In Mexico City’s Little LA ‘it feels like a piece of the United States’

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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

“In this specific area, since there are call centers, there are a lot of people who were either deported or, like my family, came voluntarily. You hear a lot of people who speak English. And you know a lot of people. They recognize you and are like, ‘I remember you from such and such call center.’” – Nachllely Lira, 23 said, Lira lived in Chesterton, Indiana and Milwaukee, Wisconsin before returning to Mexico nine years ago.
“Hamburgers, hotdogs, burritos – its food from the U.S. So I said to myself, ‘if I sell them here, I could do well.’” Alex Valdez, 34, lived in Chicago, Illinois before coming back to Mexico two years ago.
“It feels like a piece of the United States… We feel more comfortable because we are talking English, talking about life, and trying to support each other,” said Frank Hernandez who lived in Chicago, before coming back to Mexico six months ago.