Plazita Olvera near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles

The Time Has Now Come to Remake Los Angeles, While Still Remembering its Roots

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 79)

A brief glance at the history of the world and civilizations shows that every world and civilization has its time, until each gives way to another.

Indeed, long before the infamous racism of the United States our nation must come to terms with today, there were whole other people and places here. At a certain point, even a historian can forget the basic fact of it.

I can still remember yearning to learn about the history of the American continent before it became ‘America’ out of a simple yearning to imagine what it might have been like. Now that this week has passed, I believe I may finally have a sense of what it felt like too. That is, as it changed.

Make no mistake about it: in the days going forward, I am only more prepared to defend Los Angeles from any individual or group seeking strictly to exploit it, or to keep it benefiting a few at the expense of far more.

But I can also see that Los Angeles, like all of our country, is changing, as the world has changed many times, simply because that’s how the world we arrived at today came to be. Many generations and voices have fought for precisely this type of change, while many other generations and voices have consistently resisted it. But eventually, enough pressure accumulates against all things, until before we know it: one world and civilization give way to another.

A case in point: the picture for this column is from a recent visit to Olvera Street, a place which is more popularly known as “the oldest” street in Los Angeles since the city’s founding–though not its settlement–in 1781 under Spanish rule. On a “regular day,” the street would be filled with music in the air while shops displayed goods and treats for the world to see, and as crowds of shop-goers bustled past one another from shop to shop.

By contrast, on this most recent visit, nearly every shop was closed due to the impact and restrictions from COVID-19 over the last three months. There was no music in the air, and walking through, I pictured all of the people who would be there as if they were ghosts, or figures whose imprints were still there even if they were removed; the original settlers of Los Angeles were the Gabrielino/Tongva nation, of whom there are still living descendants in Los Angeles today.

But even without the familiar crowd of bodies along the corridor, and despite the closing of nearly all of the shops, at the end of the street I was pleased to find that Cielito Lindo was still open.

While it might not be the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles, at 86 years, it’s still far older than most of L.A.’s restaurants today. I ordered a familiar beans and cheese burrito, and even sat down to enjoy it despite the unfamiliar space of a six feet distance between a few others and their lunch.

It was still Los Angeles, just as it was still Gabrielino/Tongva land. But it was ready for a change.


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