East Los Angeles
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Generally encompassing the land east of the Los Angeles River, “East Los Angeles” is a populous area which for many years has been anchored by communities such as Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights. Home to the Gabrielino Indians for more than two thousand years, the area fell into the hands of the Spanish in the late eighteenth century, with Mexican and American ranchers taking control of the land for much of the nineteenth century. Farmers eventually used portions to grow vegetables and fruit and raise dairy cattle, but agriculture took up only temporary residence, ultimately pushed aside as urban society rapidly expanded.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, East Los Angeles became a popular immigrant destination. In the early 1900s, Russians, Jews, Japanese, and Mexicans all had a significant presence in the area. Living east of the river and working in nearby factories, or traveling by electric rail into downtown Los Angeles, immigrants and their children helped fuel the prosperity of the growing metropolis. By the onset of World War II, East Los Angeles was a nearly exclusively Latino community, soon reinforced by Mexican workers who arrived to man the machines in the area’s burgeoning war industries. Although the face of the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding communities has changed considerably, East Los Angeles has maintained this basic character throughout the last sixty years. As a result of its history as a long-standing Mexican American community, the area of East Los Angeles continues to be studied and documented by scholars from around the world.
Be sure to check out Foto East LA, a community history project of LA County Library to create an online collection of images depicting the history of one of the nation’s most culturally rich communities. From everyday events to extraordinary moments, we’re gathering historical images taken by locals who have experienced East LA firsthand. We are accepting photos to add to the collection.