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L.A.'s Italian American History Uncovered

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Friday, September 26, 2008, at 10:41AM
Sunshine and Struggle El Pueblo Historical Monument

Postcard for "Struggle and Success: The Italian Presence in Los Angeles, 1827-1927." The circa 1919 photo was taken at a weekend footrace once organized by Il Circolo Operaio Italiano (The Italian Worker's Club). The race began at Italian Hall on North

Sitting in her cubicle office at El Pueblo Historical Monument, historian and curator Mariann Gatto (previous blogdowntown profile) is talking on the phone while answering emails, surrounded by artifacts and photographs. She's busy with last minute preparations for an upcoming exhibit, that for many, will be an unexpected discovery.

"Sunshine and Struggle: The Italian Experience in Los Angeles" will be held at the Pico House Gallery from October 4 through November 15 and organizers hope it will build a new awareness of the early Los Angeles Italian American community. "This is the first major exhibition about Italian Americans in Los Angeles," says Gatto. "We hope to mark how Italian Americans were, and still are, an important part of L.A.'s diversity and growth."

L.A. has very little trace of any early Italian-American enclave, or "Little Italy," remaining around the original central core of El Pueblo. Most of what had been an Italian settlement in the early 1900s is now part of Chinatown and El Pueblo. The only active sites may very well be the San Antonio Winery, founded in 1917, and St. Peter's Church, founded in 1904 on Spring, and relocated to its present location on North Broadway in 1915.

The exhibit surveys the early Italian settlers, covering the time from 1827 to 1927. The 19th century immigration from Italy and Sicily was followed by early 20th century migrants from the Eastern seaboard. After that, the relocation of families into other parts of the city dissipated the identity of the Los Angeles Italian American.

Another purpose of the exhibit is to tell the story of El Pueblo’s Italian Hall, earmarked by the Historic Italian Hall Foundation to become a museum to house those missing stories.

“Sunshine and Struggle: The Italian Experience in Los Angeles" / Opening reception, Saturday October 4, 2008, 7:00-10:00 p.m. at the Pico House Gallery at El Pueblo Historical Monument / 424 North Main, Downtown Los Angeles, 90012 / (213) 485-8432

Fast Fact: "A Profile of Today’s Italian Americans" reports that according to 2000 Census, the City of LA is ranked the 5th largest U.S. metropolitan area with most Italian-Americans, only behind New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.

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