USC LLSA Formerly Known as “La Raza”

The Latino Law Student Association was previously known as La Raza.  Although the name has changed, the group’s mission, services, and core understanding of the issues facing the Latino community in Los Angeles and around the country remain the same.  LLSA was founded in 1970 and originally named the Chicano Law Students Association.


Latino History of Los Angeles

Los Angeles was officially founded in 1781 by the governor of Baja and Alta California, Felipe de Neve with the official name of El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles, although at time it was also referred to as El Pueblo de Nuestra Sonora Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula.  When the settlers arrived to Los Angeles, the area was populated by Tongva Indians the Spaniards renamed Gavrielinos, after the Spanish Mission San Gabriel de Archangel founded ten years earlier.  These and other Native American groups had inhabited the area of Los Angeles for at least tens of thousands of years.

The “Spanish” settlers that arrived to populated the area consisted of a wide racial mixture. Many were full Indians from Sonora and Sinaloa, other were descendants of Spanish and Indian parents, several were also Black or mulatto. There were only two “Spaniards” in the group, one born in New Spain and only one born in Spain. One of the settlers may have even been Filipino since he came from Manila. At the time of its founding, New Spain was in the process of populating Alta California with presidios (military forts) to defend it from foreign intervention, missions to Christianize Indians, and pueblos for families from New Spain to populate. Los Angeles was the only second civilian settlement in California. Despite the arrival of Spanish settlers, soldiers, and friars, the majority of the population in Southern California was undoubtedly Indian until the 1820s.

In 1821, Mexican gained Independence from Spain and Alta California became Mexican territory. During the Mexican period Los Angeles’ economy grew exponentially and was based on the cattle industry and trade with foreigners. New Spain and Mexico had given large land grants to the settlers of the Los Angeles area. When the United States and Mexico fought a war between 1846 and 1848, the local Californios gave the U.S. Army its clearest defeat at the Battle of San Pascual.

The United States won the war and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo set the terms of peace. Two of the agreements in the treaty stated that Mexico would cede its northern territories, including California, in exchange for 15 million dollars, and that Mexicans who chose to remain in the former Mexican territories were to be guaranteed U.S. citizenship and all the right that came with citizenship. This is how Mexican Los Angeles began its transition into an American Los Angeles.

Despite the rapid population growth of the state in 1849, the immediate Americanization of the north, and the admission of California as a state of the United States in 1850, Los Angeles retained strong Spanish, Mexican, and local Californio cultural influences for at least two decades. However, Mexicans were not the only “Latino” group in California at this time. In fact, some of the first gold miners to arrive in San Francisco in 1848 were from Chile. Even some of the miners from Sonora, Mexico were originally from Chile.

Even though the state constitution was drafted by Americans and Californios together, and all the legal documents of the state were printed in English and Spanish, Californios gradually lost their numerical majority as well as their political and economic power during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was during this period that many Californio elite lost their land in legal struggles and some Californios turned to social banditry and gained infamy like Joaquin Murieta and Tiburcio Vasquez. It was not until the 1920s that Los Angeles saw a large resurgence of Mexican residents in Los Angeles. Largely spurred by the economic stagnation resulting form the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, Mexican in Los Angeles constituted the largest number of Mexicans outside of Mexico City by the late 1920s. Because of the repatriation of Mexicans during the first years of the Great Depression, Los Angeles lost one third of its Mexican population. During the 1940s and 1950s the Mexican population grew slowly.

It was not until after 1965 that the Latino population of Los Angeles grew rapidly. More Mexicans live in Los Angeles than any city other than Mexico City itself. Yet by the year 2000, the Mexican community made up only 79 percent of the region’s Latino population. The city attracted large numbers of immigrants from Central America, particularly during the 1980s. People from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua form the largest Latino communities after those of Mexican origin. In 2005, Los Angeles elected its first Latino mayor since 1872, the Mexican American, Antonio Villaraigosa. It is from institutions like USC and cities like Los Angeles that one can expect many other Latino “firsts.”  Which “first” will you be?

Gerardo Licon, History, Ph.D. (USC ’09)

Text taken from the USC Latino Handbook provided by USC’s El Centro Chicano


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