Los Angeles Turns 234 Years Young
by Anthony Bevilacqua, Park Ranger, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Sitting here at my desk at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Monument just a day after LA’s official birthday of September 4th 1781, and I’ve been thinking about what this city means to me. Every year, Los Angeles pays homage to the Pobladores, or settlers, who founded this great city with a walk from Mission San Gabriel to El Pueblo. Like last year, I participated in the birthday celebration for LA. I do this walk for many reasons: for one, I like to walk. I also enjoy learning about LA and I have become even more enthralled with how this city formed, who founded it, and how the land around LA has been transformed from rural pueblo and cattle town to the megalopolis it is today. Because of where I work, I can often find answers to some of these questions I have, or at least pathways leading to other questions taking me even deeper.
This year the walk took place on Saturday August 29th and wouldn’t you know it, the forecast called for a scorcher that day. We were days into a long heat wave so I knew this would be another hot one. Fortunately, the walk starts at 6am, but I wanted to get started even earlier so I arrived at 530am to the mission just outside of Alhambra. This year I didn’t see as many people gathering for the walk and although I did wait around until after 6am to see if more people would show. I got itchy feet and by 6:20 they still hadn’t started the blessing and ceremony. I would have liked to wait but with temps predicted into the high 90s and 100s I saw a few people start walking and I followed. I realized quickly that this walk would be different than last years; I would walk for the most part of the entire 9-miles alone. And I noticed that others were also either alone as well or in small groups of 2-3. Realizing that I would be solo, I decided to really look around and take in the surrounding communities, the geography, home styles, culture, shape of the sidewalk etc.
I thought about LA along the walk, who lives where and why? Doing work with urban youth you just can’t help but get caught up in issues of social justice, gentrification, housing shortages and the many hardships young people of color face living in the city. And this is another reason I like to do this walk. I want to walk the neighborhoods where my coworkers grew up, where the kids I work with today wait for the bus, go to the corner store and local parks. I’m proud that my park, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been recruiting young people from East LA for over 15 years now. Mainly because one of our own, Antonio Solorio also grew up in East LA in and his desire to work with the youth of LA has inspired many, including myself. Many of the people I have come to know and befriend come from the small communities of El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. The route of the Pobladores goes right through these neighborhoods.
Walking the route early in the morning I was able to see the streets and neighborhoods quietly without the roar of cars and horns. I noticed the hills, the tree- lined streets, and the character of the different nighborhoods. I saw small backyard gardens and I thought of the food the first Californians had to grow, or carry with themselves on their long arduous journeys. And isn’t interesting to see that many people are starting to grow their own food again. I had time to think about the journeys of the Anza expedition, the Pobladores of LA, and the many journeys we all make today. Fitting enough, along the route there was a billboard advertising a federal government program that helps families move. It asks, “Family on the move?”, and even has an image of a toy horse. How could I not thing of the expeditions of families making the treks across the deserts and mountains to settle our great California cities? And how could I not think of the thousands of Central Americans families moving North in search of a better life today? I did think about all of this, but I can only imagine what it might be like to move your entire family to some foreign land, gathering everything you can grab and heading off with high hopes.
After about 3 hours of walking I made it to El Pueblo and met my coworkers Hector Cervantes and Hoguer Sanchez who were participating in the festival with a table on the plaza highlighting the Anza trail. All together now we watched the procession head up the hill fronted by the Tonga and Aztec dancers and elected officials. It was really hot by then so we took shelter under our canopy and stood at our table and talked to folks about the Anza trail, the way they saw California, and the animals they encountered like the California Grizzly which used to be found all over Southern California. We made many great contacts and shared our knowledge of local open space with over 100 people. One of the highlights of the afternoon was meeting a descendant of the Anza expedition! This gentleman and his wife had come from Palm Desert and he said he had just started to get interested in his own history and ties to Old California. And it just so happened to be that was one of the Picos, and we were standing right next to the Pico house. Pio Pico was the last Mexican Governor of California and was descended from Anza expedition ….
This was a day of connections for me; people, history, journeys, all three connected this day to create web of deeply intertwined personal stories that are playing out in our own lives and the nations’ stage all at once. I say LA is 234 years young not to be corny, but it is truly a young city. Although we may have a long way to go to be a truly great city, I do believe we’re on our way and that the NPS can help in some little way. That is a big deal to me.
For more images of this event, check out our Flickr Site: 2015 Event, Los Angeles Pobladores