An old joke tells of two Americans meeting accidentally in a bar somewhere in Europe. After a brief conversation, one asks the other, “Where are you from?” and the second replies “Los Angeles.” The first American laughs and says, “No, where are you really from?”

Right from its founding, Los Angeles has been a city of migrants, and it’s easy to imagine why outsiders might think no one is actually born here. The city was born in the late 19th century, thanks to a combination of two factors: the completion of the trans-continental railroad, and a fortuitous discovery of gold. Huge numbers of Americans traveled west hoping to strike it rich, leading to a massive population boom. In the 1930s, as the American film industry was rising into prominence, a similar “gold rush” brought hopeful Americans to the same city in search of fame.

Los Angeles is familiar to people all over the world due to its constant presence in American movies and TV shows. Its white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and beautiful residents have set the backdrop for countless stories, and the actors who brought those stories to life have left their mark on the city through landmarks like the Walk of Fame.

In spite of the joke, though, Los Angeles does have an identity of its own, independent of the outsiders who flock here seeking work and excitement. Like the rest of California, it was once part of Mexico, and this heritage (in combination with a huge wave of modern immigration) has made L.A. a hub of Mexican culture in America. This tradition gives the city its roots and allows it to retain an identity even as its residents move in and out on a nearly constant basis.

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