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Latino Daily News

Thursday March 17, 2011

Latinos Struggle in Los Angeles to Preserve Culturally Significant Hub of the City

Latinos Struggle in Los Angeles to Preserve Culturally Significant Hub of the City

Photo: Los Angeles El Pueblo Historic District

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Dozens of merchants along Los Angeles’ El Pueblo’s shopping street, who sell tacos and souvenirs, are afraid that city rent hikes could sever their historical attachment to this locale.

“I believe that the long-range plan is probably to run us all out of here,” said Mike Mariscal, 55, who wore a threadbare pleated guayabera shirt. “It’ll kill me.”  Mariscal runs a shop in Los Angeles El Pueblo historic district, he sells painted masks, woven blankets and Day of the Dead figurines.

A series of disputes surround the adobe buildings, shops and Mexican-era churches in an increasingly trafficked corner of L.A.  One argument is over Indian graves unearthed during construction of a Mexican-American cultural center. Another involves a monument to Hispanic war heroes where the original Chinatown once stood.

“It’s like a tiny version of Jerusalem. It involves multiple races and their claims to our city’s history,” said University of Southern California history professor Philip J. Ethington. “Anything having to do with its historical significance is going to make people stand up.”

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is believed to have been on the sidelines of a Gabrielino-Tongva Indian village before 1781, when an expedition of Spanish subjects of different ethnic backgrounds first founded the settlement that grew into Los Angeles.

Buildings in the village include the Avila Adobe house, and the church of La Placita, both dating from times under Spanish domain.

After the United States seized California territories during the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War, the site annexed part of the city’s original Chinatown.

In the 30’s, Christine Sterling, the widow of a lawyer for the always-swelling film industry, received the support of the City Council, to preserve and renovate the Avila Adobe.

She settled dozens of Hispanic merchants and artisans in shops along “Olvera Street” donning the area with a Mexican village feel.

The Church of La Placita draws some 10,000 devotees each week; it is a popular spot for baptisms, confirmations and weddings among the so many Catholic residents of surrounding Hispanic neighborhoods.

Plans to modernize the city of Los Angeles, including a possible high-speed rail hub through the area, has resulted in the area becoming a battleground for the descendants and advocates of the city’s ethnic communities whose entire lives revolves around the site.

“Los Angeles is known for erasing its history and trampling on one culture to serve another,” said lawyer Robert Garcia. “The heightened interest in downtown Los Angeles underscores more than ever the need to revive the forgotten history of Los Angeles.”

García, filed a lawsuit alleging the city of Los Angeles failed to obtain proper approvals, when it allowed a war veterans association to build a monument to Hispanic Congressional Medal of Honor recipients on a field that had previously been Tongva village land and was later part of the original Chinatown.

Mariscal, and other merchants, who have long staged Day of the Dead festivals and Las Posadas Christmas pageants, say their own culture is at stake in a fight with the city over spiking rent.  They won’t say how much they currently pays but claimed the hike would drain their profits.

“I’m not going to work 60 to 80 hours a week just to give what little I make to the city,” he said.