On She Goes

A Cultural Tour of Los Angeles’s Mixed Roots

Visit the places and people who have shaped the history of the City of Angels.

Heidi Hong
Heidi Hong
August 17, 2017
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Los Angeles is one of the most racially and economically diverse cities in the United States. According to the latest census in 2010, a majority of people of color make up the city, with almost half the population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, and the Asian and Black populations each making up approximately 10%. From the history-making multiracial civil rights marches and the Watts Rebellion against police brutality to today’s Japanese American solidarity with Muslims against the Muslim ban, Los Angeles’s rich history is rooted in multiracial activism. The next time you’re in town, make your way to the East Side to tour the important places and people who have shaped the history of the City of Angels and made it what it is today.

Olvera Street/América Tropical Mural
125 Paseo de la Plaza

After you arrive at Union Station, walk to nearby Olvera Street, arguably the birthplace of present-day Los Angeles and a spot on many must-visit lists. The neighborhood was home to a thriving community during Mexican independence from Spain. Though socialite Christine Sterling “reinvented” Olvera Street as a white fantasy of old Mexico with exoticized vendors in tacky costumes in the late 1920s, Mexican Americans eventually reclaimed the neighborhood as a cultural epicenter. Stop in at the Sepulveda House to marvel at the mural América Tropical, painted by David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932 to commemorate indigenous struggles against Spanish and American colonization. When you need a break, join the crowd dancing to mariachi performers in the Plaza.

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
photo by JassieUO

Little Tokyo Walking Tour at the Japanese American National Museum
100 N Central Ave

Stop at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) to sign up for a guided walking tour of Little Tokyo, the heart of Japanese American Los Angeles. The tour includes museum admission, so be sure to check out the museum’s current exhibits, focused on Japanese American history and culture. Learn about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II through the diorama of the Manzanar concentration camp and the many letters and photographs from camp survivors and army volunteers. If you visit in the summer, make sure to stop by Tuesday Night Café (120 Judge John Aiso St), a free, bimonthly summer open-mic series featuring neighborhood artists and musicians.

Japanese American National Museum
photo by JassieUO

Chicken Itza
photo by JassieUO

Mercado la Paloma
3655 S Grand Ave

Hidden across the 110 freeway and behind a DMV parking lot, Mercado la Paloma is the perfect place to grab a casual lunch while supporting the local community. In 2001, the Esperanza Community Housing Corp. converted the old garment factory space into a bustling marketplace that promotes local businesses, provides community services, and hosts art exhibits and cultural events. Try a variety of spicy and succulent tacos or a pollo asado platter at the famous family-owned Chichén Itzá, one of the best Mexican restaurants specializing in Yucatecan food in Los Angeles. Chef Gilberto Cetina’s Mayan-, Spanish-, and Lebanese-influenced menu is unpretentious, perfectly seasoned, and filling. Other excellent snack options sharing the venue include Azla, a vegan and gluten-free Ethiopian cafe, as well as Oaxacalifornia, known for their colorful Oaxacan smoothies and juices.

Panuchos from Chichen Itza
photo by JassieUO

California African American Museum
600 State Dr

Walk across Exposition Park to the California African American Museum (CAAM) to see a wide-ranging collection of art, photography, film, historical documents, and artifacts created by or significant to Black communities in Southern California. Current exhibits reflect on the turmoil of the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the 1992 Los Angeles uprisings through powerful documentary footage, shedding light on racial and economic equality in America today. Trouble Every Day: LA 1965/1992 highlights the importance of music to civil rights struggles, showcasing the contributions of West Coast Black American musicians such as Elaine Brown, Charles Wright, Ice Cube, and Tupac. Make sure you visit CAAM’s permanent collection to view works by artists of the African diaspora in the Caribbean and Brazil.

Bookstore in Boyle Heights
photo by JassieUO

Boyle Heights and Other Books/Otros Libros
2006 E Cesar E Chavez Ave

Tucked into the historic working-class Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Other Books is an unassuming bookstore that prominently features a selection of works by writers of color. As a partnership between Tiny Splendor, a small art press, Kaya Press, a nonprofit publisher of books from the Asian and Pacific Islands diaspora, and Seite Books, the bookstore provides access to diverse literature, author events, and workshops in a community space. On the shelves you will find a wide selection ranging from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Anelise Chen’s So Many Olympic Exertions to bilingual children’s books and art books.

Dinner in Koreatown

According to the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), Chosun Galbee (3330 W Olympic Blvd) is one of the few restaurants in Koreatown that abide by labor laws. Chosun specializes in high-end traditional Korean cuisine and barbecue. Try the tender bulgogi and cold buckwheat noodles in the summer. Chosun’s decision to treat restaurant workers fairly is the result of one of the most successful battles for workers’ rights in KIWA’s history. In 1997, KIWA organized the community and took legal action to pressure Chosun to pay back wages to its workers. Today, the organization continues to educate predominately Latino and Korean restaurant workers to fight against abuses in the industry.

For a relaxed atmosphere and hearty tofu soup, head over to Beverly Soon Tofu (2717 W Olympic Blvd) on Olympic. Chef and owner Monica Lee has been serving boiling-hot silky tofu soup in traditional stone pots since she immigrated to LA from Korea over 30 years ago. Sitting on wooden benches hand-carved by Lee, you almost feel as if your favorite aunt is serving you her unlimited banchan (side dishes).

Recommended Reading: A People’s Guide to Los Angeles by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng. Pick up this unconventional guidebook highlighting little-known landmarks important to people of color in Los Angeles.