Tag: Culture


Mapping LA-tinx Suburbia

Barrio Suburbanism Map Project

“Barrio Suburbanism: Reshaping Metropolitan Geographies,” 2016, http://uclachicanxstudies.github.io/BarrioSuburbs/.

Genevieve Carpio
Andy Rutkowski  

One of the most famous attempts to describe Los Angeles depicts it as an enclave of communities without a focused core; a collective search for a pulse that does not exist. One version of this characterization suggests, “Los Angeles: seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.” Another narrows the scope: “nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis.” Assigned to a series of writers, most famously Dorothy Parker, but also Aldous Huxley and H.L. Mencken, the words reverberate an anxiety about Angelenos’ collective experiences of space.[1] Pointing to the uniqueness of Los Angeles’s geography and topography, it also reveals the challenge of trying to capture the essence of a multi-nodal place with words alone. This essay examines how digital mapping can help to foreground localized knowledges of Los Angeles by introducing a pilot multimedia project called the Barrio Suburbanism Map.

In recent years, the digital-turn has birthed a new version of spatial musings similar to those of Parker, often in the form of maps. Rather than plotting points on a grid, digital mapping often combines practices of cartography, photography, narration, active revision, and public-orientation. These contemporary multimedia renderings demonstrate the continued active and critical searching for what it means to live in metropolitan Los Angeles. From this search, several questions emerge. Who decides what a place is called: barrio, suburb, neighborhood, ghetto, colonized territory? Where are its edges? How does a space become more than a location, but instead a site imbued with meaning? And, to whom? These questions move us beyond the iconic scene of Los Angeles produced from the studios of the Hollywood Hills to the lived experiences of space radiating out from Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to the Tierra Mia coffee shop in Huntington Park. This essay explores how digital mapping might inform our understanding of metropolitan Los Angeles, both in the academy and beyond. Specifically, by pairing photographs with student ethnographies, the Barrio Suburbanism Map complicates popular perceptions of the suburbs as sites of homogeneity in order to reveal the dynamic diversity of suburbanization in multiracial Los Angeles, with a focus on Latinx communities.

Since the writings of 1920s social commentators, a range of urban historians, planners, creative writers, artists, and preservationists have created a wealth of scholarship and resources concerning Los Angeles and its suburbs: as bustling sites of working class identity, as spaces of queer sociability, and as areas of relocation for urban Chicanxs.[2] Yet, suburbs are habitually understood through the lenses of homeownership, whiteness, middle-class status, and conservatism in popular discourse. These depictions of suburbs eclipse the equally important histories of “triangular race relations” and “relational racialization” exemplified in places like Los Angeles, where complex interactions between race, class, and gender have accompanied the social segmentation of the metropolitan region.[3] Rather than a fixed set of characteristics, suburbia is networked, ever shifting, historically contingent, and defined by much more than political boundaries.[4]

This essay explores how digital mapping can function as an active means for engaging ongoing process of place-making, one that can offer unique contributions to both student learning and public engagement.[5] Beginning with a brief account of digital mapping projects in Greater Los Angeles, this essay provides a series of mosaics from one such project designed by the authors, the Barrio Suburbanism Map. A collaborative research project created by UCLA undergraduates in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, its aims are two-fold. First, it builds upon studies of the barrio and diverse suburbs to examine how these sites operate in multiracial and metropolitan contexts. Second, it foregrounds undergraduate research aimed at reaching a public audience through multimedia mapping. Piloted in an upper-division research seminar in the Winter of 2016, the project asks how Chicana/o and Latina/o populations have impacted the economic, social, and spatial contours of specific suburbs, with attention to how place-making and the built environment have changed over time.

Although academic sources and public humanities projects have identified diverse histories of development in Los Angeles, there is still much work to be done if we hope to uproot the white-picket fence.[6] For instance, many students found a dearth of digital and visual sources highlighting the intersectional histories they had personally experienced, as residents or visitors to these spaces, available within the public domain. Digital mapping provides these students an opportunity to actively engage in the processes of revisionist history and public facing scholarship with the potential to provoke critical discussion about the meanings of these places. And, as an infinitely buildable platform, future students can reply to those conversations through introducing new topical layers to the map over time. Rather than statistics-based work, this is an exercise that can not only historicize, but also humanize national trends in which Latinx, immigrants, refugees, and other historically marginalized populations are increasingly calling suburbs and exurban areas home.[7]

Mapping Place, Constructing Place

Maps are powerfully operative in the ways we understand the world around us. They have been used as tools of empire in far-reaching colonization endeavors and wielded by states to convert the commons into private property. However, as much as they have been used as blunt instruments of the powerful, maps have also served as the tools of everyday people. In many cases, residents who have struggled to be heard at city planning meetings have turned to collaborative mapping, where they identified unrecognized community resources and provided blueprints for alternative futures. Maps do not represent pure truths about the physical world, but rather create space as much as they reflect it. Maps can also help facilitate dynamic conversations about the places we occupy.[8] For instance, a national dialogue concerning urban development and gentrification is taking place through maps, from the views of LA neighborhoods, crafted by the Los Angeles Times, to the interventionist mapping projects of public scholars.[9] Looking to these undertakings helps underscore what might be gained from a similar exploration of Latinx communities in LA suburbs.

Critical cartography teaches us that every line drawn reflects a set of decisions about spatial meaning, social identity, and the boundaries between insiders and outsiders.[10] For instance, in the Los Angeles Times project Mapping L.A., “neighborhoods” are a product of combined staff decisions, census tracts, and reader contributed drawing of geographic boundaries between notable Los Angeles districts.[11] Although disproportionately shaped by the perspectives of “affluent” English-dominant Angelenos, who comprise a sizable share of the newspapers’ readership, the resultant neighborhoods have become the definitive guide to LA neighborhoods.[12] Each map includes extensive neighborhood data, such as ethnicity, housing, income, and education statistics. Prominent among the information provided are crime statistics: violent crime, property crime, time, date, type, location, weekly totals, monthly totals, and a six-month summary.[13] However, the stories of the people who occupy these spaces are lost in the data. When the mismatch between the Los Angeles Times’ readership and the city’s shifting demography combines with the heavy focus on crime statistics, Mapping L.A. may inadvertently create a deficit perspective of working class communities of color. This risk both underscores the limitations of mapping and its uneven consequences when written from a deficit perspective.

In an effort to increase the agency of stakeholders outside traditional map-making processes, asset mapping seeks to identify sites of neighborhood significance from the alternative perspective. Such mapping can raise political consciousness, enhance local knowledge, and build the capacity for community mobilizations with the potential to foster claims to place and secure control over resources.[14] Along these lines, the number of scholars engaging public-facing mapping projects has grown significantly in recent years. In particular, a number of notable Los Angeles based projects have pushed the boundary of mapping technologies and laid the groundwork for new approaches to community engagement. Consider, for instance, the HyperCities project, a collaborative online tool based on Google Earth technology, has served as an incubator for multiple critical cartography projects, including LA-based Historic Filipinotown and Mapping Jewish Los Angeles. Hypercities was one of the first platforms to allow multiple users to layer demographic data (census, etc.) alongside videos, audio, photographs, and other multimedia resources to create an immersive storytelling experience. Another, more recent example, offers a unique and pathbreaking method for community asset mapping: Project Willowbrook. This effort focuses on a workbook model that asks community members to define their own neighborhood. And, there is Ride South L.A.: Watts Ride, a print map designed by local residents using camera phones to document places and routes of interest to bicyclists. In each of these cases, community members use maps to tell their own neighborhood stories and to create a space for dialogue in public forums.

Digital mapping is a tool that fosters reflection about place-making and offers a promising avenue to think through metropolitan Los Angeles and its history. Two trends have combined in recent years to warrant increased attention to Latinx suburbanization, specifically. First, as of 2010, suburbs became the primary site of residential life for the United States as a whole. As a nation, the residential experiences that shape daily life are centered in our suburbs. Second, in 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau found that Latinx communities formed the California majority for the first time in recent history. These trends intersect. According to a joint study by the Pew Hispanic Center and The Brookings Institution, 54 percent of all U.S. Latinxs live in suburbs. The study found that Los Angeles illustrates national trends in which Latinx residents are choosing suburbs and rural areas over city centers and disrupts assumptions that the Latinx community are more concentrated in urban settings.[15] Using the mapping platform Social Explorer, the map below illustrates the Latinx population’s growth across LA census tracts between 1970 and 2015, reflecting a significant growth outside of the central city.[16]

The scholarship on Latinx suburbanization demonstrates that Latinxs make residential choices with many of the same aspirations as other Californians, including access to jobs, opportunities for homeownership, and pursuit of the suburban dream. Yet, their pathways and experiences of suburbia have been, by no means, equal. For early Latinx suburbanites, it meant staying in place as semi-rural colonias were enveloped by suburbanization. For others, it entailed pursuing social mobility through geographic movement from LA’s urban centers and colonias to inner ring suburbs, as both middle class homeowners and working class laborers in areas of new construction. And, for others, suburbanization has been as a strategic response to circular displacement, from the redevelopment of urban centers to dislocation from one’s home country. In each case, many of these Latinx suburbanites face the legacies of racialization, discriminatory lending, and generational spatial inequity.[17] Multimedia mapping can help visualize and narrate these varied histories, as well as where they intersect.

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“Spanish Origin or Descent, 1970,” Satellite, Social Explorer, 12 December 2016. http://www.socialexplorer.com/4b13bfb0ac/view (based on data from Census 1970); “Total Population: Hispanic or Latino,” Satellite, Social Explorer, 12 December 2016, https://www.socialexplorer.com/4b13bfb0ac/view (based on data from ACS 2015).

