Garfield Senior High School

Gentrification: Placita Olvera

 

As of today many areas are in danger of gentrification, one of them being a community enriched with history and culture – Olvera. During the year 1781, there was an area located in Downtown Los Angeles that came to be known as the oldest street in Los Angeles today, Olvera Street. Olvera Street, also known as La Placita Olvera along with El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument, is the “Apple of Downtown LA” – a place which accentuates Mexican culture, murals, tourism, politics, art, and religion. This iconic street is known for its diversity and history. Throughout the years the Plaza was not only an area full of great restaurants, Mexican merchandise tables, and music/dance performances but a home for a “mix of many” as William David Estrada mentions in his book The Los Angeles Plaza, Sacred and Contested Space. The history of the Plaza is so broad that it can be overwhelming.

In 1781, Olvera Street was founded by King Carlos Ⅲ of Spain. The area became the home of Spanish pobladores (settlers), including 11 families. The pueblo was first known as “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles”. The street itself was named after Agustin Olvera for being first superior court judge of the Los Angeles County and long term Olvera Street resident. The importance and popularity of Olvera Street can be accredited to the myriad of important events that have occurred there. History was made, especially in terms of activism. For example, in the year 2006, millions of protesters gathered for La Gran Marcha on City. It was the outcome against the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act. The last act gave undocumented immigrants a bad image and generalized them as criminals, describing them as an “unlawful presence” and “aggravated felony.” The plaza on Olvera Street was the central spot where many activists and organization leaders decided to gather and plan what would soon become movements of history.

Even today, there is much artwork and construction going back up to 1818 that has been preserved due to the historical and cultural significance attached to it. For instance, the Avila Adobe was constructed by Francisco Avila, an affluent man that worked as a cattle rancher. The place had so many rooms that it was a great venue for not only living in but also hosting community gatherings and holidays. The Avila Adobe created a unity among families and friends since it was very spacious.  Today it remains valuable to the people that visit La Plaza and come across the Avila Adobe which now remains as a museum open to the public at no cost. Although it was damaged, due to the Los Angeles River flood, the city ensured the Avila Adobe would be kept lively as possible. Therefore, it was reconstructed to look as if it had never been damaged.

The Los Angeles Plaza on Olvera Street has since gained a cultural significance due to  what William Estrada calls a “mix of many”, referring to the many cultures the Olvera area was influenced by. The area is predominantly Mexican but  it’s also comprised of Chinese, Italians, and Japanese people. What started as a Spanish colony transformed into a place radiating Mexican culture. It has become a tourist attraction. In fact, in 1937 there was a short film created  of Olvera Street called “A Street of Memory” to attract people from other countries. There has been controversy that the plaza was not really about making history and representing cultural diversity but as grounds for tourism. To keep the heritage strong there was a mural painted by David Siqueiros, although it was immediately covered up due to the strong political statement it was portraying. According to Estrada, in his book, The Los Angeles Plaza while living in Los Angeles he acknowledged Olvera Street as both “manufactured and as an “authentic Mexican shopping street” for tourists, was simultaneously a place where Mexicans shopped next to tourists.”

However, he claims that the “mythical Olvera Street” doesn’t acknowledge how  it gained its importance, which was a result of it being the center of politicians, activists, musicians, dancers and religious families that visit the church there. Many people fail to realize the roots of the city. Olvera Street holds not only valuable political history but  tremendous religious significance too. El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument is a 44 acre historic space managed by the City of Los Angeles Department, which includes places like the plaza Catholic church, the Chinese American Museum, El Pueblo Art Gallery, Italian Hall Museum, and many other places that reflect the diverse community.

As mentioned earlier, there was a religious focus specifically on Catholicism. A Catholic belief still prominent today  is the story of the Virgin Mary appearing to Diego, an Indian peasant. It’s believed that there is an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, as Estrada explains, “on the exterior north wall of the church’s administrative annex” and has become one of the city’s most visited and sacred shrines. Not only do these shrines reflect the religious aspect but also the events that go on. One of the well known events that occur in Olvera is The Blessing of Animals, which has taken place since 1930. Year by year it became a bigger event that not only included the blessing of the animals  by the church but also began featuring various musical and artistic performances. The religious traditions that have taken place in Olvera are relevant to history since the community keeps it alive. Going back in time, agriculture was the main element that brought about the discovery of the plaza along with the Native American culture.

The traditional events like the Blessing of the Animals,the celebration of the mexican independence, all continue to bring life to Olvera.  Olvera continues to be kept lively with not only long established traditions but with the people reside there. Without places like the Avila Adobe we would not be able to see the lifestyle of the people that brought Olvera street to life. There is much more to Olvera than simple serving as a tourist attraction. The political history is what has united the community. In conclusion, Olvera Street is a little piece of the past, tradition, and diversity in the community that shouldn’t be gentrified.

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