People who live in Los Angeles may find themselves asking a deceptively simple question more than residents of other cities:
Who are we?
Los Angeles’ history is shorter than most major American cities, but it is vastly complex and obviously unique. But what exactly is Los Angeles? And what does it mean to be an Angeleno?
L.A. As Subject, the research alliance of institutions dedicated to collecting, preserving and providing access to the history and culture of the Los Angeles region, is also interested in these questions.
The individual and collective missions of L.A. As Subject member institutions run up against different and often conflicting definitions of what this city is.
From time to time, we will be revisiting these questions along with the notable activities of the L.A. As Subject institutions, including the Metro Transportation Library.
They are questions which shed light on our common heritage, provide context for our endeavors in improving the region and help us define who we are.
For now, we wanted to highlight two recent stories from L.A. As Subject members that speak to who we are — at least in how we should speak about Los Angeles — literally.
D.J. Waldie recently wrote in KCET’s SoCal Focus about the change in terminology used to define those living in Los Angeles.
The Oxford English Dictionary notes the first appearance in print for a word denoting a resident of Los Angeles was in California Of The South, published in 1888. They referred to L.A.’s citizens as “Angeleños.”
Waldie points out the commonality of the term “Angeleños” when describing residents of more than 100 towns in Latin America. So what happened to our more authentic Spanish spelling?
He explains that the tilde over our “n” began to die out once more Anglos from the Midwest and East moved to Southern California, bringing along their typesetting equipment as well as their lack of familiarity with Spanish orthography.
Lummis served as the first City Editor of the Los Angeles Times, the City Librarian of Los Angeles Public Library and was the founder of the Southwest Museum (the city’s first).
He admonishes “Our Lady would remind you, Please! Her name is NOT ‘Lost Angie Lees,’ nor Angie anything whatever!…The “G” shall not be Jellified! “O” long, “G” hard, and rhyme with “Yes” and all about Loce Ang-El-Ess.”
No other city in the world is Home to so many ungrateful murderers of its name…It is time to protest before the disgrace becomes chronic.
Los Angeles was founded in 1781, and christened with a Spanish name. There is only one possible way to pronounce it “according to law.”
As San Francisco resents the lazy-minded that call it “Frisco,” as New Orleans has its patriotic opinion of them that say Or-LEENS, Los Angeles should insist on a decent respect to its own history and romance.
Its name should not be left to the illiterate or careless. It should have that self-respect which is the beginning of all real patriotism.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Los Angeles Times vigorously defended the Spanish pronunciation and even printed it below the editorial page masthead: “LOS ANGELES (Loce Ahng hail ais).”
However, the city continued to grow quickly in the early 20th century as more people arrived for the promise of the future, rather than the romance of the past.
Our fate was likely sealed when the U.S. Geographic Board recognized the anglicized version in 1934, and we’ve been “illiterate,” “careless” and “unpatriotic” Angelenos ever since.