For Victoria Duarte Cordova, the big challenge has been keeping the memory of her ancestors alive in a region not known for its reverence for the past.
Cordova, 78, is a descendant of Los Pobladores , the original settlers who migrated from Mexico to colonize El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles--the City of the Queen of the Angels--in 1781.
In Cordova's family tree are some prominent names in Los Angeles history, including Dona Eulalia Perez, the original keeper of the keys at the San Gabriel Mission, and Andres Avelino Duarte, her great-great grandfather, for whom the city of Duarte is named.
But while growing up, Cordova said, she saw numerous historical sites razed in the name of progress.
Original adobe houses were replaced by mini-malls, she said, and condominiums were built on the site of a farmhouse in which three generations of Duartes were born. Trees that stood proudly for decades were felled in an afternoon.
"The things I've seen destroyed have been heartbreaking," said Cordova, a lifelong Duarte resident. "People say in Europe and some eastern countries they wouldn't think of doing that. But with the (population) influx we're having here, there are different thoughts.
"It's money, money, money."
So Cordova for the last two decades has made it her personal mission to try to preserve the history of the region and make sure that the original settlers--11 families and four soldiers--are not forgotten.
"I love being part of a family that has done as much as it has. When you see the signs--Duarte Road, Cordova Street, Yorba Street--those are our names. We've left something. I'm proud of that."
Currently, Cordova is helping to organize the 10th annual Labor Day walk tracing the footsteps of the original settlers from San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel to El Pueblo Historic Park in downtown Los Angeles. The walk is sponsored by the group Los Pobladores, which was formed in 1981.
The nine-mile guided walk, which starts at 6 a.m. and takes about three hours to complete (recreational vehicles with bathrooms and supplies will follow the procession), will be capped by a ceremony honoring the four soldiers who escorted the settlers. Anyone interested may participate.
Cordova, who will ride along behind the procession, said she has traced her roots to three of the four original soldiers--Roque Jacinto de Cota and Antonio Cota, who were father and son, and Francisco Salvador Lugo.
About 250 direct descendants of Los Pobladores have been identified, Cordova said. About 50 live in the Los Angeles area.
The Labor Day walk coincides with the city's 209th birthday festivities.
Though employed full-time since her mid-20s, first as a hairdresser and for the last 12 years as a bilingual teacher's assistant, Cordova has been actively involved in a number of historical groups and organizations over the years, including the Arcadia Museum, the Duarte Historical Society, Los Pobladores and the San Gabriel Historical Assn., of which she is vice president.
For her years of service to the association and the San Gabriel Mission, Cordova is being honored this weekend at an annual fiesta held to celebrate the mission's 219th birthday.
Meanwhile, she continues trying to show younger generations their roots.
"My generation was always aware of who we were. My grandparents used to sit us down and tell us we should be proud of who we were, and not to do anything to dishonor our name," she said. "What we're having problems with today is trying to get the younger ones interested.
"Eventually, they will, but so many of us are going to be gone. So we're trying to leave as much as we can."
THE 'WALK INTO HISTORY'
Los Pobladores' "Walk Into History"--a nine-mile walk from San Gabriel to El Pueblo Historic Park in downtown Los Angeles--will take place Labor Day, Sept. 3. It will begin at 6 a.m. and is expected to take three hours.
Participants will meet at the San Gabriel Mission, 537 W. Mission Road, San Gabriel. The walk is free, but a brunch afterward costs $12.50.
Walkers need to arrange their own transportation back to the mission. Those wishing to take the bus can return via RTD bus line 487.