Lufthansa Highlights Los Angeles: "Spanglish is the language in Latino city LA"
How ’bout a beer?” Big John, an impressive figure with a grayish-white ponytail, is an excellent host – even on the parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl, California’s most attractive open-air venue. The rays of the late afternoon sun lend cars and people a peach-colored hue. The annual Mariachi USA Festival is due to start an hour from now. It will feature bands from all parts of the country playing the sad songs favored by wandering Mexican minstrels.
In the meantime, Big John and his buddies are warming up with coke and beer in the parking lot. Car loudspeakers deliver a rousing soundtrack of hip-hop, salsa and Mexican folk music to the pre-festival party. The Mariachi Festival will attract some 15,000 people – mainly of Hispanic origin.
Gringos are a minority group here. The Hispanics, both on the stage and in the audience, come from just about everywhere in Latin America. Some have dressed up for the occasion – the men with cowboy hats or sombreros, the women and girls wearing frilly dresses and flowers in their hair. But most of them sport the Californian leisure uniform of T-shirt and jeans. They all stand up for the US national anthem at the start of the festival and sing it out loud in English.
Although proud of their Latin-American origins, they see themselves primarily as US citizens. Los Angeles is the second largest and also the most “Latino” city in the United States. That comes as no surprise when 48 percent of the population in the Greater Los Angeles Area is of Hispanic extraction – and this figure is rising.
Latinas Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba and “desperate housewife” Eva Longoria Parker have made their mark on Hollywood.
Bands like Los Lobos and Ozomatli are well known well beyond Los Angeles. And Latino self-confidence got a powerful boost when Antonio Villaraigosa was voted the city’s first Hispanic mayor since 1872.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by the Spanish Governor of California. Both city and state belonged to Mexico until 1846, as evidenced by the many Spanish street names and the whole architecture of the region, which is still influenced by the style formerly used in Mexican missions. Downtown LA still has a few restored buildings on Olvera Street in the Old Town. This is a pedestrian area full of shops and stalls selling handicrafts and kitsch. Women working at La Luz del Dia still shape tortillas by hand. This is a dying art in times of industrial food production. Modern Latino Los Angeles is just a few blocks away on Broadway.
The halls of the Grand Central Market and the busy stores between Broadway and Hill Street cater to the material needs of Angelinos - imported foods, jewelry, clothing, plus a whole lot of knickknacks. Broadway smells of Big Town – a bit like New York, but with a touch of Mexico City. You get this feeling further south, in Lynwood, too, where the Plaza Mexico shopping mall facades are a pretty accurate imitation of the Mexican town of Monte Alban. Regular concerts, folklore fiestas and popular restaurants help to enliven the atmosphere in the mall (addresses on page 76).
But it’s difficult to pin down any particular district as being “Latino Los Angeles.” Boyle Heights and Whittier Hills have been pretty well colonized by Angelinos with Hispanic roots but everyone who can get out of there and try his or her luck elsewhere does so, mainly because of the high crime rate. Latino LA is omnipresent - in taco bars like Hollywood’s Cactus Taqueria and innumerable Latin-American restaurants.
The same sort of crazy mixture is evident in LA’s night life. Salsa, hip hop, pop and all possible combinations of the three carry across the night air from the clubs. Ballroom dancing is currently enjoying a revival in the United States, and demand for Latin-American dances is strong, not only among Latinos. At El Floridita, the Hollywood offshoot of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering-hole in Havana, guests work off the calories from the main course to sambas and tangos played by a live orchestra before going back to tackle the dessert. Dance teachers like John “Dance Doctor” Cassese have latched on to the new trend and taught celebrities such as Goldie Hawn and Pamela Anderson the cha-cha-cha. But his Santa Monica studio is not open exclusively to a star clientele, tourists can also take lessons.
The mix of cultures living in LA is reflected by the colorful wall paintings everywhere. These depict scenes of everyday Hispanic life and range from socially critical to pure joie de vivre. Some recall murals by the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, others, graffiti. The Great Wall of Los Angeles, painted on the wall of a flood control channel in North Hollywood, is half a mile long and allegedly the longest mural in the world. It shows the history of California from the age of the dinosaurs to the 1950s. Over 400 young people were involved in creating the Great Wall.
Contemporary Hispanic art is on display at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA). The MOLAA has the country’s most impressive collection of Latin American paintings and sculptures, and it is here that many Angelinos first discover their rich cultural heritage. This is already available in LA in the form of Louis Verdad’s fashion creations. Currently rated the hottest fashion designer in the United States, Verdad draws his inspiration from the movie glamour girls of the 1940s, the elegance of Eva Perón and the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Stars like Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter and Cameron Diaz are his regular customers. “I love the mix you get in LA,” the designer enthuses. “Hispanic and Anglo-American styles clashing with each other everywhere you look and blending to form something totally new and original.” Los Angeles - an old, new and totally exciting city.