The Barrio Suburbanism Map focuses on the first metropolitan region to double its non-white population, explores the shifting economic, social, and spatial contours of suburbs in Greater Los Angeles, and illustrates national trends of Latinx suburbanism in its everyday context. If Los Angeles is a harbinger of the nation’s future, as it has often been, then we can expect that Latinx will increasingly shape the meaning of suburbs in the United States.[18] To paraphrase urban and cultural historian A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, Latinx history is key to rethinking suburban history. In his insightful article, “Latino Landscapes: Postwar Cities and the Transnational Origins of Urban America,” Sandoval-Strausz asserts that alongside quantitative studies of Latinx in the postwar city exists an equivalent need to examine “the culturally specific ways they occupied and produced urban space: their everyday behaviors, residential practices, ownership and patronage of small businesses, and commitment to public presence.”[19] Likewise, in the case of Latinx suburbs, statistics do much to provide a snapshot of recent transformations in suburbia, particularly growth, but they fail to represent the ways Latinx create meaning in the places they occupy. We suggest that multimedia mapping can help inform how we understand these places in light of demographic transformations. Digital mapping, photography, and student research combine here to prompt reflection of how Latinx (sub)urbanism shapes metropolitan space.[20]

Mosaics of Los Angeles Suburbs

We share below six mosaics of Los Angeles inspired by selections from the Barrio Suburbanism Map. Each mosaic is comprised of images and a brief narrative summarizing the map’s content organized by regions that emerged from this research—San Fernando, the Greater Eastside, Gateways, the San Gabriel Valley, Santa Ana, and the Inland Empire. They provide a countermapping to “neighborhoods,” as defined by more mainstream projects that often rely heavily on quantitative data, instead revealing sites linked by place-making and diaspora. Initially, students surveyed demographic data and looked for places where the Latino community had a notable presence. Students, then, explored each area by using a range of qualitative methods, from field visits to analyzing redlining maps to deep reading of archival materials, such as photographs, oral histories, and ephemera. They were also encouraged to reflect on their own experiences within these spaces. Building on that research, map entries were designed with museum length descriptions of 250 words, tweetable links of 140 characters, a bibliography of sources, and, often, original student photography. Although each student focused on an individual suburb or neighborhood, it was through the collective process of mapping that they began to identify spatial forms and cultural practices across metropolitan Los Angeles. When observed online, the digital map underscores shared themes of community formation, immigration, education, art, and public space within the frameworks of (sub)urban studies and planning history. The Barrio Suburbanism Map, itself, contains more entries than the mosaics highlighted here, 80 in total. But it is by no means exhaustive. Rather than seeking to create a definitive survey of LA suburbs, the Barrio Suburbanism Map underscores the ways maps give meaning to place and foregrounds the everyday spatial practices of Latinx communities.

San Fernando

San Fernando serves as a microcosm of shifting land uses and spatial forms in Los Angeles. Situated Northwest of Los Angeles, San Fernando was originally occupied by peoples indigenous to southern California, most notably the Tongva. The city was later colonized by Spanish missionaries and gifted to Californio ranchers during Mexican secularization. San Fernando was one of a few cities in the valley to avoid annexation by Los Angeles in the early 20th century. As demonstrated by Americanist Laura Barraclough, legacies of restrictive housing and exclusionary land-use planning centered on western heritage have maintained privilege in places like the San Fernando Valley when compared to Los Angeles.[21] Map entries follow changes in the town as it transitioned from a Spanish mission holding to Mexican ranch to American farmland to Los Angeles suburb. These transitions culminate in the emergence of local heritage campaigns that foreground San Fernando’s history as a community of “Little Farms Near the City.” In each urban transformation, the presence of Latinxs is steadfast. Yet, the significance of this presence is ever changing as residents react to varying economic, political, and demographic shifts.


Selections highlighting two ways of mapping San Fernando. At left, a historic street map, Shell Oil Company, “Street Map of San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles Northern Section,” David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (1956); at right, a narrative entry, “Barrio Suburbanism: Reshaping Metropolitan Geographies,” 2016, http://uclachicanxstudies.github.io/BarrioSuburbs/#page/about.

Greater Eastside

In Mapping Los Angeles, the neighborhoods of Highland Park and Lincoln Heights are drawn apart from Boyle Heights.[22] In doing so, “East Los Angeles” is prematurely dissected by lines of class and race that are very much contested. By contrast, Victor M. Valle and Rodolfo D. Torres argue for thinking of these places as part of a continuous landscape, that of the Greater Eastside. This social geography is “shaped by the destructive and creative energies unleashed in the competition between older and newer forms of capital accumulation and the ensuing competition between landscapes.”[23] Rather than reestablishing borders, we emphasize the interwoven patterns of Latinx migrations from urban to suburban and back, as well as the histories that underlie these movements. Valle and Torres offer a poignant vision of the “urban Latino core east of the Los Angeles River… as an organic demographic unit from which other Latino satellite communities would grow, cell by suburban cell.”[24] The selections below give a glimpse of changing communities, but also signal the long-term growth and cohesiveness of Latinx neighborhoods.


Selection of photos of the Greater Eastside: “Boyle Heights Appreciation Blog,” n.d., http://boyleheights.tumblr.com/about (left); Virgil Mirano, Photograph, 1999; Los Angeles Public Library, http://jpg1.lapl.org/00092/00092237.jpg (center); and Michelle Rolon, Photograph of Mural by East Los Streetscapes, Lincoln Heights, CA, 15 February 2016 (right).


Sprouting from the famous “shoestring” of Los Angeles, the Gateway suburbs are a collection of over 25 independent municipalities. This vast area, to the Southeast of Los Angeles and stretching out towards Orange County, has a rich, diverse, and sometimes surprising history.[25] One of the most well-known is that of Richland Farms, a working urban farm located in Compton.[26] The story of Richland Farms situates the Gateways and connects it back to the Shoshone tribes, who lived there before the Spanish missionaries arrived in the 1770s. Stories like that of Richland Farms help contextualize the spatial and demographic transformation of the Gateways through place-based history. It also contextualizes how migrants from Mexico and Central America found a home in a predominately African American neighborhood, which actually was almost entirely white decades before.[27] If, on the one hand, Richland Farms points to the region’s past, on the other hand, the 710 Freeway and its geographical surrogate, the Los Angeles River, points to its future. Its freeway’s construction promised to create jobs by providing an easy connection between the urban core and northern suburbs of Los Angeles to its port. However, the freeway also divided communities, making them all but unlivable due to the accompanying high levels of pollution.[28] In the emerging Los Angeles landscape, the Los Angeles River’s redevelopment may provide a transitional moment for some neighborhoods located along this busy corridor. Map contributions include observations concerning the freeway’s impact, empty lots, changing demographics, and new artistic spaces that give voice to the future.


Selection of photographs from Gateways by Alberto Loaiza, Lynwood, CA, 24 February 2016 (left); Enrique Carranza, Maywood, CA, 12 February 2016 (center); and Berenice Meza, Photograph of Mural by “Latino Barrio Roots,” Bell, CA, 21 February 2016 (right).

San Gabriel Valley

Affectionately referred to as the “SGV” and “626” by its residents, the San Gabriel Valley occupies an important cultural crossroads within metropolitan Los Angeles. Described by scholar Wendy Cheng, “The SGV is not only… a notable site of working and middle-class Chicana/o history—but also east of Little Tokyo, east of Chinatown, and an ancestral home of the indigenous Gabrielino/Tongva people.” It is in the context of an intertwined relationship between racial formation and home that Cheng locates an emergent “non-white identity” that is distinct to these multiracial middle-class suburbs.[29] The layered histories of racialization in the San Gabriel Valley are highlighted by its’ mixture of mission architecture, specialty ethnic marketplaces, and multilingual community resources. Looking to suburban space from this interethnic crossroads, one encounters manga graphic novels from Japan translated into Spanish at the local library and a Vietnam War Memorial honoring U.S. veterans in a city with a sizable Vietnamese immigrant community. Suburbs with majority Latinx and Asian American populations, like Rosemead and Baldwin Park with their vivid ethnic landscapes, appear in contrast to majority-Asian elite suburbs, which concede to an “Anglo design aesthetic,” for a variety of class, cultural, and political reasons.[30] Examples of past and present developments, from the first In-N-Out to the Rosemead Trailer Park, underscore the histories of population change, agriculture, and immigration in this LA region.


Selection of photographs of the San Gabriel Valley by Patricia Gonzalez, “Mercado Latino Inc.,” Baldwin Park, CA, 2016 (left) and Kathryn Loutzenheiser, Rosemead, CA, 20 February 2016 (center, right).

Santa Ana

Behind the veneer of effortless suburban homogeneity made popular by the Bravo series Real Housewives of Orange County, sits one of the largest Latinx communities in California.[31] The Logan neighborhood of Santa Ana is among the oldest barrios in the region, with roots dating back to 1886. Santa Ana is now a majority Latinx city, with current estimates near 80 percent of the population. The suburb has become a central node within an alternative Orange County, one in sharp contrast to the O.C.’s central place in histories of conservatism and right-wing organizations comprised of “suburban warriors.”[32] Map entries underscore the ways its built environment shifted alongside municipal demographic changes. Downtown Santa Ana serves as a particularly striking example of place-making, where Logan Park, La Cuatro/Fourth Street, and the East End/Fiesta Village illustrate the varying ways residents of diverse backgrounds use the city. For instance, La Cuatro/Fourth Street features Spanish signage, hosts Mexican national celebrations, and provides a commercial center with restaurants, cafes, and gift shops serving a large immigrant and Latino/a community, at the same time it confronts gentrification. Long-time residents and newcomers, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, Spanish-speakers and non-Spanish-speakers, have each left their imprint on the heart of Orange County, from the “Dia de La Independencia Fair” to Carlos Aguilar’s mural Among Heroes, which honors Santa Ana veterans.[33] Where residents have created a rich sense of place, the dense interurban transportation networks of the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center remind us of suburbia’s connection to the larger currents of metropolitan Los Angeles.


Selection of photographs of Santa Ana by Kevin Martinez, 8 February 2016 (left, right) and Jorge Quiroz, 15 February 2016 (center).

Inland Empire

Looking to the Inland Empire underscores both past and future directions in the metropolitan areas’ poly-nuclear development and the growth of Latinx suburbia. The Inland Empire was formerly the “Citrus Belt,” a region dotted with semi-rural communities. The City of Ontario exemplifies these early 20th century “agriburbs,” from the tree-lined Euclid Avenue which served as an early showcase of irrigated splendor, to the Sunkist packing house that fueled agriculturalists’ fortunes, to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which served as a place of worship for Mexican American residents employed within the regional citrus industry.[34] Where non-white workers were excluded from central neighborhoods through racial covenants and redlining, citrus workers established colonias at the edges of town where Mexican American customs flourished. These neighborhoods were often multiracial and drew on networks and resources established by earlier migrant workers, particularly from China, Korea, Japan, and India.[35] As metropolitan Los Angeles stretched eastward in the postwar era, fields of green were replaced with stucco. About 10 miles east of Ontario is one of California’s newest incorporated municipalities, Jurupa Valley. Like other towns with historic colonias, the Latinx population has grown steadily here. Bilingual markets, the Rubidoux Swap Meet, festivals, parks, and churches have made the site a cultural hub. More so, the growing warehousing industry and its need for labor have made the town a center of international logistics, debates over environmental injustice, and a popular immigrant gateway.


