99. La Plaza de Cultura y Artes
A walk through Mexican-American History
California Road Trip #18
By Miguel Pérez
Properly located in the heart of the Los Angeles historic district, next door to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church and across the street from the plaza that marks the center of the city, there is Mexican-American history museum that deserves everyone's attention.
It's called La Plaza de Cultura y Artes - words that don't really need translation - but, of course, all of its wonderful exhibits are bilingual.
Since it opened in April 2011, this museum has become one more essential stop for people visiting the church, the plaza, the Olvera Street marketplace, and the many other attractions that are part of the 44-acre historic district known as El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument.
Its many interactive exhibits take you on a walk through various periods of Mexican-American history in Los Angeles and Southern California - from the pobladores who established this city in 1781 to the superstars who conquered Hollywood and labor leaders who organized significant movements in the 20th century. And they document the issues that have affected their community - from immigration to gentrification and discrimination.
One particular exhibit, taking up most of the second floor, depicts "Main Street Los Angeles" in the 1920s, and even if you are not a century old, it makes you feel a little nostalgic.
You see a 1920s department store, a bookstore, a photo studio, a grocery market, a pharmacy. You see shoeshine boys, home appliances and many products that go back a century! You even get to wear some 1920s garments.
I saw my father's Underwood typewriter!
The museum's mission, according to its website, is "to celebrate and cultivate an appreciation for the enduring and evolving influence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture, with a specific focus upon the unique Mexican-American experience in Los Angeles and Southern California."
And that mission is visibly accomplished!
You see iconic artifacts, historic photographs, and educational videos illustrating the struggles of a community that, although an integral part, has had to fight for its rightful place in this city and society.
The museum encompasses two adjoining, historic and renovated buildings (the Vickrey-Brunswig Building and Plaza House) covering 2.2 acres, including a public garden. It offers a wide variety of cultural and educational programs designed to preserve the legacy of Mexican-Americans in Southern California.
Administered by Los Angeles County and the LA Museum of Art, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes is a Smithsonian Affiliate considered the top Mexican-American cultural center in the country - and a very good reason for spending several hours in downtown Los Angeles.
Exhibit excerpts from different periods of Mexican-American history:
Before we leave the Los Angeles area and head north to visit other Hispanic heritage sites, the Great Hispanic American History Tour must go to Hollywood!
There are close to 80 Latinos recognized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and we are going to visit some of them.
But first, we have to get thousands of people to get off the sidewalks, so we can find them! LOL
Get ready to take a walk along our own Hispanic Walk of Fame!