Little L.A. doesn’t scream out at you at first. It’s located next to a large plaza, in the center of which is an historic arch commemorating the Mexican Revolution. In the evening, groups of Mexicans gather in the plaza for outdoor exercise classes while teenagers compete in rap battles. Despite the historic nature of the neighborhood, it’s definitely undergoing a big change.
The genesis of the nickname “Little L.A.” is unclear. Most people say it caught on a couple of years ago after the opening of a massive bilingual call center on one corner of the plaza. Mexicans in their 20s and 30s who grew up in the U.S. began working there because they spoke English. In between shifts, they hung out in the neighborhood. They stood out because of their tattoo sleeves – tattoos are not nearly as common in Mexico as they are in the U.S. – and because they spoke English with each other.
Also, many of the new arrivals from the U.S. wore oversized pants and hoodies, which set them apart because Mexican style tends to favor tighter clothing. Over the years, more and more U.S.-raised Mexicans began hanging out in the neighborhood. Many say they liked being around other people with similar histories and cultural references. Businesses started popping up that catered to them, like a burrito stand – while burritos are popular in the U.S., they are largely not eaten in Mexico City – and a barbershop that specialized in fades popular in the U.S.
For now, Little L.A. still doesn’t look noticeably different from other Mexico City neighborhoods, but there’s a good chance that if you stop someone on the street, they will talk to you in perfect English.
Portraits of Little LA