Selection of photographs of the Inland Empire: “Ontario and San Antonio Heights Railroad Company’s Mule Car on Euclid Avenue, Ontario, ca. 1890,” California Historical Society Collection and the University of Southern California, c. 1890 (left); and Jose Cardona, Jurupa Valley, CA, 20 February 2016 (center, right).

Conclusion: A Community of Mapping

Through digital mapping, projects like the Barrio Suburbanism Map facilitate public-oriented research and student engagement in that process. By pairing photographs with student ethnographies, the map seeks to complicate popular perceptions of suburbia. It highlights the dynamic diversity of suburbanization in multiracial Los Angeles, with a focus on Latinx migration and settlement that aims to provoke critical discussion. In particular, it foregrounds how Latinx suburbanites impact the spatial and ideological contours of Greater Los Angeles. Rather than statistically driven mapping, these types of projects offer a more humanistic approach for interpreting space with the potential to train students in historical analysis. This is the first layer of an exponentially buildable platform. Future iterations, for instance, could introduce new layers to the present map that address labor history, housing prices, racial housing covenants, predatory lending, or fair housing activism, as well as artistic, literary, and architectural interventions in suburban spaces. As noted by the editors of Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities, “thick maps are never finished and meanings are never definite… and give rise to forms of counter-mapping, alternative maps, multiple voices, and on-going contestations.” In this way, digital mapping offers a promising opportunity to develop pedagogical and public initiatives that are responsive to the changing conditions of the world we live in.


The authors thank Becky Nicolaides and an anonymous peer reviewer for providing valuable feedback on an earlier draft, as well as Priscilla Leiva for image assistance and student researcher Yazmin Gonzalez for editorial assistance.

[1] Adrienne Crew, “Misquoting Dorothy Parker,” LA Observed, 22 August 2013,  http://www.laobserved.com/intell/2013/08/misquoting_dorothy_parker.php.

[2] Becky Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,) 2002; Karen Tongson, Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginary (New York: New York University Press, 2011); Jerry Gonzalez, “‘A Place in the Sun’: Mexicans Americans, Race, and the Suburbanization of Los Angeles, 1940-1990,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (University of Chicago, 2008).

[3] For a selection of sources on the relational forms of racial formation in metropolitan Los Angeles, see Scott Kurashige. The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Laura R. Barraclough, “South Central Farmers and Shadow Hills Homeowners: Land Use Policy and Relational Racialization in Los Angeles,” The Professional Geographer, 61/2 (2009): 164-86; Leland T. Saito, Race and Politics: Asian Americans, Latinos, and Whites in a Los Angeles Suburb (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1998); Wendy Cheng, The Changs Next Door to the Diazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

[4] Defined by historians Becky Nicolaides and Andrew Wiese in The Suburb Reader, “In practical terms, we treat as suburban the sprawling territory beyond the central city limits that lies within commuting distance and social orbit of the older core…. In the larger metro areas, it may include places as far as two hours away as job opportunities have leapfrogged outward and metropolitan commuting sheds have overlapped.” Becky M. Nicolaides and Andrew Wiese, The Suburb Reader, 2d ed. (London: Routledge, 2016), 9.

[5] Photo Friends and the Los Angeles Public Library, “Shades of L.A.: A Search for Visual Ethnic History,” Los Angeles Public Library, 1991, http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/photo-collection/shades-la.

[6] Photo Friends and the Los Angeles Public Library, “Shades of L.A.: A Search for Visual Ethnic History,” Los Angeles Public Library, 1991, http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/photo-collection/shades-la. See “Appendix: Inspirational Mapping Projects” for examples of other exciting projects bridging academic and public scholarship.

[7] Audrey Singer, Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008).

[8] For a selection of classic and contemporary scholarship on mapping, see Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchin, and Chris Perkins, eds., The Map Reader: Theories of Mapping Practice and Cartographic Representation (Wiley Blackwell, 2011). On decolonizing mapping, see Sherene Razack, Race, Space, and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002). See also ch. 5 in Elaine Lewinnek, The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[9] Eric Jaffe, “So Are People Moving Back to the City or Not?” The Atlantic, 14 November 2011, http://www.citylab.com/design/2011/11/so-are-people-moving-back-city-or-not/487/; Emily Badger, “Who’s Really Moving Back into American Cities,” The Washington Post, 1 April 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/01/the-surprisingly-narrow-reality-of-americas-urban-revival/?utm_term=.986a4afc7537; Ben Casselman, “Think Millennials Prefer The City? Think Again,” Five Thirty Eight, 20 March 2015, http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/think-millennials-prefer-the-city-think-again/; Morris Z. Davis, “Why Millennials Are About to Leave Cities in Droves,” Fortune, 28 March 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/03/28/millennials-leaving-cities/.

[10] Denis Woods, Rethinking the Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 2010), 66.

[11] LA Times Data Desk, “Mapping L.A.” Los Angeles Times, n.d. http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/.

[12] “Mapping L.A.: The Process,” Los Angeles Times, n.d., http://maps.latimes.com/about/#the-process; “Mapping L.A. Version 1,” Los Angeles Times, n.d., http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/version-one/; “Los Angeles Times Media Kit,” Los Angeles Times, n.d., http://mediakit.latimes.com/audience.

[13] “Mapping L.A.: Crime L.A.” The Los Angeles Times, n.d., http://maps.latimes.com/crime/.

[14] Brenda Parker, “Constructing Community through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping,” The Professional Geographer 58 (2006): 470–84.

[15] Roberto Suro and Audrey Singer, “Latino Growth in Metropolitan America: Changing Patterns, New Locations,” (Washington, D.C.: The Brooking Institution, 2002).

[16] Spanish Origin or Descent, 1970,” Satellite, Social Explorer, 12 December 2016, http://www.socialexplorer.com/4b13bfb0ac/view (based on data from Census 1970); “Total Population: Hispanic or Latino.” Satellite. Social Explorer, 12 December 2016, http://www.socialexplorer.com/4b13bfb0ac/view (based on data from ACS 2015).

[17] Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), esp. ch. 7; Jody Agius Vallejo, Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); Jerry Gonzalez, “‘A Place in the Sun’: Mexicans Americans, Race, and the Suburbanization of Los Angeles, 1940-1990,” unpublished Ph.D. diss. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008); Audrey Singer, Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2008).

[18] See Raúl Homero Villa and George J. Sánchez, eds., Los Angeles and the Future of Urban Cultures: A Special Issue of American Quarterly (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2005).

[19] A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, “Latino Landscapes: Postwar Cities and the Transnational Origins of a New Urban America,” Journal of American History101 (2014): 808.

[20] This project utilizes GitHub as an academic publishing web platform and builds on frameworks developed by UCLA scholar Dawn Childress and programmer Nathan Day. For more on the design and attribution of the map, visit “Barrio Suburbanism: Reshaping Metropolitan Geographies,” 2016, http://uclachicanxstudies.github.io/BarrioSuburbs/#page/about.

[21] Laura Barraclough, Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011).

[22] “Mapping LA: Neighborhoods” Los Angeles Times, n.d. http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/.

[23] Victor M. Valle and Rodolfo D. Torres, Latino Metropolis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 22.

[24] Ibid., 23.

[25] Becky Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

[26] Zach Behrans, “A Brief Timeline of Richmond Farms in Compton,” KCET, 6 January 2011, https://www.kcet.org/socal-focus/a-brief-timeline-of-richland-farms-in-compton.

[27] Once even called home by George H.W. and George W. Bush in 1949 and 1950; see Nathan Masters, “George H.W. and George W. Bush Once Lived in Compton,” GIZMODO, 14 May 2014, http://gizmodo.com/when-george-bush-lived-in-compton-1576116422.

[28] Gilbert Estrada, “The 710 Long Beach Freeway: A history of America’s Most Important Freeway,” KCET, https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/the-710-long-beach-freeway-a-history-of-americas-most-important-freeway

[29] Wendy Cheng, “A Brief History (and Geography) of the San Gabriel Valley,” Departures Columns, KCET, 4 August 2014, https://www.kcet.org/departures-columns/a-brief-history-and-geography-of-the-san-gabriel-valley. For more on histories of regional racialization, especially as pertaining to the San Gabriel Valley, see Wendy Cheng, The Changs Next Door to the Diazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

[30] Becky M. Nicolaides and James Zarsadiaz, “Design Assimilation in Suburbia: Asian Americans, Built Landscapes, and Suburban Advantage in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley since 1970,” Journal of Urban History 43 (2017): 332-71.

[31] Scott Dunlop, “Real Housewives of Orange County,” Bravo Networks, 2006–2016.

[32] Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[33] Carlos Aguilar, Among Heroes, Mural, 24-by-27-ft., 2012.

[34] For more on agriburbs, see Paul J.P. Sandul, California Dreaming: Boosterism, Memory, and Rural Suburbs in the Golden State (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2015).

[35] Matt Garcia, A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970. Chapel Hill and London (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).


Appendix: Inspirational Mapping Resources

We have drawn inspiration from a myriad of mapping projects across the Los Angeles region. Below is a partially crowd sourced selection of interpretive projects and archival map resources for feeding your inner-cartographer.

Interpretive Projects

Archival Resources

Genevieve Carpio is an Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California and previously held the Cassius Marcellus Clay Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University. Her work engages relational ethnic studies, 20th century U.S. history, and critical geography, particularly as it relates to notions of place and mobility.

Andy Rutkowski is the Geospatial Resources Librarian at UCLA Library. He is interested in how GIS applications and methods can be applied to traditional library collections and archives in order to improve discoverability of collections as well as provide richer context and meaning to materials. He is also interested in the role that GIS and mapping can help play in community building and providing spaces for discussion, dialogue, and engagement around a variety of topics and issues.

Copyright: © 2017 The Authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


What Does It Mean to Become Californian?


