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Jovanna Garcia

Professor Batty

English 101

29 March 2018

El Pueblo: A Connection to Mexican Culture

When people think of Los Angeles, the first thing that comes to their mind is Hollywood

and the sighting of celebrities. One great example would be the film La La Land, which is about

following your dreams in the entertainment industry and “making it big”. However, to me Los

Angeles means more than fame. Growing up in Los Angeles I used to always go to El Pueblo

with my mom every Sunday. My mother taught me that being away from Mexico doesn’t have to

stop us from having a place to call home. What I observed in El Pueblo is that this is a place

where all Latinos come to find a home away from home. Although, some people see El Pueblo

as a dirty place filled with homeless people, it’s a place where I can connect to my Mexican roots

because of its beautiful history, traditions, food, and music.

El Pueblo has stood in Los Angeles since 1781 and has made history. On September 4,

1781, the first 44 settlers were of Native American, African, and European heritage and lived in

Adobe houses. They had originally named El Pueblo “El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles”.

The oldest house on Olvera Street is the Avila Adobe, which was built in 1818. The Avila Adobe

was built by Francisco Jose Avila. He was a rancher from Sinaloa, Mexico who at the time was

the mayor of Los Angeles in 1810. In addition to the Avila Adobe, the Sepulveda House is also

one of the first buildings in El Pueblo. The Sepulveda House was built by Eloisa Martinez de

Sepulveda a businesswoman during the 19th century. As the author mentions, “In 1887, she built

the Sepulveda House, a business and residential building North Main Street” (Estrada 17). In
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addition, Christine Sterling contributed to the restoration of El Pueblo. She had found it in its

ruins and took it upon herself to restore it into something beautiful. As a result, she created the

Mexican marketplace on Olvera Street and opened it on Easter Sunday of April 20th, 1930.

According to Kropp, “[Christine Sterling] proclaimed it a place to ‘preserve our history,’ an

opportunity to ‘keep alive our patriotism and sentiment’” (42). In other words, the Olvera Street

marketplace was made to represent the past when Los Angeles was part of Mexico. Which is

why it is filled with stores selling handmade bags, traditional clothing, and Mexican artisanry.

Moreover, the America Tropical mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros also made history in 1932.

The mural is located on the Italian Hall’s exterior wall which is the center of El Pueblo. “This

mural suggested a whole host of interpretations, from the conquest of Indian civilizations and

Mexico’s own tumultuous past to a critique of the imperialism of the United States, the

exploitation of Mexican labor, and a possible communist revolution waiting in the wings”

(Kropp 50). Meaning that people portrayed the mural as insulting to American culture. The

reason being is that it made a political statement that Latin America was oppressed and destroyed

by American Imperialism.

The cultural traditions I observed at El Pueblo have been taking place since 1930 and

continue to present day. One of those traditions is the “Blessing of the Animals” which is held on

the Sunday before Easter. It has been around since 1930 and has been celebrated every year after.

It is a tradition where everyone brings their animals and pets to have them blessed by a priest for

fertility and good health (Estrada 65). El Dia de los Muertos is another tradition where we honor

our dead with ofrendas. Ofrendas are altars filled with offerings for those who have passed away.

These altars have photographs of the deceased along with their favorite foods and drinks. We

celebrate our deceased by sharing stories and remembering them through the memories they left
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behind. In addition, El Teatro del Barrio, a community theatre from El Pueblo hosts a play about

La Muerte. La Muerte, also known as “Lady of the Dead”, is a skeletal female dressed in elegant

traditional clothing. The play is a traditional way to showcase that people accept death as part of

life and don’t fear it. It is also common to do face painting of a skull either full face or half face

during the celebration. Along with the face paint, some people like to dress in traditional

clothing. Next, they have Las Posadas that are held in December. Las Posadas are supposed to

represent and tell the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The

community has children volunteers dress up as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels. In this

journey, they are looking for a safe place for Mary to give birth to baby Jesus. They walk around

Olvera Street singing and asking for shelter at each store. Eventually, when they are granted

shelter, they end their search and the birth of baby Jesus marks the end of La Posadas. Then, the

community celebrates by breaking a piñata and serving champurrado with sweet bread. Another

celebration that takes place in El Pueblo is Cinco de Mayo. This tradition marks Mexico’s

victory over the French during their battle on May 5, 1862 in Puebla, Mexico. The community

celebrates it with traditional dances, food, and music. Similarly, the Mexican Independence Day

is hosted on September 16 and represents Mexico’s independence from Spain. All of these

traditions are celebrated here each year along with traditional Mexican food.

