top of page

AMERICA'S SHADOW HISTORY

Los Angeles' dubious history from 1781-1982

And the full truth about

Blacks, Mexicans, and the

curious vanishing act of the

LA Bicentennial Commission

circa 1982.

mex popladores.jpg

The founding of Los Angeles was a 200-year deception

IN 2022, IT WAS ESTIMATED that more than a half-million Black-Mexicans were concentrated in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. Black-Mexican communities can also be found in the states of Michoacan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and the Yucatan.

 

The majority of Black-Mexicans reside on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, in a region known as La Costa Chica. This stretch of coastline is a part of the Southwestern state of Guerrero and starts south of Acapulco and extends for approximately 200 miles. Fishing and agriculture are the mainstays of the economy. Africans had begun to enter the northwestern region of Colonial Mexico by the mid-1600s. Their descendants were racially mixed by the time the colonization of Alta California had begun in the second half of the 18th century. 

What is more compelling, is that Indigenous natives, mulattos, mestizos, zambos, and other persons of mixed blood were actually the majority population in Mexico’s northwest region. This evidence proves that Mexico’s early origins as a sovereign nation were nothing close to being homogeneous—but, rather a blend of cultures. From the northwest region came the original settlers of Alta California who traveled north with Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza. between 1774 and 1776. Alta Loma marked the northern frontier of the Spanish empire in the New World. These settlers who accompanied Bautista de Anza were among the original settlers of Los Angeles.

Black Mexico and Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to many, the African American imprint in the history of Los Angeles is indelible. African Americans have made significant contributions to Los Angeles in all areas — from the arts and culture to science, education, architecture, and politics. Contrary to popular belief, the African American presence in the city did not originate from the waves of new settlers who came to Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—their presence and contributions to the City of the Angels stem from its founding in 1781, and the collision between U.S. and Mexican social histories. A review of the castas (race) of the 44 pobladores (settlers), according to the 1781 census, reveal the historic record.

 

The breakdown by ethnicity also reveals how race-conscious the ruling class Spaniards had been in colonial Mexico, thoroughly embedding this in the colonial mindset ensuring there would be no blurred lines along race, clearly establishing “class” privilege and secondary citizenship status. The class breakdown is Peninsular (Spaniard born in Spain); Criollo (Spaniard born in colonial Mexico); Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian); Negros (Blacks of full African ancestry); Mulattos (mixed Spanish and Black); Zambos (mixed Indian and Black).

The pobladores of Los Angeles came from the present northwest Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, were of mixed Indian, African and European descent. This mixed racial composition was not only typical of the majority of settlers of Alta California, it reflected the majority population of Sonora and Sinaloa, as well as the entire northwestern region of colonial Mexico. Under the new governor of California, Felipe de Neve, El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles was founded on Sept. 4, 1781.

The 44 pobladores arriving in Alta California in 1781 were 11 mulatto and mestizo families—including children. Only two Spaniards or Whites were numbered among the pobladores. The majority were mulatto.

The original contention that indigenous Mexicans founded Los Angeles was not completely true. A shameful omission was uncovered just weeks ahead of the city 1982 Bicentennial Commemoration.

Shameful 200-Year Lie. Los Angeles is a remarkable megalopolis with a population topping 4 million in 2019

with a vibrant tapestry of cultures and ethnicities from around the globe. The city had a humble beginning with the arrival of a band of dusty travelers—the 44 Original Pobladores or settlers, from Mexico on Sept. 4, 1781, whom local historians would not accurately identify for another 200 years. It was part of the city’s Shadow His- tory. Angelinos never knew the bloodline of Africa contributed significantly to the emergence of Los Angeles. The racial backlash against Africans—who had no say in their forced removal from Africa—persisted all the way to the seeding and germination of the “City of the Angels.” The original plaque at Olvera Street commemorating “Los Pobladores” or settlers, for many years harbored a shameful omission — never referencing the African heritage of the original settlers.

 

The historic “Los Pobladores Walk to Los Angeles” a tradition that commemorates the final nine miles of the great trek to California by the settlers, occurs each year over the Labor Day weekend, which coincides with the Sept. 4 anniversary of the city’s founding.

Original Mission Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles. The commemoration was organized in 1981 by the Los Pobladores 200, an association comprised of the descendants of the 44 Original Pobladores and six-soldier detail that ushered them to California, then a territory of Mexico known as Alta, California. The commemoration celebrates the pobladores’ final 9-mile trek to the city center.

