History of Los Angeles

Latino Contributions

1769 – Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola explores the area to open up a land route to the port of Monterey and establishes the first Spanish settlement in the area. The settlers name the local river Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula (River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula).

1771 – Father Junipero Serra establishes the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, later moved to the present-day city of San Gabriel.

1781 – A group of 11 families comprising 44 Mexicans settles by the river. Felipe de Neve, Governor of Spanish California, names the settlement El Pueblo Sobre el Rio de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula. The name is shortened rather quickly.

1797 – Father Fermin Lasuen founds Mission San Fernando, named for King Ferdinand of Spain. It later becomes home to the largest adobe structure in California, 30,000 grape vines and 21,000 head of livestock.

1821 – Mexico achieves independence from Spain.

1847 – Battle of Rio San Gabriel. The United States takes control of Los Angeles. Treaty of Cahuenga is signed in the pass between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

1848 – Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico formally cedes California to the United States, and all residents are made U.S. citizens.

1926 – The Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion is founded. Today it has the largest circulation of any Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, with more than 126,000 copies daily.

1927 – In Los Angeles, the Confederación de Uniones Obreras Mexicanas (Federation of Mexican Workers Union-CUOM) becomes the first large-scale effort to organize and consolidate Mexican workers.

1930 – The area of the original Pueblo of Los Angeles is renovated and opens as Olvera Street.

1942 – Los Angeles newspaper editor Charlotta Bass, California Assemblyman Augustus Hawkins and the actors Hattie McDaniel and Lena Horne join the Citizens’ Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth formed by actor Anthony Quinn and Josephine Fierro de Bright of the Spanish-Speaking People’s Congress. The organization is created to defend eight Mexican American men charged with the murder of Jose Diaz.

1943 – Los Angeles erupts in the Zoot Suit Riots, the worst race riots in the city to date. For 10 nights, American sailors cruise Mexican American neighborhoods in search of “zoot-suiters” — hip, young Mexican teens dressed in baggy pants and long-tailed coats. The military men drag kids — some as young as 12 years old — out of movie theaters and cafes, tearing their clothes off and viciously beating them. Most of those assaulted are young Mexican American men but some African American and Filipino American men are attacked as well. Only nine white sailors were arrested by authorities in comparison to several hundred Zoot Suiters, some of whom die in jail of injuries sustained during the assaults.

1958 – Cesar Chavez becomes executive director of the Community Service Organization CSO. He and his family move to the headquarters in Los Angeles. Under his leadership the CSO helps Latinos become citizens, registers them to vote, battles police brutality and helps improve the barrio.

1968 – Latino high school students in Los Angeles stage citywide walkouts protesting unequal treatment by the school district. Prior to the walkouts, Latino students were routinely punished for speaking Spanish on school property, not allowed to use the bathroom during lunch, and actively discouraged from going to college. Walkout participants are subjected to police brutality and public ridicule; 13 are arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and conspiracy. However, the walkouts eventually result in school reform and an increased college enrollment among Latino youth.

1970 – Chicano Students at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles continue to protest educational inequities with more walk-outs. This time the Los Angeles police department responds with force beating many students before horrified parents and arresting more than 37 students.

1970 – Anti-war activists Rosalio Muñoz and Bob Elias organize a march and rally to protest the high number of Latinos deaths in Viet Nam. The Chicano Moratorium attracts more than 25,000 participants to East Los Angeles from throughout the nation and ends in an attack on the crowd by police and sheriffs. Ruben Salazar, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, is one of three people killed during the rioting.

1970 – Mexican American actor Richard “Cheech” Marin begins his career as part of the comedy team of Cheech and Chong, beginning a decades long career in acting. The antics of the two comedians popularize the concept of the pot-smoking “cholo” to American audiences.

1971 – More than 5,000 attend a follow an anti-war rally held in East Los Angeles and are attacked by Los Angeles County Sheriffs. Fifteen protesters are shot and one is killed.

1971 – Chicano cinema emerges with Requiem-29, a documentary about the August 29th Chicano Moratorium police riot and its aftermath, produced by Moctesuma Esparza and Directed by David García and with Jesús Treviño’s América Tropical, which chronicles the whitewashing of a Davíd Alfaro Siqueiros mural in Olvera Street, Los Angeles, during the 1930s.

1972 – Chicano art continues to flourish with the completion of Luis Jiménez’s resin epoxy and fiberglass sculptures Indian to Rockets and the opening of the Mechicano Art Center in East Los Angeles by artists Leonard Castellanos and Charles Félix. Muralist Willie Herron is commissioned to paint a mural Doliente De Hidalgo, at the City Terrace pharmacy after his previous mural Quetzalcoatl is whitewashed. In San Francisco, meanwhile, Mujeres Muralistas comprised of Patricia Rodriguez, Consuelo Méndez, Irene Pérez, and Graciela Carrillo, begin to paint murals in the Mission District highlighting the role of women in the Latin communities.

1972  In Los Angeles, Chicanos produce and host a number of television talk shows focusing on the Mexican American Accion Chicano show community. Producers of such shows as Unidos (ABC), The Siesta Is Over (CBS), Impacto (NBC), Community Feedback (KTLA), and Acción Chicano (PBS) use the opportunity to produce short films focusing on Chicano themes.

1973  Charles Felix organizes a massive mural painting project in an economically impoverished housing project in East Los Angeles known as Estrada Courts. Within a decade the walls of each apartment building are painted with murals reflecting the life and culture of the community. Among the artists Félix recruits to train young barrio painters are muralists Willie Herron, Gronk, David Botello and Wayne Healey.

1974 – Judy Baca creates a city-wide mural program funded by the city of Los Angeles.

1974 – The Unwanted, a documentary about the plight of  undocumented Mexican workers in the United States produced and directed by José Luís Ruíz, is broadcast on NBC in Los Angeles.

1974 – High school teacher Jaime Escalante begins to teach at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. His teaching style is so successful that students from his classes will achieve the highest scores in the nation in mathematics and calculus. His efforts will be the subject of the motion picture Stand and Deliver, directed by Ramón Melendez and starring Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips in 1987.

1990 – The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., and other civil rights attorneys file a class action against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department alleging that deputies in Lynwood, California, a disproportionately Hispanic community near South Central Los Angeles, systematically engaged in the use of excessive force, racial harassment, and illegal searches and seizures. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief as well as damages in the case, Thomas v. County of Los Angeles. The LDF filed the suit in part to revive injunctive relief against abusive police practices in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983).

1992 – The Los Angeles Police Department cracks down on Latino immigrants during the “Los Angeles rebellion,” after the “not guilty” verdict in the Rodney King police brutality case.

1994-1995 – The fight over California’s Proposition 187 brings the debate over immigration –particularly undocumented immigration — to the front pages of the national press. The ballot initiative galvanizes students across the state, who mounted a widespread campaign in opposition. Voters approve the measure preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining public services like education and health care.

1997 – A U.S. District Court judge overturns California’s Prop 187, ruling it unconstitutional.

2005 – Antonio Villaraigosa becomes mayor of Los Angeles, the city’s first mayor of Hispanic descent since 1872. After his election, Newsweek features him on the cover with the headline “Latino Power.”

2011 – In Downtown LA, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes opens across from the Olvera Street marketplace, and Dinosaur Hall opens at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park.

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