by Winston Chua
SanGabriel – Happy birthday dear….Los Angeles? It is that time of the year, whensince 1982, people have begun the march to Los Angeles from San Gabriel, thebirthplace of Los Angeles, largely because of the late T. Willard Hunter.
It is called Los Pobladores, or“Walk to Los Angeles.” Last year around 500 people made the historic nine milejourney from the San Gabriel Mission to El Pueblo Monument, home to the worldfamous Olivera Street, where throngs of gatherers warmly greet those who arewilling to make the three hour journey. This year people will celebrate themission’s 238th birthday, and Los Angeles’ 228th, whichwas founded on Sept. 4, 1781 and at the time called El Pueblo de la Reina deLos Angeles.
“It’s the birthplace of LosAngeles. The best part about the walk is retracing the steps. You realize thisroad was not paved, there were no Reeboks to walk in. It is an important senseof history and the community,” said Cynthia Smith, historian and San Gabriel’sadministrative services manager.
In1981, as a member of Los Angeles’ bicentennialcelebration committee, Hunter, who passed away in June, conceived the idea ofreenacting the September 1781 nine-walk of Los Angeles’ original settlers fromSan Gabriel Mission to found El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles. Thisyear’s walk is dedicated to Hunter, a renown author, minister, orator andhistorian.
The original settlers to what isnow Los Angeles were made up of a group of 44 racially diverse people,including families, who descended from Native American, African, European andFilipino descent. They were known as the Pobladores, and like Angelinos today,made up a racially diverse group. Unlike Angelinos today, their life was madeup of work on vineyards, orchards, spiritual centers or places to facilitatetanning hides.
They were mostly poor farmersand soldiers who were recruited from northwest Mexico by Felipe de Neve,Governor of the Californias. They rested after the walk and were outfitted andoriented by Governor de Neve for their new homes along what is now known as theLos Angeles River.
Joining the modern day versionof the group will be San Gabriel’s city leaders, both city and district wide.The San Gabriel City Council will walk, and walkers in the past have includedthe mayor of Los Angeles and Mike Antonovich.
While the history of San Gabrielis unlike any other, Smith acknowledges that it has not always been positive,especially in relations with the native Tongva.
When she said, “There is no needto shut the door on the past,” she meant that history’s lessons are alwaysimportant.
September’s mostly downhill walkwill begin at 6:00 a.m. sharp from the San Gabriel Mission and move west alongMission Drive. Taking place on a Saturday, the event is sandwiched between thedays of La Fiesta de San Gabriel, typically celebrated by thousands at theMission. Will you have to walk a full nine miles back to celebrate theMission’s birthday. Thankfully, there will be public bus transportation on thehour every hour for under $2.
The birthday walk was revived in1981 when Willard Hunter gathered crowds to celebrate the city’s 200thbirthday. Since then, Smith said that the crowds who come to walk have beenvery strong in number. The Second World War curtailed the walk until thatpoint.
Smith said that there are threemajor events in the history of San Gabriel. Most recent is the birth severalyears back of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, whose mother church is the SanGabriel Mission. The other two are the walk to birth Los Angeles and thefounding of the mission itself.
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