Another observation I made while at El Pueblo was the different Mexican food. Their

food doesn’t only revolve around tacos as they have a wide variety of delicious food like

enchiladas. Enchiladas are rolled tortillas filled with shredded chicken dipped in green, red, or

mole sauce. Another popular food are tamales. Tamales are handmade from dough and wrapped

with a corn leaf. They are also filled with jalapenos and cheese, chicken in green or red sauce,

and some are sweet filled with pineapple. Usually, tamales are used during festivities around
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December and January. Another popular dish served during these times is pozole. Pozole is a

soup with shredded lettuce, pork, chile peppers, and hominy.

Besides the food, I observed that El Pueblo is brought to life with the various music

playing all around. Mariachis can be seen playing rancheras at the Mexican restaurants in the

marketplace. The “Mariachi, a traditional form of Mexican music, thrives in the Mexican

American community” (Baker 74). Mariachi’s wear suits studded with silver buttons on the sides

along with a bowtie and a sombrero. Additionally, a mariachi band consists of more than five

people who play guitar, trumpet, accordion, and a violin. Musicians and singers also come here

to play their music for the community. The music genre consists of rancheras and cumbias. A

lady at the Kiosko is wearing a traditional Mexican dress and singing rancheras. Rancheras are a

blend of polka, waltz, and bolero. The people surrounding her are listening and enjoying how she

sings with her heart and soul. Likewise, elderly couples can be seen dancing around the Kiosko.

It is rare to see a person dancing by themselves because “Mexican Americans have a distinctive

style of dancing which calls for partners to dance side by side” (Baker 74). Which is why it’s

common to see couples dancing together while holding each other’s hand. At the center of

Placita de Dolores is another man playing cumbia music. The man is playing a panpipe to the

rhythm of the song. Surrounding him are six elderly couples dancing along and 35 people

watching. The use of partners in both rancheras and cumbias “indicates the important role of the

family in Mexican American life” (Baker 74).

In conclusion, Los Angeles has more to offer than just Hollywood like El Pueblo de Los

Angeles. El Pueblo is where Los Angeles began in 1781 with the first street of Olvera. As well

as, the history surrounding the Avila Adobe, Sepulveda House, and Christine Sterling. In

addition to its history, El Pueblo also hosts traditions from Mexico. These traditions range from
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Dia de los Muertos, Las Posadas, Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo, and the Blessings

of the Animals. In addition, this place also offers authentic Mexican foods and live music. El

Pueblo is a place where all Latinos can feel at home and enjoy the culture. Overall, Los Angeles

isn’t only about “making it big” in the entertainment industry. It is about providing a place that

people can call home. Therefore, El Pueblo de Los Angeles means more to me because this is

where I grew up connecting to my Mexican culture.


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Works Cited

Baker, Richard. “MEXICAN AMERICAN CULTURE AND DAILY LIFE.” Dos Mundos:

Rural Mexican Americans, Another America, University Press of Colorado, 1995, pp. 57–

92. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nz7c.7. Accessed 24 March 2018.

Estrada, William D. Los Angeles's Olvera Street. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2006.

La La Land. Directed by Damien Chazelle, performances by Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone,

Summit Entertainment, 2016.

Kropp, Phoebe S. "Citizens of the Past? Olvera Street and the Construction of Race and Memory

in 1930S Los Angeles." Radical History Review, no. 81, Fall 2001, p. 35-60.

EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=31h&AN=7527703&site

=ehost-live. Accessed 24 March 2018.