Posted August 31, 2023

These Hispanic Leaders Helped Shape LA – and Local Businesses to Support Today


Los Angeles – specifically East LA – is home to the largest Chicano and Mexican population in the country. It is also the largest Hispanic community in the US, has the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico (32% of the city’s population have Mexican roots) and has the largest Spanish-speaking population outside of Latin America or Spain.  

We pay homage to the community that has shaped one of our very favorite cities. (Photo Credit: @maria_ponomaryova)

A view of LA from Kimpton Everly Hollywood. (Photo Credit: @everlyhollywood)

Hispanic culture is such a big part of LA, it would be impossible to imagine the city without its Mexican influence – a presence that has altered the economics, culture, and history of the region. The population has been a part of the city since the 1780s, when Spain claimed the land as its property and the native population was decimated, leading to the city being populated with Spanish settlers and immigrants from New Spain (aka Mexico).  

This article pays homage to LA’s Hispanic leaders past and present, including local entrepreneurs who are making waves today.  

Pachucos and Pachucas 

Sleek and swanky zoot suits first became popular during the jazz age, worn by performers like Cab Calloway and Count Basie. In cities like LA, zoot suits became the unofficial uniform of young Mexican Americans, who wore them as a form of resistance.  

During the 1940s, the city was rife with discrimination and racial tension. First- and second-generation Mexicans who called themselves pachucos and pachucas used fashion as a form of cultural expression and as a symbol of resistance. The War Preparedness Board banned production of the suits in 1942, labeling wearers as unpatriotic, thus leading to mobs of white sailors and Marines flooding Mexican neighborhoods, brutally beating wearers of zoot suits, stripping them, and then burning the suits.  

The Hispanic community has not only shaped LA — but they have made LA. (Photo Credit: @maccelerator)

After a week of such riots, 500 Mexican Americans were arrested and servicemen were confined to their bases. The pachucos and pachucas subsequently went on to become leaders in the Chicano Movement. 

Dolores del Rio  

María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López Negrete, known onstage as Dolores del Rio, was a Mexican actress who is considered to be the first Latina crossover star in Hollywood. Her career spanned from the silent films of the 1920s and 1930s, and she was an icon during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, with her career spanning some 50 years.  

Renowned for her beauty, Dolores del Rio could also sing, dance, and act. Her most famous films are María Candelaria and Flying Down to Rio. 

Moctesuma Esparza

As a teenager in the late 1960s, Esparza helped organize a group of Chicano students that evolved into what is now the Brown Berets, who fight for Chicano equality. While a student at UCLA and mentoring a group of high school students, Esparza organized what became one of the largest walkouts in American history, when 30,000 of LA’s high school students walked out of class to demonstrate the poor conditions of the schools.  

LA has experienced immense change and upheaval in recent decades, with the Hispanic community fighting for their rights. (Photo Credit: Joshua Coleman)

One of the largest walkouts in the country happened in the 1960s when 30,000 high school students protested school conditions. (Photo Credit: Roberto Nickson)

Today, Esparza is a producer, entertainment executive, and CEO of Maya Cinemas, a theater chain servicing the Hispanic and Latino audiences.  

Cheech Marin

Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong’s comedy movies were a hit in the 1980s, but Marin’s success allowed him to pursue his true passion of collecting Chicano art.  

After 30-plus years, the actor and comedian has amassed almost 600 works of art made by Chicanos from across the country and has created the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry at the Riverside Art Museum. 

Nalleli Cobo

Growing up in her South LA neighborhood, Nalleli Cobo, along with many neighbors, suffered severe illness thanks to her home’s close proximity to nearby petroleum operations. As a teenager, Cobo co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, which, along with other organizations, successfully sued the city of Los Angeles for approving oil projects in communities of color.  

The suburbs of LA have been home to many political battles over the years. (Photo Credit: Alexis Balinoff)

Cobo’s coalition permanently shut down a toxic drilling site and changed the local environmental laws. She has worked on campaigns with Greta Thunberg, was included on the Time100 Next list, is the recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Women in Green Youth Trailblazer Award, and is in the California Energy Commission Clean Energy Hall of Fame. 

Local Businesses to Support in Los Angeles

El Cholo: The city’s oldest Mexican restaurant opened its doors a century ago and is still thriving. Throughout the years, El Cholo has been able to remain in the same location, and is run by the original owner’s grandson today. The menu offers a range of Cal-Mex classics from nachos to fajitas, but the most popular dish on the menu are the green enchiladas. 

Mexican restaurants define local cuisine in Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Zac Meadowcroft)

Lil’ Libros: When Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein couldn’t find bilingual books for their kids, they started their own company that raised $3 million from first-time and Latino investors using a crowdfunding campaign. Their books explore the history of Latin American culture while emphasizing tradition and telling stories about icons like Celia Cruz. 

Amapola Deli & Market: One of LA’s favorite markets, Amapola opened its doors in 1961. Owner Francisco Galvan was an immigrant from Guadalajara who came to the US not knowing a word of English and with only $10 in his pocket. With his son Carlos, Galvan built a store that includes a tortilla factory, meat market, bakery, deli, and grocery store with a focus on Mexican ingredients. 

And the Mexican markets throughout the city are bursting with authentic flavors. (Photo Credit: @reiseuhu)

Latinx with Plants: Inspired by Black with Plants, this LA nursery (which now has two locations) started with an Instagram account. Owner Andi Xoch is inspired by connecting people with plants to care for and by celebrating people of color in the plant world. 

From September 15 to October 15, the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a time for those with Hispanic roots to share their cultures and traditions. 

Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Wilshire, Kimpton Everly Hollywood, Kimpton Hotel Palomar Beverly Hills, or Kimpton La Peer Hotel


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