This is the Theatre of Dreams.
Or perhaps the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
Succeed in Los Angeles, and you become a global celebrity, fail and you remain as unknown but poorer then you were at the start, wisened by worse for wear. For the many attractive, young people who have a entertainment dream this is the place where they go to try and chase their dreams all the while taking menial jobs to feed themselves while waiting for their big break – which therefore makes Los Angeles one of the most attractive places in the world. But immerse yourself in the world of beautiful people and you soon start to see that beautiful people are a dime a dozen, and age is an tragic fiend. Almost 6.5% of this city of 4 million work in the film/digital media industry, this 2012 estimate put the number of actors at around 100,000 and those who can find acting work at slightly over 21,000. Then there are those celebrities dream stories of people plucked from obscurity.
And yet this dream can easily turn into a nightmare, and the dream may as easily have been a mirage, it is for this reason that the City of Dreams and home to many people with the faces of angels and bodies of the devil (an English translation of a Chinese idiom that basically describes physical perfection.) Think of this list for example, there are perhaps even more people in Los Angeles who would fit this description but the majority would never get picked for a gig and succeed.
To an neophyte to Los Angeles, Hollywood defined the city. But as I was to discover, Los Angeles is much more than Hollywood. Even though that single industry dominates the city many other his is also the place of dreams for many others. Perhaps because of its location on the far West coast of the continental United States, conjouring more images of the wild west than the eastern seaboard of Europe Los Angeles perhaps represents, more than any other American city, the quintessential essence of the American Dream. It is a place where anyone and everyone can make it.
Like San Diego, Los Angeles began its modern day life as a mission field for Spanish missionaries led by Junipero Serra. Serra set up a mission called the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, in 1771. A decade later, the governor of Las Californias (including modernday United States and Mexico) was asked to set up secular settlements throughout the state, and he picked a group of 44 settlers called Los Pobladores to settle in what is the city of Los Angeles today. The named the town (or Pueblo) they settled in, the El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels), its named was eventually shortened to Los Angeles out of convenience.
Like the complexion of the city today (and unlike San Diego, when it was first settled), Los Angeles was originally settled by mestizo and mulatto people (individuals born of parents from different heritages essentially) and was originally a small ranch town with nothing much to it for its initial 4 decades until 1821 when New Spain achieved its independence from the Spanish Empire and the governor of California Pico Pio made the city the regional capital.
Los Angeles however boomed only after the Mexican-American War (aka My Polk’s War during the height of the mindset of Manifest destiny), when black gold was discovered in the region and the western railroad allowed people to flood in to make their fortune. It went from a mestizo city to a European-Caucasian city.
As it grew it swallowed up the many districts around it on the way to becoming the metropolis it is today. Los Angeles eventually swallowed the entertainment giant of Hollywood, it grew its own manufacturing hub that propelled the United States to victory in World War II. More and more people emigrated to the city, the Chinese, the Japanese the Mexicans among others who ventured to Los Angeles giving the city a diverse character.
Los Angeles was clearly to them a blessed city, and one that they saw would make their lives and fulfill their dreams. Why did these non-Europeans move to California, what enticed them about the American dream? What did they experience in the process? Join me in the next few posts as I search for the answer.