D. J. Waldie

What does it mean to become Californian? It means being witness to an epic bender—a 169-year binge lubricated by gold, cattle, wheat, oil, suburban housing, the Cold War, and a marketing campaign of seductive power. At every stage of its history, each of the state’s exploitable ecologies has been dressed up as another paradise, pandering to the latest wave of hopelessly intoxicated newcomers. The come-on that seduced them—the elemental promises of health, wealth, and happiness in the sunshine—is the California Dream. For Joan Didion, the state’s renowned exile, there is in that dream a “dangerous dissonance…a slippage” between what we desire and who we are.1

The official story of California is told as a pageant of bonanzas, but belief in the official story requires forgetting so much. We want the story to record what had been hard won, but it’s actually full of lucky accidents. We bought the Californian sales pitch, but we became remorseful buyers afterward. We want to be Californian, but we don’t want to earn it.

These paradoxes were built into the subdivisions that absorbed thirteen million dream seekers between 1940 and 1970—the great years when California retailed to America its mix of Arcadian ease and technocratic élan. The greatest paradox is, of course, that the success in getting so much from California has been turned into so much loss. Californians tend to use the state’s compromised environment as the screen on which to project what they can no longer find in California—something missing from becoming Californian—and the suburbs, the traffic, and the presence of too many of us are said to be the cause. But perhaps what Californians can no longer find is in themselves, in what they lost by becoming Californian. We forget that the California Dream didn’t come with a moral compass.

I cannot say that the dream did not serve us. It provided the goods of a middle-class life to millions, including me. It remixed popular culture in exciting ways. It built beautiful and lasting things—and the dream still inspires. A neighbor of mine—with a tract house, two grown daughters, and a husband who is a teacher—wonders if it means anything to say that the dream is ending. “They’ve been saying that for thirty years at least. It hasn’t ended yet,” she told me.


Photograph by Matt Gush.

Kevin Starr has written nine volumes of history about California and America’s feverish dream of it, and in 2009 he hadn’t yet reconciled whether California would become a “failed state” or would reinvent itself again, and if reinvention would be another arc of boom to bust to regret. Starr’s faith was in the state’s genetic and cultural rambunctiousness and the possibility that a retooled dream, suitable for a less-Anglo California, will replace the parts of the dream that served us so poorly. But Starr, like many of us, had his doubts.

Californians had presumed that California would always deliver whatever they deserved. Now we know California can’t. Even more self-knowledge is needed, now that our revels are ended. If we are to become brave, new Californians, we will begin to dream differently.

• • •

What does it mean to become Californian? It means seeing nature without romance or despair. California has been uniquely intoxicating, but it was also a place on the national periphery in the nineteenth century and far from the familiar place where hearts might feel at home. Merchandising the state’s natural grandeur answered some of Californian longing. From William Henry Jackson in the 1870s through Ansel Adams in the 1950s to the latest coffee-table book, California has produced gorgeous and misleading environmental photography, promoting the view that sacred wildness is out there, unmarred by our presence and ready for our contemplation.

The iconic photographs make the rapturous assumption that none of us was ever here——but we were! We’re sluicing mountains into rivers to get at the gold, taking down forests to build a wood and iron technology gone before our parents were born, erecting groves of derricks over oil fields, extracting harvests from the compliant ground, and assembling communities from tract houses and strip malls. I’m tired of my own sentimentality for landscapes that are rendered either as an open wound or a throat pulled back, ready for the knife. Pity is misplaced if there is no place in it for you or me.

The choice for Californians north and south after the Gold Rush cataclysm was not between nature and its despoiled remnant, but the terms on which our encounter with nature would be framed. The environmentalist John Muir gave nature a privileged autonomy, a kind of green divinity. Frederick Law Olmsted, a builder of New York’s Central Park, concluded that nature in California would never again be sublime, despite what the photographs implied, and that nature must be enmeshed in the community of people living here. Olmsted struggled for a word to describe the tie that might bind a place and its people. He settled on “communitiveness.” It’s an awkward word for something that tries to define both loyalty to one’s neighbors and trusteeship of the land. Olmsted, as Muir and others did, sought to read a redemptive narrative—and something of the wider American experience—into the landscape of California. The Californians who were led here by their longing for the redeeming qualities Muir and Olmsted saw in California’s nature—qualities variously ennobling, consoling, and therapeutic—unalterably changed California.

• • •

What does it mean to become Californian? It means finding that California is increasingly ordinary (for which I’m grateful, because the commonplace is necessarily the place where we find love and hope). But if California isn’t the “great exception,” isn’t the best or worst of places, then how do we describe California when it is not exactly “Californian” anymore, not as alluring or lurid as the clichés of the utopian or dystopian accounts said it was? California is riven—north and south, coastal and inland, urban and rural, valley and foothill—but that which unites these “islands on the land” is the question of what had been gained by becoming Californian.

For Joan Didion, becoming Californian was a prize for leaving the past behind, although the result would be brokenheartedness. For essayist Richard Rodriguez, becoming Californian meant becoming mingled, impure, heterogeneous, and discovering that your color, whatever it is, is just another shade of brown. For the novelist and playwright William Saroyan, becoming Californian was to see this place, finally, as “my native land.” For the two million or more Californians who, in the past two decades, have migrated to “greater California”—which is now located in Texas, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada—becoming Californian meant finding some measure of inadequacy in California. Maybe becoming Californian means laboring to undo the toxic effects of what California has been: a commodity, a trophy of Anglo privilege, and a place of aching, unmet desires.

The Anglo possessors of California after 1847 took on habits that began with the first gold claim staked on the American River and continue each time a house lot changes hands today. Imagine considering those habits with a “truth and reconciliation” commission whose members are a skateboarder, a “mow and blow” gardener, a rap artist, a real estate agent, a vintner, a Gabrieleño elder, a Chinese immigrant, and someone employed in the adult entertainment industry. Maybe becoming Californian means facing a ravenous “hunger of memory”and having only California’s clichés to offer.

• • •

What does it mean to become Californian? It means locating yourself, according to environmental historian Stephanie Pincetl, in a panorama that includes Hollywood, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Big Sur, San Francisco, Disneyland, the redwoods, and Death Valley.She might have added Compton, Route 99 from Fresno to Bakersfield, the Silicon Valley, the San Fernando Valley, the Central Valley, and the whole of la frontera from Yuma to the Tijuana. Pincetl included in her list the seductive mirage of El Dorado, the folly that led to all of the state’s ruined paradises. An imagination so spacious as to dwell in all of these Californias requires a different kind of intelligence, attuned to many vernaculars. The alternative is living daily with the experience of estrangement, discontinuity, and forgetfulness.

Californians who need something to stand with them against these disorders might find it in Michel Foucault’s notion of “a particular, local, regional knowledge, a differential knowledge incapable of unanimity.”The desire to sustain “ecologies of the vernacular” and live in “habitats of memory” may be the new requirement for becoming Californian.


Photograph by Matt Gush.

Foucault distantly echoes Josiah Royce’s notion of a Higher Provincialism,which finds the potential for moral order in a shared sense of place and in the common habits of being there. This embodied knowledge becomes “critical regionalism”in turning away from the comforts of nostalgia toward “interrogating the local and proximate precisely in order to demonstrate its universality, its connectedness, and its differences with the wider world.”7

California happened to the world in 1849, and in the rush to extract something from becoming Californian, the world—in the form of every race and ethnicity—met itself here.The meeting was chaotic, brutal, often tragic, and sometimes redemptive, and its energies are not yet spent. For all its potential to create a hybrid American (and, I believe, a better one), the collision left Californians haunted by the spirit of El Dorado—the illusion that being Californian requires being perpetually the object of someone else’s desire.

To become truly Californian, dwellers here will recover from that malign dream to “awaken the stories that sleep in the streets”and pick up the burden and gift of making their place a home for every kind of Californian.


Photograph by Matt Gush.


Lead photograph by Matt Gush.

  • A longer consideration of the themes in this essay can be found in “Rereading, Misreading, and Redeeming the Golden State: Defining California Through History,” in A Companion to California History, William Deverell and Greg Hise, eds. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).

1 Joan Didion, Where I Was From (New York: Vintage, 2004), 48.

2 The phrase is specifically Richard Rodriguez’s lament for a misplaced language.

3 Stephanie S. Pincetl, Transforming California: A Political History of Land Use and Development (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), vii.

4 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 82.

5 Josiah Royce, “Provincialism,” Race Questions, Provincialism, and Other American Problems (New York: Macmillan, 1908), 65.

6 Neil Campbell, “Introduction,” Affective Critical Regionality (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 1–25.

7 Campbell, Affective Critical Regionality, 81.

8 The image is Richard Rodriguez’s (paraphrasing Karl Marx) in “The North American” from Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century, Judith Rodin and Stephen P. Steinberg, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 69.

9 “Through stories about places, they become habitable. Living is narrativizing. Stirring up or restoring this narrativizing is thus among the tasks of any renovation. One must awaken the stories that sleep in the streets.…” Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Vol. 2, Living and Cooking (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 142.

D. J. Waldie is the author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, among other books. His essays on the history of Los Angeles appear at KCET’s website (https://www.kcet.org/author/d-j-waldie).


Photograph by Anthony Samaniego.


State of Being: Envisioning California

Lynell George

“I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.”
—Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1

Gold Underneath the Street 

For months now, I’ve been at the time-bending task of emptying out my family home, breaking down history as if it were a set.

It’s my childhood home, not the first, but the one we inhabited the longest. Moving through rooms, closets, and overstuffed drawers, I’ve unearthed all manner of lost treasures: pocket watches, maps, deeds to homes long razed. This house, I realize, became a nest—not just ours—but one made up of artifacts of generations of family members: Bibles and Sunday hats, old wallets still filled with gasoline “Charg-a-Plates” and oxidized pocket change, a cache of antique cameras still spooled with film, and a river of photographs documenting their journey west.

A few weeks back, making my way through the old kitchen, I put my hand in the dark recesses of a cabinet stacked with crystal water goblets, luncheon plates, and not one but two ornate turkey platters to find the most fragile porcelain teacup and saucer—once white with scalloped edges, a hand-painted small cluster of oranges at center. Beneath the fruit, in plainspoken yet fine-brushstrokes, unscroll the letters “C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A.” Whose tiny cup was this? My grandmother’s? My great aunt? My mother’s? Who purchased this souvenir? Who thought to save it? To protect it? I wondered. How had it survived so long, so dusty and delicate?


