Last week the city of Los Angeles unveiled a new public space paying tribute to the immigrants who helped build Southern California. The 7,000-square-foot space at Cesar Chavez Avenue and Spring Street near El Pueblo de Los Angeles Migrant’s Bend Plaza was officially dedicated on Sept. 29, replacing part of an county-owned parking lot.
Los Angeles Downtown News recently wrote about the plaza and the monument ahead of the dedication. Part of a $3.2 million streetscape improvement project, the plaza highlights the impact from Native Americans and African Americans, as well as the many immigrant cultures that make up Los Angeles’ diverse communities.
Los Angeles is a city of immigrants, going back to its founding. That legacy is especially noticeable in neighborhoods still bearing the names of the home countries of people that helped to settle the city, such as Chinatown and Little Tokyo. The plaza was originally planned for Boyle Heights, but lacked community support. The monument was repositioned for Downtown, now bordering the recently opened 355-unit LA Plaza Village next to El Pueblo. The latter area, with its many museums honoring Los Angeles’ diverse history such as the Italian American Museum, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles, makes a perfect spot for this monument.
Especially noticeable at the plaza is sculptor Dan Medina’s 19-foot-tall monument to braceros, the migrant workers who came into the United States to meet labor demands from 1942-1964. The bronze sculpture is striking, depicting a bracero worker taking a break from the midday heat. On the worker’s left side sits his wife and child, reaching out to their husband and father. The monument includes a plaque offering information on the history and impact of the bracero programs.
While it’s not the biggest addition to Downtown, it deserves a level of adulation. Not only does it reclaim a space for communal use, but it also pays respect to an understated part of the city’s history. That’s particularly important now, amid waves of xenophobia in the United States from some of the highest levels of power. The history and legacy of migrants in the county and Los Angeles should not be overlooked, but acknowledged.
Migrant’s Bend Plaza also adds much-needed public space to Downtown. Although 7,000 square feet is nowhere close to the 12 acres of Grand Park or the 32 acres of Los Angeles State Historic Park, any new bit of communal land benefits Downtown and gives denizens another place to gather, spend time, or explore. The plaza also complements the four murals on the side of LA Plaza Village, adding another attractive visual to the area.
A city, especially a downtown district, is made a community not by heavy corporate investment, but by smaller, accessible spaces where people can gather. Downtown benefits from the places like Migrant’s Bend Plaza, where current residents can learn about the city’s history, while also engaging with their neighbors. The Plaza isn’t the biggest addition, but it’s a worthy one.