Beginning with the Portola expedition in 1769, the area now called Chinatown has served as a gateway to the region for successive waves of immigrants. When Italians came to Los Angeles, they established wineries, worked on railroads and created a neighborhood called "Little Italy" that stretched from the Plaza to what is now northern Chinatown. In that area, they constructed the Pelanconi House, converted the Avila Adobe (the city's oldest building) into an Italian restaurant and later into Hotel Italia Unita, built Italian Hall and opened Little Joe's Italian Restaurant. Italian Hall later became the Plaza Art Center and in 1932, David Alfaro Siqueiros painted "Tropical America" on its external southern wall. The Italian community's historic presence in what formerly was Sonoratown was later reinforced by constructing St. Peters Catholic Church, founding the San Antonio Winery in nearby Lincoln Heights, and in 1971, completing the community's cultural center, Casa Italiana.
While visiting Los Angeles in connection with an exhibition of his work in 1970, Alberto Biasi was asked to execute a sculpture honoring the Italian people for the new Casa Italiana. Approximately $10,000 was raised by the Patrons of Italian Culture for the steel rebar and cement used in the allegorical monument. Biasi, who experienced first-hand the difficulties in being an immigrant when he moved to from France to Italy, chose the theme of immigration in his work.
The seated figure with upraised arms at the center of the work symbolizes both gratitude for being in America and protest for the violence and injustice in America. Behind this figure is a train wheel on tracks representing industrial progress. The sequence of figures on the viewer's left--the sailor, the farmer, the mason, the miner and the railway worker--represent movement toward industrialization. The figures on the viewer's right, symbolizing sacrifice, struggle, education, marriage and religion, represent personal movement to the spiritual. Though the figures are depicted in a semi-abstract style that transcends national or ethnic identities, the composition is linked to Italy by the hat of an Italian priest on the figure at the viewer's far right.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, March 1998.
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