Located in Lynwood, California, Plaza México, which to some is still known as the Marketplace, is a multi-purpose cultural center that attracts many from the Los Angeles area and beyond. It was renovated in 2004. The center includes shopping, dining, and entertainment selections and is a cultural space for the Mexican-American community. “The design follows the basic principles of the ancient city of Monte Alban, which is located approximately 300 miles southeast of México City”. Plaza México incorporates the design and style of plazas in México in order to provide the ‘at home’ feeling for Mexicans and persons of Mexican descent.
The shopping mall, Plaza México, located in Southern California in the city of Lynwood, Los Angeles was developed and is currently owned by Korean investors. Plaza Mexico expresses an invention and commodification of traditions for the Lynwood community. Its main targeted clientele are the locally bound immigrants and US citizens of Mexican descent. The architecture of Plaza Mexico and its environment shows the contemporary processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of identities and recreations of collective memories and imagined conceptions of homeland. The plaza is a place like home for many visitors of Mexican descent and for other clienteles it makes them feel like if they are literally in México City. To the present day, Plaza México has greatly become a space of diasporic tourism in Southern California, it is unique in its architectural recreation and provides a space for social and cultural interaction among Latinos. It is not only a place where people come to consume goods, but a location where Mexicans hold cultural festivals and performances, such as "El Grito de la Independencia" and "Cinco de Mayo" festivities. For many Mexican community members, Plaza México is the main place in Lynwood for cultural expression and pride, which grants them opportunities to consume a national and regional identification with homeland.
Plaza México has a unique architectural recreation of Mexican regional and national icons. The architecture is based off traditional Mexican towns and contains a variety of Mexican cultural symbols from different eras. The Korean owners hired two Mexican public relations coordinators that are highly knowledgeable and passionate about Mexican national culture to select the icons, cultural symbols and events that are portrayed. The coordinators also selected unique types of construction materials to build Plaza México in order to produce quality and Mexican authenticity. The architectural decorations like the plaza, kiosk, fountains and monuments are similar to that of many Mexican cities. For example, Plaza México has replicas of the Angel of Independence of México City and the kiosk of the Zócalo of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. The plaza was reproduced with characteristics based on the appearance of the Palace of Jalisco at Guadalajara. The plaza’s pavement is made of adoquín stone and the benches are made of crafted iron, like the ones found in the provinces of México. Plaza México was actually constructed using original materials from México such as stone from Zacatecas and talavera from Puebla. The mall is physically structured with open streets and a plaza to reconstruct the environment as a traditional Mexican town where the visitors can walk around or participate in cultural and recreational events just like in México.
The reproduction of Mexico City’s Angel of Independence, which symbolizes Mexican nationhood in Mexico, marks the major entrance to Plaza Mexico. This sculpture serves as the master symbol of Plaza Mexico representing its importance in the community. The Angel has already developed some history in Plaza Mexico becoming an important site of congregation for political rallies. For example, during the March and April 2006 student walkouts for US congressional immigration reform proposals, large groups met at the Angel before marching to Los Angeles City Hall. In addition, during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, community members and other visitors gathered in Plaza Mexico to watch the games and after a victory or tie they would congregate around the Angel of Independence.
Plaza Mexico is a social gathering space of community pride and enjoyment for not only the local and nearby Mexican residents, but also other visitors from different backgrounds and locations. Plaza Mexico is the main public, open space for the residents of Lynwood because there are not many other public spaces to hangout in the neighborhood. Plaza Mexico can be seen as the “heart” of Lynwood or its “downtown”.The visitors, both elderly and young, enjoy this social space because they are able to perceive themselves as individuals who appreciate and reproduce Mexican traditions. Overall, the place functions as a “miniature park” consisting of replicated Mexican architecture, open space landscaping, patriotic sculptures, cultural symbols, and religious icons, which provides a Mexican national authenticity environment.
Plaza México serves as an important supportive structure for Latinos in the Los Angeles area. The plaza is situated among/between Imperial Highway, Long Beach Boulevard, State Street and the 105 freeway. The location is representative of the multiple identity intersections that Latinos (not just in the LA area) live among. Between these borders lies a transnational community that creates a space through which they can transform, reinvent, identify and celebrate with one another. Plaza Mexico does fill an important gap in Latino cultural life in the city. Through the space created within Plaza Mexico, Latinos create and reinvent identities for themselves and through the community represented in the Marketplace. Identity formation is important in this particular setting because “the plaza fulfills a community and cultural function that is somewhat absent from the Los Angeles landscape”. As a result of the increase in rental costs in the area, there has not been a stable place where Latinos can call their own. Plaza México serves as that stable place where Latinos produce their identities in a safe space.