Loved ones brought home souvenirs like this almost translucent cup, to place on their shelves among their finest. To think that this memento perhaps made two journeys, from here to home and then here again. Was it a memento or a goal—or both?

Strange, it now seems in reflection, but my first understanding of California—the California of my mind—the one summoned most vividly in words, music, or visual artifacts—was the product of those who arrived from elsewhere. My African American forebears were pulled to this place by a myriad of desires—opportunity, weather, freedom, peace of mind. I lived in their myth. My personal narrative of—and connection to—place begins with those circumstances that brought my family here; the inspiration—or kindling—was the California of their imagination.

I’ve shuffled those projections and fanned them out on the table of my memory. They fit easily alongside my pop-culture-influenced impressions of the West: those early twentieth-century slapstick comedies shot on streets dotted with palm and pepper trees; then too, the out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth voice-over assessments of the raw deal and busted dreams Los Angeles was sure to serve you. Add to it the disgruntled Bohemian’s longing—a restlessness for which the West, particularly the rugged Central and Northern Coast, might be the only antidote—all of these scenarios, often told through the prism of a transplant’s vision of the West (boomers and speculators and dreamers), East Coast by way of Europe, Midwest by way of the South—to the edge of the Earth’s last promise. That gossamer tenor sax of Stan Getz, bending like a breeze, the one that so many consider the signature of West Coast Cool School jazz, was just like my father, Pennsylvania-born.

I grew up on those shadows. Those slapstick shorts were filmed on the Culver City streets where I played. I read stacks of those hard-boiled paperbacks—Detective Marlowe and his descendants—that taught me not to trust Los Angeles even though I might yet become transfixed by it. I found myself pulled into the courtyards and avenues invoked by the California Scene painters—the bright astringent midday light and the fire skies that come as the sun slips away—and for all of my real frustrations with what Los Angeles has become, I am undeniably the daughter of noir and the jasmine-scented current of West Coast jazz.


What that means is that I early-on had to come to some sort of peace with what it is and what it’s not, both the fatalism and the optimism. How California is perceived by the native, what it looks like—beyond movies and postcards and books—is a process of combining. You move tiles around, understanding at all times that there may be, and often are, gaps.

It’s a hand-me-down coping mechanism. My migrant forebears had expectations; some of which were fulfilled: jobs and homes, secured. The region’s beauty was undeniable when they first landed here in the late 1940s. Even my blind great-grandmother, if asked, would extol, “It’s always beautiful here.” I wondered how that beauty must have registered inside her. Was it the happiness of her children? Was there something that coursed through her that didn’t need visual input? Some indescribable scent, the sun on her skin? I’ve found a photo of her in a prim dark blouse standing beneath a heavy, shaggy palm tree, her dark aviators shielding her ruined eyes, her smile, beatific.

My maternal forebears, Louisianans, came west and then split off. Half went north to the Bay Area, Oakland; the other bent south to Los Angeles—each to be near a busy railroad hub that brought my uncles the good fortune of hard but steady work as Pullman porters. How they perceived it, I could hear it in my Uncle Harvey’s voice, the way he sank into the word, the name itself like an incantation, “Cal-ee-forn-ya.” They all stretched out its music, made it their own: You know, baby, there was gold under the streets.

What my relatives ascertained in real time and experience is where the actual story begins—the great uncle who vanished (dead or missing, we never learned); restrictive housing covenants that dictated where you could rent or buy; circumscribed dreams. This “paradise,” by all accounts, held up only in its external natural promise—the weather, the flora, the vistas. The rest? It could be worked around.

And it was. The California I most deeply reside in is the California of personal imprint—generations of it. It’s the stuff of absorbed histories—the weight and heft of personal adaptations, language, and traditions. You brought a little of your past with you—how to string beans or devein shrimp or how to make a roux; you brought a lullaby; you brought coming-of-age rituals. You compared and shared with your neighbors because you were creating a community. All was integrated into the rhythm and space of your new environs. You brought your pride and joy along with your cleverness or itch for adventure. You brought what was road-worthy, meaningful, something worth handing down.

That ability to “make do,” or improvise, applied in many ways. “Placemaking” is the work of the mind as well as the hands. Living in California has often meant that you have to become familiar with and conversant in both the mythic place and the real place, and know where they come together—that seam where the extrapolation and the real meet.

As I moved out of my teens and into my twenties, I understood that seam—this place—as negative space, that area between two visible knowns. It was a trick of perception, in a sense it became an empty room to fill. If what has been promised doesn’t exist, or what my forebears came to find fell short, then what did they encounter? What is it that we celebrate, what is that we think of as home?

my eyes capture the purple reach of hollywood’s hills
the gold eye of sun mounting the east
the gray anguished arms of avenue

i will never leave here
—Wanda Coleman, Prisoner of Los Angeles2

A handful of years ago, I taught a class about Los Angeles. It was part history, part literature, part writing workshop. My goal was to encourage students to shake free of old notions of Los Angeles and to begin to define the region for themselves. For one of the assignments, I gave them the task of thinking about what visual imagery helped define “place” for them. “If you close your eyes and think about Los Angeles, what is it you see?” I nudged them to think beyond cliché—which meant no beach parties, no red carpet fantasies—but what did the real LA they daily interacted with mean to them? What shape did it take? How did they know when they were “home”? Even by the end of the semester, after we had been thinking deeply about place, beyond spinner-rack postcards and episodes of TMZ celebrity stalking, they struggled mightily, to the point that some panicked. Resorting to late-night emails, eleventh-hour office visits, they would confess they had no ideas. No ideas beyond what they were fed—ocean, palm trees, Hollywood, like a prayer or mantra—a safe spot to land. Was it that they didn’t feel confident enough to call it for themselves? Or did the region still seem to be so amorphous that they still couldn’t corral feeling into words? “The most photographed but least remembered city in the world,” as Norman M. Klein has famously remarked about Los Angeles, but it was more. Even with all of the assignments and assistance, what struck me the most was how hard some of them fought it, the very thought of stepping out into it, describing and defining it for themselves.

This is not uncommon. What’s particularly maddening about trying to spin a more complex vision of Southern California, to move beyond the vast projected image, is that even when you attempt to do due diligence and deal honestly as you know it, there’s a battle.


A couple of summers ago a delegation of journalists appeared from far-flung places around the globe. Part of my job as the welcome crew was to move these reporters through spaces that told different stories about LA and California in general, that would leave a deeper afterimage. Not boosterism—we were pushing for something that was substantive, bold and true. When one of the journalists looked at the list of venues—museums, concert halls, house parties, and an evening of experimental theater—he balked, “Well, what about a film studio? Aren’t we going to tour a studio?” His disappointment was both palpable and infectious. He was in California; he wanted to see what was behind the curtain, and we wanted to draw his eye to what was in plain sight but often overlooked. He didn’t just resist, but bucked. His grown-man pouting made it clear: “Give me what I want of Los Angeles; then I’ll know I’ve been there.”

Come Hither

      I got the San Francisco blues
Bluer than heaven’s gate, mate,
      I got the San Francisco blues
Bluer than blue paint,
            I better move on home
            Sleep in
                  My golden
                  Dream again
36th Chorus from Book of Blues by Jack Kerouac3

I struggle with Los Angeles. My anger or disaffection sweeps through in waves. Sometimes it catches me unaware, but most often it’s fanned by evidence of the image overtaking the real. I moved away from Los Angeles in the mid-eighties. In certain ways, it was the younger version of the LA that that visiting journalist a couple summers ago was pushing to see. I myself had grown weary of the slickness—or the elevation of such. After college, I worked for a time in a bookstore trying to figure out if I wanted to go to graduate school, or write, or who knows what; but the interactions I was having on a daily basis with customers—junior film executives, agents, wannabe movers and shakers—effectively doused what was left of my affection of LA at the time. The sharp edges and crassness deeply fractured my constructed sense of home. Meanwhile, Los Angeles, post-1984 Summer Olympics, seemed to be in the middle of another transition, ceding old notions of itself—calling it “community redevelopment” and “urban renewal.” I watched the key elements that had made up my relatives’ West—pace, space, and a certain gentility—begin to vanish. I set my sights on something with some sort of heft and nap: Northern California. I wanted to go someplace where I could, I thought, reconnect with what brought my forebears west.

I was pulled by my first glimpses. Those early impressionistic snapshots of San Francisco came from visits to relatives’ homes or our family-foursome’s up-the-coast road trips. They also came from TV and books. Again, often an outsider’s perspective—either a Quinn Martin police procedural of the seventies (The Streets of San Francisco) and, of course, much later the Beat Generation’s rhapsodizing. The voices of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso spun around my head—these bards of the new California, all transplants, too.

I was very late to Kerouac. By high school, I’d meandered through On the Road and stalled—twice. But I’d been swept up by The Subterraneans (for which he swapped East Coast for West as the story’s backdrop so that Paradise Alley became “Heavenly Lane”) and then Big Sur—that rugged, unflinching coast that Kerouac described in such mournful detail, became rooted in my memory—became my own memories. The first drive I took north as an adult with a friend, in a convertible slithering up Highway 1, was about as mortifyingly cliché as it could come: My head full of a Massachusetts-born writer’s descriptions and the tenor sax moods of a Pennsylvanian as my soundtrack—it effectively set up the scene. When we arrived at Nepenthe famished and ready for lunch, I paused to first take in that startling edge-of-the-Earth view. The universe seemed to know what I needed as confirmation: Stan “The Sound” Getz was drifting through an old bossa nova over the surround-sound stereo.

Securing an address and actually living in the Bay was an entirely different matter, of course; I’d moved to the outer Sunset which often only offered three hours of sun and a dedicated fog so thick and constant that at first I thought was rain. It was an adjustment for my Angeleno-being—an entirely different perspective of California, a bit more curated and consequently, manageable.

I didn’t have a car for the first time since I’d earned my driver’s license as a teenager. Moving about without one was both disorienting and liberating. I found my way by bus or on foot, learning the city step-by-step, stop-by-stop. San Francisco trained my eye in a different way. I’d grown up in a sunny place where often I moved past details at thirty, forty, fifty miles an hour. A scene or tableau that would come into focus for a moment and then move away from you, a streak of color and smear of sound. Here I could see things close-up. The crumbling Victorians, the noir tap rooms, with their hints of dereliction or risk. Depending on the wind, I could catch scent of the sharp brininess of the Pacific, the blast urine in BART station, the aroma of scallions, garlic, and fish in late afternoons as I turned the corner in the Richmond.


