As a life-long Angeleno, I am no stranger to the richness and diversity of Mexican-American culture that exists in Los Angeles. Though a home of many cultures from around the world that have become infused with American influences, Los Angeles and Mexican-American culture is inherently tied together by land, language, and time. So when I stepped into La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Los Angeles' new Mexican-American cultural center, my immediate reaction was - "Why wasn't this here before?"
But the moment after I walked into the inaugural exhibition - LA Starts Here! - I realized that it is the perfect time for LA Plaza to open. Beginning the exhibition's journey in 1781 and traveling to the present, the visitor encounters how many existing Los Angeles cultural institutions contributed to this exhibition and how complicated and extensive is the make-up of just this one aspect of Los Angeles history. The visitor can also interact through today's technology - to watch videos, contribute stories, interface with social media - to become a part of an ongoing story.
I find that today we get so bogged down by placing people into categories and understanding personal histories and culture through checkboxes that we so often forget the details, the diversity and complexity that exists within labels. Through LA Plaza, the details are highlighted while at the same time individual stories become coalesced to become a foundation for today's dialogue.
But the journey through LA Plaza does not stop at LA Starts Here!. Families have the opportunity to step through an interactive exhibition on the second floor where they can explore Calle Principal. This hands-on exhibition takes families back to the Mexican-American community of 1920s Main Street Los Angeles.
Ultimately, when you step out of LA Plaza you're not quite the same as when before you stepped in. Los Angeles has a different focus, new details appear out of its edges, and if you're an Angeleno, you're happier to call it home.
View photos from LA Plaza. Provided by Curt Gibbs.