When I was ten years old in 1980, Los Angeles reached an important milestone: it supplanted Chicago as America’s second city.  No longer a nation whose energy came from the East Coast, the United States counted on the influx of goods, ideas, and people from Central and South America and Asia. Los Angeles was this country’s second gateway, and it could claim to be the only city in the world with someone from every country in the world.

The LA Times has several articles that look at the reasons why people moved to Los Angeles.  The story is complex, one that focuses on demographic and migration trends of Twentieth Century America, but also on America’s ethnic make-up, both of natural citizens and immigrants.

Surprisingly, a city of Hispanic name and origin was considered a place to get away from the ethnic stew of eastern and mid-western cities:

As McWilliams writes, “[t]he first wave of migration brought wealth, enterprise, and culture to Southern California,” this second influx delivered a more Midwestern sensibility, domestic and traditional. What set it apart from other, similar movements in American history was that members of the middle-class uprooted themselves by choice, moving west to a more pleasing landscape that seemed to offer endless space and light.

Beneath this optimism, of course, there dwelt a nativist impulse; when Times city editor Charles Fletcher Lummis called Los Angeles the “new Eden of the Saxon home-seeker,” he was speaking to every so-called homegrown American frightened by the immigrants who had transformed cities such as Chicago and New York. Such a sensibility represents the underside of the Southern California mythos, and it would become part of the bedrock on which the region developed, helping fuel its essential conservatism while setting the stage for its most bitter legacies, from racial housing covenants to the John Birch Society, the Watts Riots to Rodney King.

In the early 1900s, however, Los Angeles sought to present itself as a blank slate, outside history or consequence, a three-dimensional template for a brand-new life. This was what Southern California had to offer, its attraction, its appeal to America and, indeed, the world. Come west, boosters like Lummis urged — and come these middle-class migrants did. From 1900 to 1930, the population of L.A. County grew from 170,298 to 2,208,492. The enormous village’s status as a promised land was assured.

However, by tradition and location Los Angeles would remain a magnet for Latin American migration.  By the 1920s, the Mexican Revolution would cast off enough dispossessed bourgeoisie and disappointed peasants to fortify the city’s Mexican population.  That movement continued throughout the century, turningLos Angeles into a center for Latino/Chicano struggle in the US, as Gustavo Arellano remembers:

My father arrived in a Los Angeles under siege. The Latino community, beset by decades of discrimination and harassment, was angry. Calling themselves Chicanos, Latinos demanded better schools, a fairer government and less police brutality. There were protest rallies and marches. The city leaders responded with violence — arrests and beatings. In 1970, Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar was killed by a tear-gas projectile fired by police during an East L.A. protest against the Vietnam War. Yet for all the turmoil, Papi was oblivious to this chaos. He was 19 years old and ready to work. So were millions of his countrymen who would follow him across the border in the coming weeks, years and decades, all ready to change America for good.

Pundits have predicted the Latinization of America for years, often in apocalyptic terms — witness the fulminations of radio and television talk shows. Many people can’t accept the fact that the heirs to imperial Spain, the scions of Pancho Villa, are the nation’s largest minority, and increasingly a majority in communities across los Estados Unidos.

Some call this reconquista— the idea (born from a bizarre fusion of pre-Columbian Aztec, medieval Spanish and post-revolutionary Mexican mythologies) that Mexicans are intent on reclaiming ancestral lands “stolen” by the Yankee imperialists. But this theory pays no heed to the centuries-old yells of America’s Latinos. All they’ve ever wanted is acceptance, the right to live as Americans while keeping some semblance of their ancestral culture. Latinos assimilate, but many Americans just don’t want to believe it.

More than in Miami, New York or Texas, Los Angeles is where Latinos’ struggle for acceptance finds its truest expression in the United States. Californios became foreigners in their own lands after the 1848 Mexican-American War, and a nuisance for nearly a century afterward. The hometown film industry reduced them to stock characters — the spicy señorita, the greasy bandito — and exported the images across the country. Segregation and discrimination was the rule.

Influx of immigrants, from Asia as well as from Latin America, broadened the reach of the city as its residents networked with their home countries.

Outside Hollywood, Asian Americans have long added a global dimension to Los Angeles. Since 1960, immigration has been the main impetus of Asian population growth in the United States. With almost 5 million Asian Pacific residents, California has the largest such population in the country. This includes Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Asian Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and Thai. It’s not surprising that L.A. County has the largest percentage of Asian Americans in the state — more than a million people, according to the U.S. Census, of whom 70% are immigrants. Any map of L.A. would reveal “Asian global ethno-hubs” in the central city (Koreatown, Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo) and in the San Gabriel Valley, where Little Taipei includes ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as native-born American Chinese. Farther south, Cambodians in Long Beach are organizing for a Little Cambodia not far from Little India in Artesia, or Little Saigon in Garden Grove.

What do the ethno-hubs mean for the future? How do they connect Los Angeles to the world? These nexuses of Asian residents and commercial and cultural activities have developed a complicated network of institutions, including churches and temples, language schools, banks, book and video stores, markets, factories and other businesses, linked with like institutions across the United States and Asia, as well. Much like the lotus garden that blooms in Echo Park lake, the roots of L.A.’s Asian ethno-hubs traverse the city and spiral across the Pacific to Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, New Dehli, Manila and Singapore.

Pushing the apocalyptic visions of Blade Runner aside, much of the city’s growth–political, cultural and economic, not just demographic–can be attributed to migration.