Article by Jessica Portner, NHM LA County

“The megalopolis of L.A. County is a concrete collage of more than 50,000 crisscrossing streets, the highways like steel lattices stretching out for miles. With satellite-enabled global positioning system maps at our fingertips, we zoom along these manufactured arteries that spill into neighborhoods from beaches to canyons to valleys.

But while finding your way through the Southland, most of us may be unaware of the cultural histories behind the street names that guide our journey. Some of the signposts we may have thought were Spanish or Mexican words actually commemorate the sacred spaces of Indigenous peoples who have lived on this land for thousands of years. Native American Indian names are found on major boulevards—Topanga, Cahuenga, Malibu, Tujunga—all names of Chumash, Tataviam, and/or Tongva tribal villages. The traffic lights at these intersections, and others around L.A., blink around the clock, beckoning pedestrians and drivers to be alert to their surroundings. They could also, potentially, illuminate our past.”

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