In the popular imagination, California has long occupied a distinctive place, one conjured through an alchemical fusion of facts, fantasies, and mythologies. The enduring allure of the state, like that of so many imagined places, attests to the power of architecture and the allied arts to awaken and manipulate associations in order to differentiate and entice. The same is true of Mexico, which has fascinated foreigners and resident intellectuals for an even longer time than California. The two places also share history, language, and a border, and each is home to many people with personal, economic, and cultural connections to the other.

In 2017–18, the Los Angeles County...

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