La Plaza: Where Diverse Cultures Met
The neighborhood known to generations of Angelenos as La Plaza, or la placita, is the birthplace of Los Angeles. Forty-four settlers of Native American, African, and European heritage journeyed from present-day Northwest Mexico to found Los Angeles there in 1781. Over time, many different people have come together at La Plaza. The Native American Tongva tribe and Spanish and Mexican inhabitants originally lived in the neighborhood. By the 1920s a multiracial population of Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican American residents came to live in La Plaza.
Coming Together in La Plaza
Ezequiel Moreno, a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, started a bakery in his home in 1918, and in the 1920s moved to La Plaza in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. He named the bakery La Esperanza, meaning hope. Soon it was frequented by customers across many segments of the Los Angeles community.
Mexican immigrants, downtown employees, and Hollywood movie stars came for bread, coffee, traditional Mexican dishes, and “American-style” lunches. A nearby Japanese-owned grocery store specialized in Mexican products. The families that owned the businesses developed close personal and professional ties.
This dinnerware was used by customers at La Esperanza, a bakery and restaurant that flourished in downtown Los Angeles from the 1920s to the 1970s. Catering to the diverse communities that lived and worked in and around downtown, La Esperanza served both Mexican and American foods.
Japanese Americans in Los Angeles
The Shishimas owned a small grocery store near La Esperanza and made their home on the second floor above the popular bakery. The two families worked together, supported one another, and celebrated each other’s successes.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were feared to be enemies. Under Executive Order 9066 the U.S. War Relocation Authority removed the Shishima family and many other Japanese Americans to incarceration camps. Families lost their jobs, homes, businesses, and most of their possessions.
Attracted by the film industry, a steady stream of actors and actresses, from around the country and around the world, came to Los Angeles to make it big in Hollywood. Many actors changed their names and identities to succeed in this new industry.