Los Pobladores 200 proudly embraced their forebears until they were confronted by a cloistered secret of which a fringe minority of Mexicans never discussed beyond a whisper down through the years—that “black blood” or African DNA was infused in Mexican ancestry. The contention did not sit well with Los Pobladores 200 whose members considered themselves traditional Mexican with Indigenous roots and/or a blend of Indigenous and Spanish. For decades historians of Mexican culture had rejected the notion of African infusion.

 

Eventually, scholars from the Los Angeles area, including professors from the University of Southern California, and California State University, Dominguez Hills—part of a sub-committee formed during a citywide effort to commemorate L.A.’s Bicentennial anniversary in 198l—became concerned and endeavored to set the record straight. Unfortunately, divulging the true history of the original pobladores was “a political hot potato,” according to the late Dr. Doyce Nunis, Jr., professor emeritus of California history during the time at the University of Southern California.

 

Nunis said, “The descendants of Los Pobladores were very sensitive to the prospect of being revealed as having African roots. But history is history—you cannot change it. And the subcommittee found the evidence.”

 

The highly qualified team had been assembled by Nunis to establish the indisputable truth about the contributions of Black-Mexicans to the seeding and nurturing of colonial Los Angeles. The multiracial ethnicity of the pobladores was considered a fallacy by the scholarly establishment and never accepted until explicit census information was found in an archive in Seville, Spain. Documents there confirmed that 11 families recruited by Felipe de Neve, the first Spanish governor of Alta California, arrived from the Mexican provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora.

Los Pobladores 200 is reticent to this day to discuss the subcommittee’s groundbreaking findings. In fact, they are no where to be found. Nunis asked a former student, Donald T. Hata, in 1978 to chair the Pobladores Subcommittee for the City of Los Angeles and to research and draft a commemorative plaque to honor the pobladores for the City’s Bicentennial celebration in 1981. They helped to replace the old plaque on display at Olvera Street with the current one which accurately depicts the multiracial make up of the founders, and the inclusion of the Third Root from Africa in Mexican history, and by extension, Los Angeles. 

 

Olvera Street was a favorite destination for elementary school “field trips” prior to 1981 for children throughout L.A. County. Prior to 1981, Black pupils from the city’s urban core were not privileged to the truth that Black-Mexicans were not only involved in the colonizing of Los Angeles but were the dominant settlers in the city’s founding. This writer was one of those students who traveled to Olvera Street for field trips on several occasions during my formative years attending Clara Barton Hill Elementary in San Pedro, Calif.

It should be noted, the African connection occurred when more than 200,000 slaves from Africa were exported to colonial Mexico by Spain in the 15th century to labor in the sugar cane fields and silver mines. The region was colonized in 1519. Over time, the African slaves revolted against their Spanish enslavers, gained freedom, but never returned to Africa.

Inter-marriage with both Spaniards and indigenous resulted in mulatto and Zambo cultures, respectively. The inter-mix of indigenous people and Spaniards birth the mestizo culture. The 44 pobladores arriving in Los Angeles in 1781 were 11 mulatto and mestizo families—including children. The majority were mulatto.

Serving with Hata on the subcommittee was an A-team of scholars, that included Miriam Matthews, the first African American to earn a degree in library science at USC, who went on to have an illustrious career as a librarian and archivist of African American history in Los Angeles. Matthews helped to document the city’s multiracial origins, listing all of the pobladores by name, race, sex, and age.

 

Matthews, who died in 2003 at age 98, also amassed a collection of approximately 4,600 black-and-white photographs documenting the African American experience in Los Angeles and California, including images depicting the founding of the city, African American stagecoach drivers and overland guides to California, and the multiracial Californio family of Pio Pico, the wealthy Black-Mexican landowner for whom the City of Pico Rivera and Pico Boulevard are named.

Hata would go on to earn a doctorate in history and stellar achievement on the way to earning the distinction as an emeritus professor of history at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

 

The team also included David Almada, a Los Angeles Unified School District administrator serving at a time when few Latinos served in such positions; and historian Leonard Pitt, an emeritus professor of history at California State University, Northridge and author of Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890. Pitt died in July 2015 at 85.

The truth of the city’s founding was a milestone set in stone, one of Nunis’ signature achievements. The esteemed historian died on Jan. 22, 2011 at age 86.

 

The voice of history resounded. While the First and Second Roots of Indigenous and Spaniard, respectively formed colonial Mexico initially, with the “Third Root” from Africa infusing into the culture later in the 15th century, the Third Root would eventually find its way to California by way of Mexico and plow historically into the fertile ground that spawned the City of Los Angeles.

That sealed the truth forever.

Black Mexicans in Los Angeles history. Francisco Reyes, for example, served as the first alcalde (mayor) from 1792 to 1795 and was the original owner of the present-day San Fernando Valley.

