Social Issues

Mexican culture reigns supreme in Los Angeles’ iconic Mariachi Plaza

By Javier Romualdo

Los Angeles, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Mariachi Plaza, a square in Los Angeles’ largely Hispanic Boyle Heights neighborhood, served prior to the pandemic as a popular gathering place and a magnet for dozens of area musicians.

Around noontime on any normal day in this corner of East L.A., singers, trumpet players and guitarists wearing regional Mexican costumes would wait to be hired for a show, a surprise party or some other festivity.

Although the coronavirus has brought a temporary halt to that scene, life in many districts of the United States’ second-largest city is still pervaded by the colors, smells and sounds of Mexico.

Nearly half of the population in Los Angeles – an extremely diverse metropolis of more than 12 million inhabitants – identifies as “Latino or Hispanic,” while the latest census data shows that in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights that proportion is as high as 90 percent, with the vast majority of people being Chicanos or Mexican-born immigrants.

Taco stands, bars, sporting goods stores with images of soccer players and lucha libre wrestlers are a habitual part of the landscape in Los Angeles, even if they lack the mythology that surrounds Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

“I was born in Mexico, but I’ve always lived here, since I was young. My parents lived here. I grew up, got married and work here,” Minerva said in perfect Spanish.

In fact, in this district it is hard to find someone who doesn’t speak the language.

Minerva and her husband manage an establishment that sells horchata (a rice-based beverage), bottled water, dishes such as tostadas (deep-fried tortillas with various toppings) and ice cream.

Before the onset of the coronavirus crisis, mariachi musicians were the main customers of that eatery located across from the plaza’s iconic kiosk (stage), which was donated by the Mexican state of Jalisco (the birthplace of mariachi music) so that square facing the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles would resemble downtown Mexico City’s famed Plaza Garibaldi.

“Musicians were 60 percent of my customers, and, well, now there are no celebrations, they’re not working and they also don’t come by,” she said.

There is heightened concern about the coronavirus in Los Angeles due to the heavy toll Covid-19 has exacted not only on California but also Mexico, which is struggling to contain the virus and mitigate the severe economic impact of a two-month lockdown.

“I follow the news in Mexico and watch the Spanish-language channels,” said Minerva, who added that many people in her homeland are skeptical about the seriousness of that potentially fatal respiratory illness.

Pedro Prieto, a Chicano who owns a family sporting goods store in Mariachi Plaza where soccer kits and photos of teams adorn the walls and a Spanish-league game between Sevilla and Eibar is seen on a television set, also spoke to Efe Monday about his ties to Mexico.

“I was born here in the United States. My parents are Mexican. They started the business in 1974, and now my sister and I manage it,” he said.

Like many Chicanos – the term for American citizens of Mexican descent – Prieto, who lived for 12 years in Mexico before returning to Los Angeles, feels an attachment to both countries.

“Proud to have been born in the United States, and also (proud) of Mexico and my family,” he said.

But in recent years one topic has dominated the conversation in Boyle Heights: gentrification, the process by which an urban neighborhood’s population and character are radically altered by the influx of more affluent residents, who settle there and drive up property values and housing costs.

That trend is particularly pronounced in a city like Los Angeles, where a combination of real-estate speculation, market bubbles and changing trends can rapidly transform entire neighborhoods.

With investors drawn to Boyle Heights by the absence of gangs and the arrival of the metro, families who had lived in that Latino enclave for generations suddenly found themselves hit by skyrocketing rent costs.

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