“It was the custom... in all the families of the early settlers, for the oldest member of the family... to rise every morning at the rising of the morning star, and at once to strike up a hymn.... From house to house, street to street, the singing spread; and the volume of musical sound swelled, until it was as if the whole town sang.”
Los Angeles in the 1870s still seemed the Hispanic farming town it had been when the United States took California from Mexico in 1846. But for its Californio natives, life had changed. Bullfighting and bear-baiting had been outlawed; baseball was now the most popular sport. And political power had long since passed into the hands of the Anglos.
Then, in 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad reached Los Angeles and touched off a fare war with the Southern Pacific, which had brought the first line into the city nine years before. Rates were slashed daily until, at one point, travelers could make the trip from St. Louis for as little as one dollar.
Trainloads of newcomers came pouring in -- 120,000 in 1887 alone -- drawn by extravagant claims for the “purity of the air” and the prospect of making a fortune in the real estate boom. By 1888, sixty new towns had sprung up in Los Angeles County, and two years later, the Anglo population was five times what it had been just a decade before. In the heart of the old city, now called the barrio, Mexican-Americans who had live there for generations suddenly found themselves surrounded.
change was so drastic, we had to turn inward.... And one way to do that
is to fall back into the community, into the family, into the barrio,
and try to hang on to what you have of your history.... What's outside
is an alien land, where the color of your skin makes a difference, where
the way you speak makes a difference. In the barrio... you're accepted,
and out there is another world."
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© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA