East Hollywood is L.A. at its Roots
From one pueblo to many in strides and resilience
Los Angeles was founded in 1781—next to and on top of the Native Tongva/Gabrieleño village called Yaangna—by 11 familias and four soldiers of mixed African, Indigenous and European ancestry. In two separate groups, they came largely from the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, one crossing through Baja California, the other through the Sonoran and Mojave deserts; they were a total of 11 men, 11 women, and 22 children who trekked over 1,200 miles north before reaching La misión San Gabriel Arcángel, which was founded by the Spanish priest Junipero Serra only a decade earlier. Nine miles later, they raised the pueblo this storyteller names himself after.
Four years after this journey, Toypurina, a Tongva/Gabrieleño medicine woman born and raised on the land prior to la misión taking control of it, led an attempted revolt against its padres, etching her name into Los Angeles’ rebel archives ad infinitum. Sixteen years later in 1801, Pío Pico, of African and Indigenous roots, was born at the church. He would become the last governor of California under Mexican law.
La misión is now both a site of worship as well as a tourist destination; it’s also a smidgeon in the rearview mirror of a city whose “direction” seems more intent on building stadiums instead of housing for its most essential workers and families, to say nothing of relief for untold numbers of people living on its streets. As a pastor, Serra might be perplexed by such a humanitarian crisis so close to the walls of his and his brethren’s place of refuge, while Toypurina and Pico, both stripped of their original homes by forces larger than themselves, might not be as surprised.
Yet, that it was a band of familias who traced the first 28 square miles of L.A. (which are now 4,000 square miles) allows us to see a few things about the origins of a city which still appears committed to eluding a sense of history and place.
For starters, the journey of the familias—long and arduous, and during a time when no vaccine existed for some deadly, 3,000-year-old virus called smallpox—makes it clear that immigration and resilience—or resilient immigrants—are strengths Los Angeles and California never merely acquired, but which they’ve been made of since their humble beginnings.
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