Celebrations for the city's 228th birthday last week got us thinking. Most thumbnail histories say the city was officially founded by the Spanish on Sept. 4, 1781. It was, in fact, forged and claimed by Spain, which wanted a pueblo in the area.
But many of those first settlers, Los Pobladores, were of mostly of indigenous or mixed ancestry and would likely be recognizable today as Mexicans. (A few even had African ancestry). They walked, with Spanish soldiers escorting them, from the Mission San Gabriel to near Olvera Street to establish El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles.
Spanish settlers were included in the group, and Mexico, the nation, hadn't yet gained independence from Spain. In the official flier (PDF) about 228th birthday festivities, the city states that a celebratory, eight-mile walk from the mission to Olvera “reenacts the 1781 trek of the original Spanish settlers of Los Angeles, known as Los Pobladores.”
It's a history that's oft-repeated: The Spanish settled Los Angeles. Mexico's rule would be brief — from 1821 to 1847. But those L.A. originals, mestizo, Indian, black, Spanish, were comprised mostly of the same fabric as Mexico's inhabitants. In fact, their settlement journey originated in the deeper regions of what is now Mexico.
So let's ask this question: Do we call those people who lived in the United States before 1776 British? Is it fair to say this band of Pobladores, which reflected the mixed nature of Mexican people, were Spanish simply because Spain had the temporary claim to the land they had inhabited for so long? And, if Los Angeles was indeed founded by Mexicans, does that change the ethnic dynamic of this heavily Latinized city? Should we still view its flood of mostly Mexican immigrants over the last two decades as foreigners, or even foreign?