Since the founding of Los Angeles in the 18th century, the region has been a “global city,” defined by links between the region and the broader world. Los Angeles grew into the nation’s second-largest city and one of the world’s “megacities” or “global cities” as a direct result of European imperialism, global capitalism, and national and international patterns of migration. The 1781 founding of the city by Spanish settler colonists and later annexation by the United States were driven by global forces of colonization, conquest, and resource exploitation. Subsequent regional economic development and ties to global markets created economic growth in Los Angeles while drawing global migrations to Southern California from the late 19th century and into the 21st. Global migrations included the movement of millions of people to greater Los Angeles from Asia, Latin America, and around the world. These migrations transformed Los Angeles into one of the most diverse regions of the world by the first decades of the 20th century. The city’s phenomenal economic growth across the 20th century was also extensively tied to global economic links and the expansion of global capitalism. Global patterns of deindustrialization and economic restructuring at the end of the 20th century intersected with a significant rise of post-1965 immigration and settlement in Los Angeles in the final decades of the 20th century. At the start of the 21st century, it is the city’s diverse global communities that are reimagining and remaking the city in the face of deep urban economic and racial inequalities.
Jessica M. Kim
San Francisco has a reputation as a liberal city. But history shows that San Francisco’s liberalism must be regarded as evolving, contested, and often internally contradictory. The land that became the city was originally home to the Yelamu people, a small tribe in the Ohlone language group. Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776, but the Spanish empire only had a tenuous hold on the place—it was the furthest outpost of empire. By 1821, when the Mexican government took the land, most of the Native population had perished from disease. Immediately after the Americans took the place, in 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and the world rushed in. The population increased 2,400 percent in one year, and fewer than half of the new residents had been born anywhere in the United States. Well into the 20th century, elite San Franciscans worried that the rest of the country viewed their city as a barbarous place, full of foreign libertines seeking fortune and pleasure. These narratives masked the extent to which San Francisco’s economy was corporatized from the early days of the Gold Rush. They also present an image of racial liberalism that ultimately must be regarded as a myth. However, there is some truth in the view that the city has been a comparatively tolerant place, where various subcultures could thrive. San Francisco’s status as a bohemian place, a wide-open town, has always sat in tension with its role as a headquarters of global, corporate capital.