Affective connectivity is the relationship between a people and their homeland and how they experience it once they are outside of the nation. Gomez-Barris and Irazabal define affective connectivity as “the ongoing and persistent emotional, symbolic and psychic attachments and expressions of a group to a nation, specific regions, or communities across national borders”. Clara Irazabal and Ramzi Farhart discuss territorialization in their article, “Latino Communities in the United States: Place-Making in the Pre-World War II, Postwar, and Contemporary City”. They define territorialization as the process of turning a space into a place. Territorialization can be applied to Plaza México because a literal space has indeed been turned into a place where the Latino community can come together, and through interactions with the plaza and the people, forming a connection between themselves, the plaza, and their cultures.
Many of the visitors consist of immigrant clienteles, some of them are unable to travel to Mexico because they do not have the legal or economic resources. Most of the visitors are of low or middle-low income status and many some of their families are undocumented immigrants and face harsh border conditions. Since, many of these visitors cannot return to their homeland for a visit, even if desired, instead they come to Plaza Mexico to feel like they are at home again. The Plaza also attracts other local and regional visitors who want to consume a taste of ‘real’ Mexico within California. Plaza Mexico has become a cultural territory where local community members live by and develop an emotional connection to express their Mexicanness. The Plaza also has an altar for the “Virgen de Guadalupe” frame and the crucified “Jesus Christ” sculpture. The altar is inside a small temple located outside by the plaza and it serves a dwelling place for many visitors where they pray quietly at peace. The Plaza sells different types of souvenirs, such as rosaries, crosses, keychains and T-shirts of Virgin reproductions and Mexico flags and colors. These souvenirs carry the message that Plaza Mexico is a place where cultural and religious(Catholicism) expression exists.
The Plaza hosts a busy calendar of Mexican festivities and cultural events, such as Mexican folk music, dances, Aztec and Mejica performances, cultural exhibits and other artistic expressions. Some of the traditional celebrations that are celebrated are “Cinco de Mayo,” “El Grito de la Independencia,” and Virgin of Guadalupe: “El dia 12 de deciembre”.
Plaza México can be used to understand transnational cultural connections between different generations of immigrants. It provides an outlet for Latinos to make a space for themselves and future generations. The community created through Plaza Mexico allows Latinos to feel a sense of belonging and create supportive structures. The plaza “offers a unique location from which to conceptualise and discuss the dynamics of cross-border cultural activities and cross-border imaginaries in a metropolitan area with an expansive Latino/a population” (Gomez-Barris and Irazabal 341). Within a busy metropolitan area such as L.A., Latinos are able to feel "at home" through the overall sensory experience provided in Plaza Mexico. Place-making can be defined as "ties produced through an(other) reimagined and recreated homeland." Plaza Mexico can be seen as a recreated homeland, and through this recreation, political, social, and economic identities are made visible. Through Plaza Mexico, Latinos also "belong across multiple border," meaning the cultural practices grant Latinos the ability to still be a part of communities in Latin American countries. For example, one of the bigger celebrations held at Plaza Mexico is el dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12). This religious celebration brings together Latinos from all origins and “illustrates how immigrants bring their traditions with them from their homeland”.
Many visitors come here to spend leisure time and hangout with their relatives and friends. They come to the Plaza to relax from a long day at work or at school. Many of the youth come here to consume the culture, express their individuality and express their pride for their Mexican roots. In addition, many come here to escape from the urban and societal problems that oppress them and it is at Plaza Mexico, away from the streets like an island, where they find peace and harmony for a day while they learn about their culture.
Plaza Mexico plans on expanding the mall to have more traditional architectural elements. A pyramid is planned to be built somewhere outside the plaza to reinforce the expression of Mexican nationhood. According to a Plaza representative the Plaza ‘is not Mexican if it does not have a pyramid. The Plaza also plans to build a large fountain plaza displaying maps of and the United States bounded together at the center and surrounded by Latin American national flags. The large fountain is planned to be built to express inclusion of all Latino backgrounds and not just exclusively the Mexican culture.