L.A. Feature_Diversity

45 Around The World In One City

LOS ANGELES _ Kitchen table economics may have put the squeeze on many families' vacation budgets, but the drive to experience different parts of the world continues.

As one solution, many vacationers are heading to the

Pacific Rim gateway and finding a world of cultures in less than 500 square miles.

Los Angeles boasts the highest concentration of Mexicans outside of Mexico, more Koreans than any city besides Seoul and the most Thais outside of Thailand.

Now home to people from 140 countries, speaking nearly 100 different languages, Los Angeles is becoming an ever more attractive vacation spot for visitors who want to savor the many flavors of the world without having to tap into the World Bank.

"I believe that our beautiful diversity is an attraction for tourists," said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Urban League. "Especially when you consider the extent of international tourism that there is in L.A.

"It's not coincidental that there are large numbers of tourists coming here from the Pacific Rim. They know that people from the mother land, so to speak, are already here. From that standpoint, they feel a connection or a link to Los Angeles because they know that there are people who share their culture and language who have made L.A. their home."

One of the easiest and most enjoyable places to begin

sampling L.A.'s melting pot is in the kitchen. Ethnic restaurants abound in every sector of the city, from Beverly Hills to central city strip malls.

You may be served Thai food by a waiter who hails from Guatemala, or enjoy Chinese polenta and minestrone Mandarinstyle not far from a spot that features Malaysian fare.

Russians, Uzbekis, Nigerians, Cambodians, Armenians,

Ethiopians and Cubans, all serve up their native foods alongside the more-traditional, but still-expanding collection of Japanese, French, Chinese and Italian restaurants.

Also throughout the greater L.A. area, ethnic enclaves abound, where recent immigrants and subsequent generations recreate the sights and sound of their homelands.

In the heart of the city, historic Chinatown and Little Tokyo lie in the shadow of the city's teeming office towers. To the west are growing Jewish and Ethiopian communities in the Fairfax District. And in the opposite direction, East L.A. pulses to a decidedly Latin beat.

"It's like a smorgasbord," added Mack, whose organization promotes diversity and racial harmony. He predicted that tourists to L.A. will be "turned on by coming to a world city where you have so many different languages and cultures. We are the new `Ellis Island' of America."

The variety of cultures in Los Angeles has led to a

wealth of different art forms, much of it accessible to the

public at little or no cost. Some consider Los Angeles to be the mural capital of the world, with more than 1,500 wall paintings decorating store sides, freeway walls and street corners.

The world's largest mural, Planet Ocean, can be seen in Long Beach. The world's longest mural is the Great Wall of

Los Angeles, stretching nearly 2,500 feet along the Los Angeles River in the San Fernando Valley. In East L.A., brightly colored murals tell a story of ethnic pride.

Ethnic art that's easier to transport home can often be

found at the more than 160 ethnic festivals held each year in Los Angles, making L.A. the "festival capital of the world," according to the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Mariachi Festival U.S.A., held during the summer, is

the largest such festival in the world, according to the LACVB, while the annual African Marketplace, held in late August, is the largest festival in the world that celebrates the cultures of the African Diaspora.

The annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in August celebrates traditional and contemporary Japanese American heritage while the annual Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture in September highlights traditional and contemporary dance, music, theater and literature, along with Filipino food and artistry.

More permanent settings designed to celebrate diversity and promote cross-cultural understanding can be found in the city's many ethnic museums.

The California Afro-American Museum in Exposition Park, the Museum of African-American Art and the Museum in Black, both in the Crenshaw district, focus on the African and African-American experience with displays of masks and statues from Africa, stills and sculptures from contemporary artists and even sobering reminders of slavery and Jim Crow.

According to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, L.A. will

begin the 21st century with more museums per capita than any other U.S. city. Also included among them are the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, which highlights the Japanese experience in America; the Los Angeles Chinatown Heritage and Visitors Center; and the Skirball Cultural Center in L.A.'s Sepulveda Pass, which focuses on the Jewish experience in the Old World and the new.

The Museum of Tolerance, the only museum of its kind in the U.S., is devoted to exploring the history of racism and bigotry in American history and during the Nazi Holocaust, while the Southwest Museum contains one of the nation's most significant academic collections of Native American art and artifacts, according to the LACVB.

Many of the museums include gift shops, where artifacts and replicas of ethnic treasures can be purchased. Aside from these options, shoppers year-round can find colorful Mexican pottery and clothing along historic Olvera Street; pungent spices and jade in Chinatown; tied dyed silks in Little Tokyo and handmade clothing with African designs in Leimert Park.

Los Angeles has the "most ethnically diverse urban

population in the world," said the LACVB.

And it doesn't stop there.

In L.A., even the ubiquitous palm trees are diverse (there are more than 25 varieties in all).

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