Review: Before LA

One of my passtimes these days is researching the local history of the SoCal area I’ve adopted as my home.  It’s pretty difficult to get a handle on in many ways.  I’ve never lived in a place that seems to live so much in the present as this one.  That may be due to my limitations in finding sources as well as not getting immersed in the stuff through elementary education.

David Samuel Torres-Rouff has fleshed out some more parts of the puzzle.  Before LA is a scholarly exploration of the history of settlement in the LA basin from the early Spanish land grants until the late 1800s.  Torres-Rouff is focused on the relationships between the ethnic and political groups that clashed and blended here.

I find that choice very enlightening.  Torres-Rouff tracks the give and take of (at least) the Spanish ranchers, Mexican workers, indigenous people, Chinese workers,  and American immigrants (black and white).  His focus is on the political machinations rather than the cultural blending, which defines significant eras pretty well.  Up until the American immigrants uneasily (and coercively) unify the various classes into a more monocultural city in the late 1800s, the various groups push and pull on one another.  The push and pull is a usually motivated by a new group appearing and exerting claims on the power structure of the area.  Sadly but tellingly, the unification of the existing groups is often punctuated by the lynching of a newcomer.

Before LA has a scholarly bent and is easy to follow, though somewhat dry in presentation.  The presentation does maintain a useful distance in assessing the facts.  A scholarly mien is an asset when tracking a history so punctuated with racial violence.


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