In the years before corporate coffee was on every corner in the city, the ritual of the independent coffeehouse was already well established. Strong, heated, and often full-boil conversations about politics or city life were in animated display. The best ones were theater of their own. There was an urgency and liveliness, a particular sense of chance borne out of flow and accessibility that was, at the time, more difficult to come by in Los Angeles. One image that often returns: I had been making my way up a gentle incline in North Beach on Vallejo Street to stop in Caffe Trieste when the poet Gregory Corso thundered out of the front door and into the night, eyes blazing. I knew his face from the postcards in a rack at City Lights Bookstore and the photo inserts of the books of the era I’d been living in; the face was just more anguished, the hair gray, wild like filament. When my friend arrived to join me at a small window table, I made mention that she’d missed him by mere minutes. A man seated next to us lifted a piece of paper—a stained napkin—with some ink pen scribblings: “He was just diagramming a poem. You want this?”

Oh, yes. I did. This was what I wanted—for a time: a textured life to press between pages of a book, one that looked becoming in black-and-white photographs. I wanted to live in a place that didn’t just feel and look old, but protected its aged sacred places—the stories and characters that went along with them. What a city looked like, the noise and press and chaos of them, I finally began to put it together, was the patina of presence. It started with people: How they touched, shaped, and occupied space determined the nature of “home.”

Indoor/Outdoor Living

Since the beginning, the real California has been obscured by perception, or as historian Kevin Starr observed, “at times, it seemed to be imprisoned in a myth of itself.”And when so many have come to west to find themselves—or their next self—how does a place struggle out of all of that need and expectation? “The myth that has symbolized America for the rest of the world has found its true expression here,” historian Gwendolyn Wright wrote in her introduction to the 1984 reprint of The WPA Guide to California, noting little had happened in fifty years to dim that perception, “A desire for dramatic change is at the heart of California’s appeal.”5

Place then, our sense of it, is what suffers in the blind or selfish making and remaking. We build it up and tear it down. Shoehorn expectations, and in the endeavor truth takes a beating and essence becomes much more difficult to summon.

The California cities that own part of my heart—San Francisco and Los Angeles—are anything but static. The Los Angeles and Bay Area that my relatives set their sights on is long gone. Sometimes though, I happen into ghosts of it—if on a drive home, heading north toward the San Gabriels on a clear day and I see the shoulder-to-shoulder rise of land that demarks the Angeles National Forest, or the socked-in coast and wild weed and pampas grass near the Pacific just as I move out built San Francisco. I can still lose my composure in the presence of the beauty that I know both I and my forebears bore witness to, together across the bend of time. But these vignettes of paradise are flashes. If we’re lucky, we glimpse them daily on a bike ride home, or while lifting groceries out of the car. They are reminders. I suppose that’s why I’m much more interested in the paradises that Californians create for themselves than boosters’ or Hollywood’s evocations of them; the neighborhoods naturally give themselves over and find humane ways to coexist.

When I speak of “paradise,” I’m not referencing elaborate McMansions built to the very edge of property lines or elaborate six-foot-high retaining walls that obscure your (and our) collective sense of place. I’m speaking of a vision of personal beauty seeking connection/interaction—maybe it’s a folk art garden full of old baby doll heads, or shards of blue glass sunk next to broken china as part of a front-yard mosaic. Maybe it’s painting your house turquoise or maybe it’s a flock of plastic pink flamingos? It might be the Virgen de Guadalupe painted on a Quik-Mart’s tamarind walls next to floating bottles of Tide and rolls of Ariel. Maybe it’s a make-shift fortune-telling kiosk in the driveway. What does peace, freedom of expression, a chance to breathe and reevaluate look like from decade-to-decade across generations?

It’s still about “space” to my mind. Not just measurable space—those miles demarcated in freeway exits—but the room to ask and play out that What If: Who might you be if you intersected with the place that might allow you to wander that question to its logical, meaningful end.

California, the best of it, is what lives and prospers in a liminal, unnamed space—somewhere between dreams, disappointments, and recalibration. It’s harder to recognize, perhaps, because it’s messy. It might look like defeat, or it might feel unfinished—or still in motion.



Meanwhile, of late, I’ve been watching my city turn into glass and steel and observing what visually individualized it, receding into a fragment of memory. Another wave pushing through, dissolving and flattening. Long-time Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith used to say, “The real LA is invisible.” It’s only becoming more so. In a conscious way, I’ve been trying to save what’s left or, perhaps more accurately, trying to see it better. My ritual has been to move out on foot early mornings, camera in hand, to find my way back home. It was a portal I had to locate, imagery that announced, “I am here” or “SOS”—plainspoken, conversational, real.

Those personalized markings—the doll-head gardens, the turquoise houses—the impressions that we make on place, the stories we tell on a window sill, the detritus we arrange in alleys, the found mannequins waving from the bungalow roof, the poems we write in dust are the conversations of place; they are the visual fodder that find their way deep inside, that later evolve into a character in a book, a line in a short story, some key and singular evocation of place. Until then, for now, I pause, raise my camera, and take the frame.

Of Saints and Sanctuaries: A Snapshot

My San Francisco shuttle driver looked as if he’d stepped out of a nineties-era Hollywood adventure flick: barrel-chested, slicked-back hair, and ink-black wraparound shades. He was a man of few words—at first. Once he’d left off every fare but me, I noted a laminated placard, stuck in his cupholder: a Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver and the words “Saint Travis” inscribed above it.

Even before this discovery, I was tipped off that he would be a necessary source to mine. Instead of zipping us through the usual downtown entryway streets, I looked, up from checking messages to see that he was dragging us through the nether regions of the Tenderloin. Rows of blue tarp and trash-bag shanties and cardboard pallets lined the filthy sidewalks—hardly the exalted California Dream. I had to wonder: Was this shortcut meant to warn, school, or discourage? We rode in conspicuous silence.

Now, van emptied, I asked him about the placard. He said it was a gift from his girlfriend. “All the cabbies and shuttle drivers have all these saints hanging from mirrors and knobs. I’m not religious, but she thought I needed some sort of saint.”

What did Saint Travis ward off? I asked.

“It’s just gotten so crazy,” he speaks to me through the slash of rectangle of the rearview mirror, as we bump along toward my hotel in North Beach.

The traffic? I guessed.

“No, the people. I also drive a cab and I just got off of a long shift and these assholes with the ‘Take me to mumble mumble.’ They don’t know where they want to go. Or they’re drunk. Or both. Where doesn’t seem to be important. Then, once we settle on a place for me to drop them, they jump out of the cab before the destination, without paying. Assholes. I took the keys and threw them at my boss—‘NO MORE.’ I mean, I’ve trained as a Navy SEAL. This shit is worse.”

Place, of course, has changed too, certainly a reflection of the people who may not sweat certain details of destination. I could see it—or the absence of it—instantly: all this glass and steel and fewer tacky surfaces and the stories that go with them. I was struck by how much more like Los Angeles San Francisco appeared at first glimpse—south of Market particularly—with lofts and condos and sleek watering holes.

I met up with my friend Shelley, my old roommate from my grad school days there. I had merely a sketch of a plan. I wanted to locate what was still recognizable, what had stowed away. I wondered if that falling-down flat off Divisadero, where another friend once lived—with the warring turntables blasting punk and opera—still stood. Or if the bus still left you off in front of a vivid liquor store—always story in motion.

Shelly and I retraced our old routes, the streets, ones closer to the ocean in the Outer Sunset. I still saw the shoulder-to-shoulder pastel houses, but inevitably, with a modernized, streamlined version interrupting the lines. In a certain way, visually, you could eavesdrop on conversations that were going on via architecture. I wondered how long this unusual mix of ragtag, working-class, aspirational, and DIY will be this way along the Great Highway.

On my final morning, we stop for coffee at Caffe Trieste, the same spot where I’d watched Gregory Corso fly out into the night. With a clutch of gray-haired men in hats and scarves lingering out front, it felt hearteningly unchanged. Protected, ducking in, I glimpsed a poster on the window. It took the wind out of me. Its dominant feature was a black-and-white image of a young Giovani ‘Papa Gianni’ Giotta, Trieste’s founder. The text advertised an upcoming memorial for Papa Gianni, that Saturday. I stood silently before the picture, looking at him behind the old counter opening day in 1956. A bar where I’d lined up weekends and evenings for a perfect cappuccino: “The first cappuccino bar on the West Coast!” as the family had long touted it. I had become enough of a regular that they’d remembered my order. For years, long after I moved away, I’d return, queue up and watch the barista pull my espresso, place the brown cup and saucer before me. I didn’t have to say a word. This, too, was home.

Even with all the buzz of gentrification that has restitched parts of North Beach, I was struck by how much of the feel—and stories—remained alive in the crevices of this place. This wasn’t Italy; it was California as seen through the prism of his Italian youth. He was extending the line—possibility—himself with it. The cafe has been a meeting room for generations of artists, muckrakers, eccentrics, and tourists; but mostly, its role has been to lend support and succor to neighborhood, struggling, and/or working-class folks like Giotta, who himself had arrived from Italy with his family penniless and at loose ends. From a singing window-washer to a business owner, this cafe had saved him—and so many others. In certain ways, it is a monument to all of that—a sanctuary.

The sorrow I was feeling had settled somewhere deep. I was sorry I would miss the memorial, the arias that would be sung in his memory, the old neighborhood stories that would soar. Shelley and I lingered longer than we’d intended. I wanted to pause to take a few snapshots—details—to remember this moment, but I was at a loss. Not a cup or saucer. Not the jukebox full of arias. But what? We stopped next door at Trieste’s adjacent storefront, their coffee-roasting business, and struck up a conversation with the man behind that counter. He directed our gaze toward the window, another poster of beloved Giovanni Giotta. The whole block, it seemed, was heavy in mourning. “There’s a big thing this weekend,” he told us, his body seemed limp with grief. Then he pushed two postcards—souvenirs—across the counter toward us: a blurred multiple exposure of the Caffe Trieste’s interior—the roar of activity visible and Papa Gianni, a ghost, there again before me.

The man at the counter looked up over his glasses and into middle space, and then pronounced: “That’s all we have left of poor Papa Gianni.”

