Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Los Angeles: An Immigrants' City

"Culture in Los Angeles is not indigenous, but rather an elaborate transmutation," Willard Huntington Wright once said. In his excellent book Southern California: An Island on the Land, Carey McWilliams elaborates on the multicultural background of Southern California, which he believes accounts for its commonplaceness -- referring to Garet Garrett, who wrote that "There is no Los Angeles face," and for whom the city was "the truest conceivable representation of the whole American face, urban, big town, little town, all together."

Case in point: "In 1890, native-born Californians constituted 25% of the residents of Los Angeles," writes McWilliams. "In 1900, 27%; in 1920, 20%; and in 1930, 10%." Visiting L.A. in 1930, Garet Garrett noted that "You have to begin with the singular fact that in a population of a million and a quarter, every other person you see has been there less than five years. More than nine in every ten you see have been there less than fifteen years. Practically, therefore, the whole population is immigrant, with the slowly changing sense of home peculiar to non-indigenous life. The mind is first adjusted, then the conscious feelings; but for a long time -- for the rest of the immigrant's life perhaps -- there will be in the cells a memory of home that was elsewhere."

"While retaining a 'memory of home,' the newcomer in Southern California is not really an exile for he and his kind have always constituted a dominant majority of the population. In such a unique situation, the newcomer is generally able to find, somewhere in the vast recesses of Los Angeles, others of his kind."

Though McWilliams's book dates back to the 1940s, his quotes and remarks are still pertinent today, and explain that very unique nature of L.A. as an immigrant/expat haven. The online version of his book is available on Google.

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