I enjoy reading other writers' articles and books on Southern California's history, but mistakes and glaring omissions drive me crazy.
I've seen the French community slighted too many times to count, so this entry will focus on the three most recent incidents.
1. An article on LA's history of water management had several omissions. First, the writer mentioned construction of the city's water wheel, but failed to credit Jean-Louis Sainsevain, the engineer who constructed the wheel, and did not bother to mention the name of the reservoir the wheel fed - the Sainsevain Reservoir, one of LA's first.
Second, the writer completely ignored Jean-Louis Sainsevain and Damien Marchessault's years-long, constantly-thwarted efforts to fix the city's water system. She certainly did not mention Marchessault's tragic death, which most likely would not have happened if it weren't for the great strain he'd been under.
Third, the writer just barely mentioned (and in passing at that) the unification of the city's public and private water services (which was a pretty big deal at the time). She did not bother to mention any of its major players or the names of the entities, let alone Prudent Beaudry or Solomon Lazard, two of the three co-founders of the Los Angeles City Water Company.
Did she even research this article?
2. I really, really enjoy a certain local TV station's online articles about vanished/altered-beyond-recognition things about LA. They're fascinating. I've even linked to a couple of their articles in previous entries.
One of their writers, in a recent article, mentioned ALMOST every one of Los Angeles' immigrant support societies. She somehow failed to include either the French Benevolent Society or the Cercle Catholique Francais.
I can understand genuinely being unaware of the Cercle Catholique Francais. My own family lived in LA well before the Cercle was founded, during its entire existence, and well after the Cercle disbanded...and somehow none of us knew about it until I first read about the Cercle two years ago.
But how could she not know about the French Benevolent Society? It was founded in 1860, making it one of the city's oldest immigrant charities. The Society existed to meet the needs of one fifth of Los Angeles at the time. The Society built its own hospital, which still exists today (albeit under a different name). The Society existed until 1989. There is absolutely no excuse for this.
The writer claims her family has been in Los Angeles for over a century. I find it very hard to believe that she could somehow be completely unaware of the French Benevolent Society's 120-plus years of good works.
3. One of my very favorite LA-based bloggers recently posted something about Brunswig Square getting some non-Asian restaurants and lamenting the notion of Brunswig Square losing its character.
Brunswig Square falls within the parameters of modern-day Little Tokyo. But the neighborhood made up one of the oldest parts of Frenchtown first. "Brunswig" is, obviously, not a Japanese name. The blogger does not seem to have been aware of Brunswig Square's past. Which is odd, since he's otherwise quite well-informed and seems pretty smart.
Brunswig Square wasn't built to house restaurants and retail. It was originally the factory for Brunswig Drug Company, which had over a thousand pharmacies spanning every Southwestern state, Hawaii, Mexico, China, and Vietnam. The company's founder, Lucien Napoleon Brunswig, was a pharmacist from France and involved in a number of charities and volunteer organizations. (I will be writing a proper blog entry on Brunswig in the future, but until then, my Doughboy entry should give you a rough idea of why he matters so much.)
I understand why this blogger doesn't want Brunswig Square to lose its current, largely Japanese, character. I don't want Little Tokyo to lose its character and charm, either. But my own ethnic enclave no longer exists at all, and its former site largely became Little Tokyo and Chinatown. Would some acknowledgement of Brunswig Square's past - from anyone - really be so much to ask?
To these writers, and to all of the others who have not given French Angelenos their fair place in history, I would like to say, with all due respect:
We were here, too.
We have been here since 1827.
We made a LOT of contributions to Los Angeles (just you wait until I write about Damien Marchessault, Prudent Beaudry, and Remi Nadeau...) that helped take it from dusty pueblo to world-class city.
We matter just as much as every other ethnic group in Los Angeles.
Don't sell us short.*
*Yes, we are statistically shorter than everyone else (Michel Lachenais and Felix Signoret excepted). Insert sarcastic laughter here. Just quit pretending we don't exist. It's an a**hole move and you know it.