 

Pío Pico (1801-1894) is perhaps the most celebrated Black-Mexican in California history. He was the last governor of California under Mexican rule, an owner of huge rancho properties and prominent resident of Los Angeles. His parents and grandparents came with the Anza party from Sinaloa, Mexico in 1776, where two-thirds of the residents were mulattos. Pio’s younger brother, Andrés Pico was a wealthy landowner and military commander during the Mexican era. Under U.S. rule, he became a member of the State Constitutional Commit- tee, general of the State Militia and California state senator.

 

The grandchildren of Pío Pico, who also built the Pico House, were Luis Quintero, María Rita Valdes, and Eugene Biscailuz, who served as sheriff of Los Angeles County. It is Biscailuz for whom the L.A. County Sheriff’s Academy Training Facility is named.

Black Mexicans in Los Angeles history. Francisco Reyes, for example, served as the first alcalde (mayor) from 1792 to 1795 and was the original owner of the present-day San Fernando Valley.

 

Valdez, a descendant of poblador Luis Quintero, was granted the Rancho Rodeo de Aguas in 1841. She later sold the property to developers. Today it comprises the City of Beverly Hills.

Throughout the 19th century, the “rancho dons” and their families would intermarry with each other and with immigrant White-American merchants from New England, who arrived to trade in hides, creating strong family alliances. Many other Black-Mexicans during the Mexican and early American periods continued to make important contributions to the Pueblo of Los Angeles.

 

Today, the “founders’ plaque” at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument serves as a tribute to the African-American origins of Los Angeles and an enduring hope for the future. The majority of the original founding pobladores or colonists of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles (Los Angeles), approximately 300 years after African slaves arrived in colonial Mexico, were of African Ancestry. The founding families of from the original group, Nov. 19, 1781, Padrón of the Pueblo, included at least 32 settlers, including children, who were Black-Mexicans.

The following are the original 11 families of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles who made the hot dusty trek of more than 1,000 miles across the desert in Northern Mexico to Alta, California to stake their claim, plant roots and go about the task of nurturing what would eventually become America’s “Golden State,” and the richest in the Union. Of the 44 original founding pobladores of  Los Angeles, 20 were mulatto, linked to the Third Root; 11 were indigenous, 6 were indigenous/mulatto, 5 were mestizo, and 2 were Spaniard (White).

The original 11 families:

 

Manuel Camero, 30, a mulatto from Nayarit, married Maria Tomasa Garcia, 24, a mulatta.

Antonio Mesa, 38, a mulatto from Sinaloa, married Maria Ana Gertrudis Lopez, 27, a mulatta. Two children accompanied them to Alta California; Marla Paula, 10; and Antonio Maria, 8.

Luis Manuel Quintero, 55, an African from Jalisco, married Maria Petra Rubio, 40, a mulatta. They arrived to Alta California with their five children—María Gertrudis, 16; María Concepcíon, 9; María Tomasa, 7; María Rafaela, 6; and José Clemente, 3.

José Cesario Moreno, a mulatto from Sinaloa, married María Guadalupe Gertrudis Pérez, 19, a mulatta.

José Antonio Basilio Rosas, 67, an indigenous native from Durango, married  María Manuela Calixtra Hernández, 43, a mulatta. Six children arrived with them—José Máximo, 15; José Carlos, 12; María Josefa, 8; Antonio Rosalino, 7; José Marcelino, 4; and José Esteban, 2.

José Antonio Navarro, 42, a mestizo from Sinaloa, married María Regina Dorotea Glorea de Soto, 47, a mulatta. Three children arrived with them; José Eduardo, 10; José Clemente, 9; and Mariana, 4.

 

Pablo Rodríguez, 25, an indigenous native from Sinaloa, married María Rosalia Noriega, 26, an indigenous native. They were accompanied by a 1-year-old child, María Antonia.

José Alejandro Rojas (son of José Antonio Basilio Rosas), 19, an indigenous native from Sinaloa, married Juana María Rodríguez, 20, an indigenous native.

Jose María Vanegas, 28, an indigenous native from Jalisco, married María Bonifacia Máxima Aguilar, 20, an indigenous native. A 1-year-old baby boy, Cosme Damien. arrived with them.

José Fernando de Velasco y Lara, 50, a Spaniard from Cadiz, married María Antonia Campos, 23, an indigenous native. Three children arrived with them; María Juan, 6; José Julian, 4; and María Faustina, 2.

Antonio Clemente Félix Villavicencio, 30, a Spaniard from Chihuahua, married María de Los Santos Flores Serafina, 26, an indigenous native. One child arrived with them; María Antonia, 8.

bottom of page