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Lucy is a senior staff photographer for Reuters. This is her multimedia blog about her assignments and travels

Los Angeles: the World in a City
Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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Show biz, sunshine, surfing and traffic are some of the first images that come to mind when people picture Los Angeles.

 

When I think of what defines the place after living here 17 years, I think of immigrants.

 

Mexican mariachis. Chinese foot massage parlors. Persian saffron ice cream. Korean karaoke bars. Salvadoran pupuserias.

 

Mariachi musician Moises Rivera, 60, waits for a gig in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles

 

The city is rich patchwork of ethnic enclaves, clusters of immigrant businesses, colorful murals, and places of worship. It is home to people from 140 countries, speaking 224 languages.

 

A man wheels a shopping cart past a mural in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles

 

The pull of Los Angeles is immense. It has the largest groups of Japanese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Armenians, Thais, and Mexicans outside their respective countries.

 

I set out to photograph the landscape of immigrant communities distinct from the LA of Hollywood myth.

 

More than one in three of Los Angeles’ residents was born outside the United States. In putting down roots in a city known for its transience, many attempt to keep alive country traditions and habits.

 

People wearing kimonos shop in a Japanese supermarket in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles

 

But maintaining old ways can be difficult in a city where assimilation is also prized. That conflict sometimes spawns interesting cultural mixes.

 

Megan Moshar, 26, who is of Persian, German and Filipino descent, marries George Safar, 27, whose parents are from Syria in Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Byzantine-Latino quarter of Los Angeles

 

I went to Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Byzantine-Latino area to see if I could photograph a Greek wedding.

 

Father Allan Boyd, an Orthodox priest of Scottish/Irish descent, who grew up in Texas as an evangelical Christian, introduced me to a young couple.

 

Megan Moshar, 26, who is of Persian. German and Filipino descent, dances with her husband George Safar, 27, whose parents are from Syria, at their wedding reception in Pasadena

 

Megan Moshar, whose father emigrated from Iran 37 years ago, and whose mother is Filipino-German, was marrying George Safar, whose parents are from Syria. The wedding service was in English and Arabic. They stepped out of the cathedral into an area that is largely Mexican and Salvadoran.

 

City signs mark the ethnic quarters within Los Angeles. Little Tokyo and Chinatown have attracted Japanese and Chinese diasporas since the nineteenth century. Others, like Little Bangladesh, are newer; part of the city’s endless reinvention.

 

Los Angeles area street signs mark the boundaries of ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Pedro

 

I had trouble locating Little Lithuania, so I knocked on the door of a home next to a Lithuanian church.

 

“We haven’t put it up yet,” said Joseph Pupius, 79, after greeting me. He disappeared and returned a moment later proudly holding the sign, which had been propped against his living room wall. He had emigrated from Lithuania 65 years ago, and this was his little piece of LA.

 

LA Times columnist Hector Tobar wrote about how his parents emigrated from Guatemala, but when he went back to his Hollywood childhood neighborhood he found part of it labeled Little Armenia and another overlapping part Thai Town.

 

Some Peruvians are currently making a bid for another corner of Hollywood to be named “Peru Village.” They hope to emulate Koreatown’s success in drawing business investment, a goal the adjacent El Salvadoran community is still striving for.

 

Retired professor Carlos Jainga and his wife Estrella Jainga attend a farewell party for Dolores Saballo, a friend returning to the Philippines, at a park in Torrance

 

In a small park, just south of Los Angeles, Carlos Jainga, 71, and his wife Estrella, 68, invited me to gather with friends who were giving a sendoff on a week night to a grandmother returning to the Phillipines the next day.

 

The Jaingas had just become U.S. citizens after moving to the U.S. in 2005, trailing their eldest son, who came 20 years ago as a nurse.

 

The picnic area was filled with the sounds of laughter and chatter in different Filipino dialects. Carlos beamed as he introduced his grandchildren. Estrella offered delicious food and insisted on packing me a plate to take home to my husband.

 

Mimi Pineda, 15, whose parents are from El Salvador, rides to church in a limousine with friend Christian Flores, 17, during her quinceanera in Santa Clarita

 

On a Saturday morning, I headed to the San Fernando Valley for a rite of passage celebrated by women all over Southern California.

 

Luis Pineda and his wife Irma were making last-minute preparations for his daughter Mimi’s quinceanera, celebrated when Latino girls turn 15. Families spend as much as they do on weddings for the lavish fesitivities.

 

Pineda, 45, who immigrated from El Salvador in 1990, has worked as a technician for a bottled water company for over 20 years. He supports a family of three daughters as well as his parents back in El Salvador.

 

Mimi Pineda, 15, whose parents are from El Salvador, stands outside her aunt's house before her quinceanera with Maybelin Ramirez, 6, in Santa Clarita

 

“My daughter is my princess,” he said. He proudly led her onto the dance floor at the 250-guest reception in a banquet hall after a smaller family ceremony in a Roman Catholic church.

 

I asked him if he thought it was possible to become American in one generation. He said he hopes to become a U.S. citizen. “I feel American; my family is here,” he said.

 

A man walks past a mural showing the Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan and United States flags surrounding the Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of Latin America, in the Westlake area of Los Angeles, home to many Mexican and Central American immigrants

A man cooks meat in a shopping cart in the Westlake area of Los Angeles, home to many Mexican and Central American immigrants

A man cycles in Chinatown in Los Angeles

A man stands in a store in Chinatown in Los Angeles

Johney Yu, 75, who emigrated from China 40 years ago, and Diana Yang who emigrated from China 28 years ago practice tai chi at a daily class in Alhambra, home of many Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants

Najara Apraku, 28, holds her 11-month-old son Selassi Ra Shabaka as she walks with her husband Jamaiel Shabaka and son Kwame Negast Shabaka in the Little Ethiopia area of Los Angeles

Mahlet Mogas, 5, holds a parking meter decorated with wool in the colors of the Ethiopian flag in the Little Ethiopia area of Los Angeles

A woman poses for a friend's photo in the Little Ethiopia area of Los Angeles

An Iranian American phone directory is seen in a store window in the Westwood district of Los Angeles

Sena Nagata, 7, Lana Osumi, 8, and Seri Nagata, 4, wave as they watch a parade in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles

A man walks past Schwartz kosher bakery in the historically Jewish Fairfax district of Los Angeles

Sarah Kim, who emigrated from South Korea, meditates with Sabina Mayorga, 4, whose parents are from Mexico, at Lu Mountain Buddhist Temple in Rosemead

Sung Min See, 16, Jaewoong Lee, 17, Joon Kim, 16, and Jason Jung, 18, who all emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, sing in a karaoke cafe in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles

A woman cycles past a strip mall sign in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles

A mural depicting former North and South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-iI either side of the South Korean flag is seen above Dan Sung Sa restaurant and bar in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles

A mariachi musician walks past a mural depicting a mariachi in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles

Men play cards in Mariachi Plaza in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles

People walk past a Russian Orthodox Church in Hollywood

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