Los Angeles

By Avi ArdittiIt is the second-largest city in America. Its name means "the City of the Angels." And, it is where the Democratic Party is holding its presidential nominating convention this week. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. The city of Los Angeles, California, is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

((CUT 1 -- MUSIC: "CARRIZO VERDE" INSTEAD OF THEME))The year is Seventeen-Sixty-Nine. Spanish explorers have traveled north from Mexico to find places for a series of Catholic missions. Spain wanted to build settlements in order to claim the area known as Upper California.

One of the men in the group is Father Juan Crespi, a Franciscan priest. He is keeping a written record of the trip.

On August first, they stop to observe the Franciscan celebration of "Nuestra [new-ES-tra] Senora [seen-YOR-ah] de los Angeles [AHN-heh-less] de la Porciuncula [por-see-OON-coo-la]." That is Spanish for "Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula," or "little portion." It was the name of the small Italian church of Saint Francis of Assisi. He began the Franciscan order in the thirteenth century.On August Second, the explorers travel through a pass between low hills and see a large valley with many trees. Among the trees is a river -- "a beautiful river," Father Crespi writes. Local Indians greet them.

The Europeans name the river "Porciuncula." They camp along its banks. They feel three earthquakes that afternoon and night. Still, Father Crespi writes that the area has all the requirements for a large settlement.He thought the land would be good for agriculture. He was right. Spain built a settlement twelve years later, in Seventeen-Eighty-One. Most histories of Los Angeles say it was named "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula." The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula. There is evidence, though, that "queen" was not part of the original name given by the military governor of California.At first it was hard to get settlers for the new town. Eleven families came from Mexico. They were of Indian, African and Spanish ancestry. California came under Mexican control after the end of Spanish rule. Then, in Eighteen-Fifty, it became an American state. The growing city was now simply called Los Angeles.

((CUT 2 -- MUSIC: "Cumbia Raza"))
But Mexican influence remains today. You see it in the large Hispanic population, in the Spanish design of homes. You taste it in the foods. You hear it in the music.Four-million people live in the city of Los Angeles. They are an ethnic mix from all over the world. Los Angeles has movie and television stars, but also large numbers of poor people.

The city is a little more than one-thousand-two-hundred square kilometers. Much of it is built on mountains and hills. To the west is the Pacific Ocean. And, in the middle, is the area that land developers in Eighteen-Eighty-Eight named Hollywood.Hollywood is known around the world as the center of the American movie and television industry. Millions of people visit the area. Crime has been a problem. Local businesses have been working to improve the area and increase security. After all, no trip to Los Angeles is complete without seeing the famous "Hollywood" sign spelled out in huge letters on a hillside.

((CUT 3 -- MUSIC: "Frantic Freeway"))Los Angeles is also famous for its traffic. America's first freeway opened in the Los Angeles area in Nineteen-Forty. Freeways are wide roads built above city streets. They are a "free way" to go. There is no cost to use them. Today, millions of cars and trucks crowd roads and freeways in the Los Angeles area.

To help ease traffic problems, the city built a new underground train system. It is the most costly subway system ever built. It cost almost five-thousand-million dollars, and took fifteen years to build. It extends only twenty-seven kilometers.

((CUT 4 -- MUSIC: "Peaceful (Li Ning) in L. A."))Much of the history of Los Angeles is the history of one family, the Chandlers. They owned the Los Angeles Times newspaper. At the beginning of the last century, they used the newspaper to support local development.

The land around Los Angeles was mostly desert. People were using up the Los Angeles River. The city needed more water. So the Chandler family helped lead a campaign to secure water from four-hundred kilometers away.

Today, the Los Angeles Times is still influential. It is the major newspaper in the city. But earlier this year, the Chandler family sold it to a media company from the nation's third-largest city, Chicago, Illinois.The city of Los Angeles is part of Los Angeles County. The county has ten-million people in all. There are many smaller cities in the county. Beverly Hills, with its rich people, is one of them. So is Pasadena, with its Rose Parade each New Year's Day. So are the beach cities of Santa Monica and Malibu where people like to ride surf boards on the ocean waves. The best place for watching unusual-looking people is the Venice area on the west side of Los Angeles. A system of waterways designed after Venice, Italy, has been rebuilt there.

((CUT 5 -- MUSIC: "I Love L. A."))This song was popular when Los Angeles held the Nineteen-Eighty-Four Summer Olympics. What many people love most about "L-A" is the weather. It is like the weather in countries near the Mediterranean Sea. It is usually warm and sunny, and air pollution has been reduced. The weather is warmest in the San Fernando Valley area. The coolest weather is near the coast, on the West side. That is also where home prices are highest.

((CUT 6 -- MUSIC: "Don't Burn Down L. A. ))In Nineteen-Ninety-Two, riots broke out in South Central Los Angeles. The violence began shortly after a jury found four white Los Angeles police officers not guilty in the beating of a black man, Rodney King.

Rodney King had a criminal record. He had led the police on a high-speed car chase. Then he resisted arrest. A group of police officers struck him repeatedly. Across the street a man aimed his new video camera and recorded what happened.After the jury's decision, rioters set fires, beat motorists and stole from stores for three days. Black people turned their anger against stores owned by Korean-Americans. These attacks took place in the poorer areas of the city that most other businesses avoid. By the time police and National Guard troops returned order, more than fifty people were dead.

For many, the unrest brought back memories of the race riots in the Watts area of South Central Los Angeles in Nineteen-Sixty-Five. South Central is the traditional heart of the African American community in Los Angeles. Now Hispanics make up one-third of the population there.One of the biggest problems in and around Los Angeles is what to do about violent street gangs. In the city alone, police say these groups have tens of thousands of members, mostly young men. Their crimes often involve drugs.

Right now the city is also facing another problem. This one involves the police. Some officers are accused of shooting unarmed gang members or creating false evidence against suspects. A number of officers have resigned. Federal officials are demanding major reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department.

((CUT 8 -- MUSIC: "Somewhere in the Heart of L. A"))Six years ago, a powerful earthquake shook Los Angeles as people slept. The quake caused widespread damage and almost sixty deaths. This happened not long after a series of wildfires. Such risks are a part of life in Los Angeles, like the sun and the trees and the beaches. They are reminders that the "City of the Angels" depends as much on the luck of nature as on anything its citizens can create.

Today the Los Angeles River is mostly dry. Flood-control engineers have covered its banks and riverbed in concrete. Now people make fun of that "beautiful river" the Spanish explorers saw in Seventeen-Sixty-Nine.This program was written by Avi Arditti. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Efim Drucker. This is Shirley Griffith.And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.