I don’t want to believe him. I can’t. Because what’s circling around us—dusty and delicate but enduring—tells me something else: Papa Gianni is in these walls, in that jukebox. He’s part of the feeling of that old North Beach. Those guys standing on the street corner, keeping the story moving, aloft; the woman with the kind smile who remembers your coffee; they’ll be ghosts too, soon enough. But this old wooden monument of risk, big love, of life and acceptance is what we have left. How would I frame this shot? This feeling? Because it’s quintessentially California. I realize now why it was so difficult to capture: because California moves through you. It is vigor and spirit. If we do it right, we leave our mark on hearts and in stories and souls.

If we’re lucky, it’s ongoing.
It’s how we work with it.


All photographs by Lynell George.

1 Richard Hallas, You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up (New York: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1938; reprint, Seattle: Dark Coast Press, 2013).

2 Wanda Coleman, “Prisoner of Los Angeles (2),” in The Geography of Home: California’s Poetry of Place, Christopher Buckley and Gary Young, eds. (Berkeley: Heyday, 1993), 36.

3 Jack Kerouac, Book of Blues (New York: Penguin, 1995), 35.

4 Kevin Starr, California: A History (New York: Penguin Random House, 2005), xi.

5 The WPA Guide to California: The Federal Writers Guide to 1930s California (reprint, New York: Pantheon, 1984), xv.


Lynell George is a Los Angeles–based photographer, journalist, and essayist. She has written for KCET’s Artbound, Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Weekly, and she taught journalism at Loyola Marymount University. She is the author of No Crystal Stair: African Americans in the City of Angels (Verso/Doubleday).


Through the Heart of California: Seeing the “Other” California through a Relief Map

Alex Espinoza

In 2014, Aljazeera America ran a story titled “Fresno Rated Highly Livable for Young People.”The piece cited information gathered by the online news source Vocativ, which used everything from the cost of manicures to real estate prices as metrics for determining “all things that matter to younger people — especially in rough times.”Fresno took the number 24 slot on a list of 100 best places for those under thirty-five.

Many say that California’s fifth largest city has always suffered from an identity crisis. Others say that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Equidistant from Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Fresno attracts citizens from its larger cousins who find themselves fed up with hour-long commutes and skyrocketing home prices. Here is one of the few places in California where you can find San Francisco Giants lawn banners jabbed into yellowing patches of grass while, across the street, a dusty Ford F-150 sports a decal proudly proclaiming that its driver “bleeds Dodger Blue.” Here you find a regional dialect that often fuses idioms and verbal ticks from both the Bay Area and metropolitan Los Angeles; sentences are sprinkled with liberal amounts of the adjective hella (from the North) while use of the definite article the when referencing local freeways (an LA staple) has become increasingly common.

Fresno, like its vernacular, like the fertile soil of the Great Basin—carved when an ancient ocean plate called the Farallon surrendered to the more aggressive North American Plate as Pangea broke apart during the Jurassic period—is constantly chafing against external forces determined to define it, to alter it.

Despite its strategic location, its deep agricultural roots, and its close ties with the farmworker movement of the sixties and seventies, in many ways Fresno remains stubbornly un-Californian, reveling in its misfit status. It is home to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. It is where in the sixties a man named Boogaloo Sam created “popping,” described as “a dance that combines rigid robotic moves with loose flowing moves.”Cher attended Fresno High School briefly before quitting at sixteen to pursue her dreams. The name Fresno means “ash tree” in Spanish, and it’s where Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company was born and raised, and to where she was ultimately banished when Suzanne Sommers, the actress who played her, was enmeshed in contract disputes with the show’s producers.


The topography of Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley, courtesy of NASA/JPL/NIMA.

Before relocating there, I thought of cities like Fresno as places people moved from, not places people moved to. “Fresno is not small. The city has more than half a million residents and is larger than the state capital, Sacramento. But because it’s in the heart of farm country, it lacks big-city glamour. What it does offer is a more compact power structure that allows even the young to make a difference.”4

I remember a relief map of California I made in the fourth grade. I pressed my thumb into the mixture of paste and flour to form the Central Valley. Then, using brown food coloring and water, I painted in wide fields of alfalfa and rows of lettuce and cabbage. I imagined people, cars, small towns, a schoolyard with swings and a metal slide, its patina worn and dull not from neglect but from years of friction, the kind of use that tells you that things as innocuous as playground equipment could be loved.

In the documentary, The City Addicted to Crystal Meth, widely viewed by Brits, reporter Louis Theroux examines the damaging affects the drug has had on Fresno. At the time of its airing on the BBC in August of 2009, the city had the highest number methamphetamine users in the nation.“It is quite charming—and this was an extraordinary film, a sad portrait of a very different California from the one you see in Entourage,” wrote Sam Wollastan for The Guardian about Theroux’s documentary.

I had always dreamed of owning my own home. When I was a kid there was no such thing as privacy. When you have ten older siblings, there isn’t much opportunity to cultivate this luxury. I used to dream of space, of empty rooms and a quiet kitchen, a big yard with a giant tree, its branches rocking in a soft breeze carrying the scent of blooming jasmine and freshly shorn grass. I’d lie in a hammock and read and sleep to the sound of birds chirping and the low, lonely bark of a neighbor’s dog.

In 2005, I was fresh out of graduate school and living with my husband, Kyle, in a cramped apartment in Riverside. I was a part-time instructor teaching composition and creative writing classes. I kept an eye on my aging mother who lived nearby in a large house all by herself. I would shuttle her from her doctor appointments to her dentist appointments, grading papers in the lobbies while I waited. At night, I would work on my first novel, sitting at a desk in a dark corner of the bedroom in our small, shabby place. I remember thinking, If only I could get away from the stress of my family, be far enough away from the drama but close enough to drive if there were an emergency. If only we could afford a house.

In 2007, after my first novel was published, I decided to go on the job market. When I came across the announcement for the teaching position at Fresno State, there was only one thing I knew about Fresno: raisins.

On 22 January 2016, The Fresno Bee reported that the county’s unemployment rate for the previous year was the lowest it had been in nearly a decade. “In Fresno County and its neighboring Valley counties, annual unemployment has fallen in each of the past six years, dropping to levels not seen since the early part of the 2007–2009 recession.”7

According to United States Census Bureau, in 2015 52.4 percent of the population of Fresno County was Hispanic or Latino.8

Despite its large Latino population, despite its long history of cultivating artists of color, I was the first Chicano writer ever hired to teach in the MFA program in creative writing at Fresno State.

Call it regional snobbery, but many of my LA friends could not comprehend why I decided to move to Fresno.

“Really?” they asked.

“I’d commute from here,” another friend suggested. “You don’t actually want to live there, do you? Stay in LA and drive up just to teach your classes, man.”

The car was crammed full of boxes, and our dog sat on Kyle’s lap. As we cleared the Tejon Pass, I saw before us a wide valley floor, stretched flat. I remembered the relief map I’d constructed back in elementary school. I imagined a giant thumb parting the sky, the rivulets and swirls of my fingerprint denting the land to form rivers and thin roads that looped around and around one another.

Fresno is located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley in the central part of California, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The terrain in Fresno is relatively flat, with a sharp rise to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 15 miles eastward. The weather is usually sunny, with over 200 clear days each year. Summers are typically hot and dry, while winters are mild and rainy. Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons.

Area: 99.1 square miles (2000)

Elevation: 328 feet above sea level

Average Temperatures: January, 39.6° F; August, 94.1° F; annual average, 62.5° F

Average Annual Precipitation: 9.86 inches9

The heat was like a blast furnace that first June. Two weeks of triple digit temperatures. Thankfully, the house we were renting had a swimming pool. In between unpacking boxes of books, we swam for hours. I used to love watching the cypress trees lining the perimeter of the backyard bending and swaying in that hot, dry breeze.

Located on Shaw Avenue, just east of Highway 99, the Forestiere Underground Gardens is a series of subterranean tunnels, grottos, and patios that were designed and built by a Sicilian immigrant named Baldasare Forestiere. It took him over forty years to complete, and he used only hand tools throughout its construction. “Forestiere worked without blueprints or plans, following only his creative instincts and aesthetic impulses. He continued expanding and modifying the gardens throughout his life. Baldasare Forestiere died in 1946 at the age of sixty-seven. After his death, the Underground Gardens were opened to the public as a museum.”10 He built it as a way to cool off during the brutal Central Valley summers. The Forestiere Underground Gardens is on the National Register of Historic Places and draws hundreds of visitors year after year.

Coming from Los Angeles, there were some perks to relocating to Fresno:

  1. Hardly any traffic
  2. Lower cost of living
  3. A slower pace of life

I didn’t have time to miss Los Angeles that first semester. I was too busy getting a handle on my new job. Between teaching classes and committee meetings, there was hardly a moment to take in my surroundings. During that time, my mother grew increasingly ill. My sisters and I decided not to tell her that I had relocated. Me being the baby of the family, her favorite child, we thought it would devastate her to know I had packed up and headed north. Immediately after she passed away, I had dreams of her holding the relief map I had made as a kid. In the dream, she squeezed it hard. Dried tan and green-colored chunks broke apart and fell to the ground. She’s scolded me, her face red, her forehead beaded with sweat. “Why did you leave?” she asked. “You weren’t supposed to leave. What were you thinking?”

I should have told her. My mother never knew I left. She died thinking I was still near her.

In a story dated 9 March 2015, Men’s Health ranked Fresno number 1 on its list of drunkest cities in America. “Our statistical sobriety checkpoint shows that the inebriated people there have one of the highest death rates from alcoholic liver disease (per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” they wrote.11


Mt. Pinos and the Carizo Plain in the distance, courtesy of NASA/JPL/NIMA/USGS.

Men’s Health included the following details on measures used to determine Fresno’s “dangerous drinking” ranking:

Deaths from Liver Disease: 2nd
Deaths in DUI Crashes: 16th
Binge Drinking: 33rd
DUI Arrests: 4th
Harsh DUI Laws: 80th
Grade: F12

We’ve also been voted among the “dumbest cities” in the United States. On 26 July 2016, the Fresno Bee ran a story citing a national poll that ranked cities in the San Joaquin Valley on their list of least educated areas. WalletHub, which initiated the poll, “compared the top 150 metropolitan statistical areas based on the percentage of adults with a college education and other factors such as the quality of the area’s public schools and universities. Overall, Fresno ranked 145th, just ahead of Modesto at 146th, Bakersfield at 147th and Visalia/Porterville at 148th.

