A New Cultural Center Brings Mexican American Voices to L.A.'s Birthplace A New Cultural Center Brings Mexican American Voices to L.A.'s Birthplace
Culture

A New Cultural Center Brings Mexican American Voices to L.A.'s Birthplace

by Alissa Walker

May 4, 2011


Somewhere on Los Angeles's Olvera Street, among the 99-cent sombreros and Mexican wrestling masks, is the birthplace of the city. But it takes a lot of looking beyond the tchotchkes and theme park-sized margaritas to find the place where L.A. was founded in 1781. Now a new museum and cultural center, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, helps both tourists and Angelenos discover the history of the city by bringing the stories of Mexican Americans out of the museum and into a public walkway.


From the ranchos that carved up the L.A. basin, to the story of how local migrant workers transformed labor laws, the museum focuses on the Mexican American experience in L.A., which turns out to be a great way to tell the history of the city. While the exhibits are filled with artifacts like century-old clothing, all the pieces are on loan. The only actual items the museum has in its collection are the "Voces Vivas," a series of video vignettes featuring narratives from Mexican Americans. "We don't collect artifacts, we collect stories," says president and CEO Miguel Angel Corzo, of the 55 interviews with people ranging from "gardeners and judges to artists and political activists."


Sandwiched between these displays are gorgeous interstitial animations featuring monarch butterflies (symbols of migration) and blossoming tropical flowers that seem to grow and bloom across the screens. The graphics, which were programmed by Automata Studios, are inspired by the same Oaxacan patterns in the ironwork on the surrounding fence and feature plants and animals indigenous to Mexico. 

"I think this will really change the area. It feels very rich and established," says Krakowsky of the once-empty alley outside the museum, which is housed in two of the city's oldest buildings. Indeed, using these displays to both activate a public space and draw in potential visitors seems to be working. That's especially true at night, when the screens glow like lanterns, and people gravitate to their bright colors and graceful imagery, standing long enough to learn a little slice of Los Angeles history.

Photos by Ron Frankel

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A New Cultural Center Brings Mexican American Voices to L.A.'s Birthplace