Monday, November 18, 2013

heirs to los angeles

I was supposed to visit Tracy in Joshua Tree this past weekend, but her mom had some health stuff (shout-out to Bev Kaply!), so we postponed. I was sad not to see Tracy, but found time is always a bit of a silver lining.

Yesterday AK and I found ourselves with the kind of weekend day we used to have back before she worked an average of six and a half days a week. We slept till nine. I made blueberry walnut pancakes. We hiked Debs Park, where we watched the world’s second most energetic dog catch air and practically take flight as he chased a ball thrown by his similarly athletic person. His person had another dog, a curly mix who was content to walk the trail at a reasonable pace.

AK did that dog’s voice: “Oh, you know…I just like to read.”

I added on: “Brunch would be nice too.”

We bought DayQuil for AK, who caught my cold this past week, and antidepressants for me and anti-aging moisturizer for both of us, because it’s time to find out if that shit works, at Target. Then we went to the Natural History Museum, which I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to since it reopened. I really wanted to see the Becoming L.A. exhibit (although a part of me also mourns the old California hall, with its earth tones and wagons and dioramas of mission life; because I love how museums are museums of themselves, first and foremost).

As someone who grew up loving sepia and bonnets, I’m always extra thrilled to see old-timey photos of my own people—in this case, Angelenos. My family has lived in Southern California for four generations (with the exception of my paternal grandmother, who moved here from England as a kid). I looked for them in the photos of canneries (mom’s side) and the aviation industry (dad’s side). AK’s family has been here almost as long. She looked for her last name on the list of L.A.’s founding families, just in case.

“It would be nice to discover you were heir to some sort of unclaimed land grant,” I agreed.

Gov. Pio Pico and family. No relation to AK, alas.
I found that list, reprinted in the original Spanish and listing the gender, race and age of each family member, fascinating too. A lot of the founders were listed as “mulato” or “mulata,” but I hadn’t read anything about significant number of African Americans living in L.A. in the nineteenth century, so I had some of the same questions I had back in Puerto Rico. Obsessively, I calculated how old each woman was when she had her children. The human brain can’t help but apply narrative to even the driest census, so there I was, thinking about the woman who had three girls—probably a liability in those days—and kept trying for a boy. She had him at age thirty-seven. It must have been a big risk back then, but maybe having a son was a thing you risked your life for. Or maybe they were just really Catholic and she got pregnant because she got pregnant.

There were plenty of women who started having babies at seventeen or eighteen, but also more than a few who hadn’t had their first until their late twenties.

“I guess there’s always more variation than you hear about,” AK said.

I geeked out hard on a room-sized model of Downtown L.A. as it looked in 1940, honing in on Bunker Hill, still home to a cluster of Victorian homes that, even then, were dwarfed by the surrounding buildings. I thought of The Exiles. There were screens placed on the sides of the model, where you could peruse a digital version of the map with your fingers and zoom in on certain neighborhoods and landmarks.

Model city.
I sighed happily and told AK, “This is all I ever want, really. To fly over the city and magically be able to dip into some point in the past and just watch it on video.”

The museum closed and we visited our friends Jennifer and Joel, who are in the process of moving to Ojai and thinking about all the things in L.A. they’ll miss.

“Like potato tacos at Chano’s,” Jennifer said as we walked past it. “I know we can come back anytime and go there. But we won’t.”


Kat said...

I love studying the list of the pobladores too--what a journey they took. You've probably seen the obsessive casta paintings by the Spanish? They had all the categories insanely parsed. Thanks for letting us see the exhibit through your eyes. Now go back and check out the Nature Lab and the Dino Hall! Let me know if you want to go to a First Friday event--they start up again in January.

Cheryl said...

Ratties, here I come! Thanks for the First Fridays invite--I would love to go when they start up.

Cheryl said...

I've seen various historical racial breakdowns, although I'm not sure if I've seen the Spanish ones in particular (although I just Googled). It is kind of fascinating how, the more mixing there is between races, the more people need to name the differences. And yet the Spanish were pro-intermarriage--as long as it was on their terms, I guess.