corzo, explained why it took so long for L.A. to establish a center like this. "I think that there has been a sense that we are so focused on growing and expanding and preparing Los Angeles to be the global metropolis that it is, that sometimes we tend to forget the past and the history of it."
L.A. incorporated in 1871, but the history really starts long before that, in 1781. "That's when the 44 settlers arrived in Los Angeles from what we now call Mexico. There were two Spaniards and the other 42 were mestizos and mulattos, meaning a mixture of native Mexican with Spaniard or African with Spaniard.
"So from the very inception, it was a diverse city with the 12 families that came. Many of the young kids that came along also were drawn later on in their youth to some of the Native Americans that were here, and so this was the beginning of a real mixture and diversity of L.A."
The new building is in an old building that has been renovated. "We have actually two buildings. One of them is known as the Victory Building. That was built in 1888. It was, in its time, the tallest skyscraper of Los Angeles, all five stories of it.
"And the building next to it, which is a two-story building, is called Plaza House, and that's built in 1883. What we have been able to do is rescue these two historic landmarks. We have them, totally, eternally, as well as retrofit them for seismic activity."
On the second floor of the center, there will be a hands-on interpretive history center called "Calle Principal." "This is an evocation of Los Angeles's main street in the 1920s. It was at that time a place that was well attended by a lot of the Mexican immigrants. That's what they called 'Mexico De Afuera,' 'Mexico Outside Mexico.'
"And so what we have done there is created a series of small stores in the atrium of the second floor of Plaza House, such as a pharmacy with herbal remedies, a record store with old 78 RPM records, a market that was actually in the ground floor of Plaza House, and also a representation of what was the only place in Los Angeles where free speech could be allowed, right across from us, next to the kiosk in the plaza.
"The idea is for young people to come and get a sense of what Los Angeles was a hundred years ago and get a sense of all of the things that were important, and how, as you were an immigrant and came here and assimilated, you had to go through a process of learning new ways of life and new styles."
A variety of activities are planned for Saturday. "We have three bands. We have some classrooms and workshops for children to create objects that are based on Mexican and Mexican-American traditions. We have, of course, the visit of the two exhibitions, the 'Calle Principal' and 'L.A. Starts Here,' and overall, a sense of fair and festivity to celebrate this important opening."