I am not out to dis a place like Fresno. That’s never been my style. Nor am I here to praise it, to paint an inauthentic picture of the city as an idyllic community untouched by problems plaguing it and similar inland cities of California. It’s true that we have a high number of drug abusers, that we drink a lot, and that lack of access and money has prevented some of our citizens from reaping the benefits of higher education. But I can also tell you about the friends I’ve made here, scholars from some of the most prestigious schools in the country. I can tell you how famed novelist Julia Alvarez once taught at the same university I did. I can tell you about the history and legacy of writers like William Saroyan and Gary Soto, and Mark Arax today. I can tell you about Diana Marcum, The Los Angeles Times reporter who covered the Central Valley and who, in 2015, won a Pulitzer Prize for her unflinching coverage of the devastating effects of the drought on farmers, field hands, communities, and families. I can tell you how I’ve picked apricots in the summer, washed them in my kitchen sink, and eaten to my heart’s content. I can tell you that I lived here for nearly ten years, and I was never robbed. I can tell you that I bought my first house and that it was built in 1941, and there’s a tall oak tree full of squirrels and woodpeckers and blue jays that live and raise families in the green canopy above my roof. I can tell you about the dogs I’ve rescued and the one that I lost here and cried over for days. I can tell you that this place, like any other place, is full of contrast and contradiction.

My husband and two dogs have remained there for the year while I ease my way back into a life in Los Angeles. Because I’m returning to the Eastside and the greater San Gabriel Valley, locations holding so many memories—both good and bad—my emotions have run the gamut, vacillating between moments of extreme fear and trepidation to hope and nostalgia. It’s all wrapped up together, coming at me in waves, simultaneously hot and cold, up and down, dark and light. I laugh when I drive by the 7–11 where a high school friend of mine and I scored our first six-pack of beer when we were fifteen, then I cry when I turn left down another street and find myself at the exact spot on Valley Boulevard where my father took his last breath on a cold January evening in 1989.

The past few years, as I’ve commuted back and forth between Los Angeles and Fresno for work between two state universities and as I’ve served on the board of California Humanities, our statewide humanities council, I’ve learned about geographical variances, that we’re not all the same, that we all have stories to tell, and that my notion of California stretches far beyond the factories and freeways of the San Gabriel Valley, far beyond the stucco houses and empty lots of the Inland Empire, where I spent my twenties and thirties, and even beyond the strawberry fields, the orange groves, and the almond orchards and vineyards of the Central Valley.

It’s appropriate for Californians, I think, this constant moving, just like the earth that occasionally rumbles and shifts and flows right beneath our collective feet.


1 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

2 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

3 http://blogs.uoregon.edu/jerkrumpop/popping/

4 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_Addicted_to_Crystal_Meth

6 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/aug/10/louis-theroux-crystal-meth

7 http://www.fresnobee.com/news/business/article56100350.html#storylink=cp

8 http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0627000,06019#headnote-js-b

9 http://www.city-data.com/us-cities/The-West/Fresno-Geography-and-Climate.html

10 http://historicfresno.org/nrhp/forest.htm

11 http://www.menshealth.com/health/drunk-cities

12 http://www.menshealth.com/health/drunk-cities

Alex Espinoza is a novelist known for works such as Still Water Saints. A professor at California State University, Los Angeles, as well as the director of their MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Arts, he was born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles.



David L. Ulin

Andrew Molera State Park. I didn’t know it was the almost perfect midpoint of the California coast when I visited in late May 1980. It was also the almost perfect midpoint of my time living by the Bay. Just days before my roommate was due to leave San Francisco and return east, we drove south, through Santa Cruz and Watsonville, to Big Sur to spend a weekend camping at the sea. What we saw first were naked women, two of them, walking the trail back from the beach loose-limbed and jangly, like the beating of my heart. I was eighteen and mostly inexperienced, but I knew enough to look them in the eye. Down at the water’s edge, my roommate suggested we get naked also; the idea made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to say. Instead, I peeled my jeans as if I were shedding skin, averted my gaze as he did the same. Then we smoked a joint and wandered the rocky shore, sporadically crossing paths with other walkers, all of us as bare-assed as if we were newly born. This was not a nude beach, not specifically, although the overall sensibility was When in Rome. I felt titillated but not physically, more in the sense that I was crossing into adulthood…or at least adulthood as I imagined it might be. Later in the afternoon, we stumbled upon a couple having sex behind an outcropping; by then, we had already put our pants back on and were on our way to pitch our tent. I don’t recall much else, just this small sequence of images, all of them taking place over an hour or two between the trailhead and the waves. Oh, and one other thing, one more sensation: that this wasn’t who I was, not quite, not exactly, no matter how I wished it might be so.
Fort Mason. I had a job working for Greenpeace, three evenings a week, canvassing Marin, the East and South Bays, going door to door to ask for funds. The office was in Fort Mason Center, which had only recently been turned over to the National Park Service; before that, it had been an army post, going back to the Civil War. I would take the Fillmore bus, get off in front of Marina Middle School, walk the dozen or so blocks to the office where we would gather like a squadron about to go out on patrol. We would pile into a brown VW bus, listen to the Dead or Public Image Ltd., drive out of the city, stop for dinner, and hit the neighborhoods. The higher end, the better: In Mill Valley once, I was invited into a party, given beer and joints for my fellow canvassers, as well as a $150 check. That was a night’s work, more than one; in certain neighborhoods, I’d be lucky to scrounge up sixty or seventy bucks. Around 8:00 or 8:30, we would meet back at the bus and return to the city where we would add up our donations and cash out. Then I would head into the cool San Francisco night, fog drifting in from the Bay, and wander in great looping arcs from the Marina through Cow Hollow, across Pacific Heights, the Western Addition, Alamo Square, and Hayes Valley, before angling southwest to the Haight. Some evenings I would take Fillmore the whole way, others Divisidero, clinging to the shadows in the darkness like a ghost. What I liked about San Francisco was that it had a history, although I didn’t know it, which left me suspended, in some sense, between the present and the past. That, and the fact that I understood there was no future for me in this place; that like my roommate I, too, would be leaving; that it was unlikely I’d be living here again.


View from Bernal Hill, San Francisco in the 1980s. Photograph by Mimi Plumb.

Marin Headlands. Earlier that year, perhaps in April, we spent a Saturday afternoon climbing in the Marin Headlands. Was this the same day we went to Green Dragon Temple in Muir Beach for tea and lunch? We did not sit zazen or read the sutras, but I can still see us pull up before the square construction of the zendo, piling out of the car as if the journey was much longer than seventeen miles. For as long as we stayed—an hour? maybe two?—I imagined what it might be like to live here, to stay behind when the car left and shed the concerns and ambitions of the world. Even then, however, I knew that I would never be able to sit still long enough. Maybe this is why we ended up circling back to the Headlands, all that dirt and grass. We spent an hour or two crawling over the concrete batteries dug into the hillsides, the residue of two world wars. And yet, was this so different from where we had just been? No, just another place for turning inward, not toward stillness, silence, but to ourselves, our fantasies. That day, I felt like a ten-year-old again, wanting to fit myself through the narrow gun slits, to sit inside, protected, hidden from the city and its claims. Later, I would read a book, Jim Paul’s Catapult, about two friends who get a grant to build a medieval siege weapon and shoot stones from the Headlands into the sea. In a way, what Paul is describing is its own form of meditation, its own mechanism for stepping outside time. This is how I felt a lot during those months, as if time had slowed or slipped or grown elastic, as if there were time enough at last. That this turned out (how could it not?) to be another illusion is, of course, the point—not just of memory but also of all these sites and artifacts, which I could not, which I still cannot, move beyond.

Old Waldorf. Our first weekend in the city, a group of us took blotter acid, ended up in Golden Gate Park. Many hours later, we crept out of the park and meandered from the Haight through Hayes Valley, the Civic Center, deep into the Financial District, where there was a club on Battery called the Old Waldorf, owned by Bill Graham. Battery, batteries, the city and its defenses, military or cultural, through which time moved as liquid essence…or maybe that was the drugs. We went to the Old Waldorf often, that or the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway, where we heard SVT, Vital Parts, the Dead Kennedys, Jim Carroll Band. We were in the middle, on the seam between two eras, wannabe hippies (we weren’t old enough) lit on fire by punk. My last night in the city, ten weeks after that trip to Andrew Molera State Park, I stood atop the Stockton Street tunnel with my best friend and his girlfriend, smoking cigarettes after one last show. Below us: the crush of Sutter Street, its delis and massage parlors; while up there the three of us, we lingered, shrouded in the fog of leaving, aware that our time had come. Who had we seen that night? It could have been anyone—Jorma, Carroll, even Jerry Garcia who played, when he was in town, once a month in North Beach at the Stone. The next morning, I packed the last few items in my backpack, locked my apartment, and left the keys in the super’s box. The air was chilly, overcast I want to tell you (although that may have been internal weather), and I remember shivering a little as I stepped onto Haight Street and waited for the bus to take me to the Transbay Terminal on Mission and Howard, where I would start my journey home.


Dogpatch, San Francisco in the 1980s. Photograph by Mimi Plumb.

Sutro Tower. I had a dream once, during the months I lived in San Francisco, of dancing underneath the Sutro Tower, that vast three-pronged transmission standard that overlooks the city from a hill not far from Clarendon Heights. I could feel the buzz of all those broadcasts, all those voices, all that electricity pulsing through my body, lines of energy. The closest I ever came to making something like that happen was one night at Twin Peaks, where a group of us came to drink and get high and dance to the boombox someone brought. The Grateful Dead or the Dead Kennedys, Jerry Garcia or Jello Biafra, Sutro, sutra, Freddie Mercury. When Queen played Oakland in July 1980, the singer came to party in the Castro, just over the hill from where I lived. That summer, everybody looked like Freddy: tight jeans, bandannas folded neatly into rear pockets, close-cropped haircuts, mustaches. “Terminal” was still a word we might use to describe a bus station; it had not yet become a harbinger of fear. A decade afterward, Mercury was dead, like so many of the men in that neighborhood, who I’d encountered on the sidewalks or when I took the bus. I don’t mean to offer up an elegy, but I want to remain clear about what I remember, which is this: I remember something that felt like abandon, the sensation that anything I could imagine might come true. I remember grace, or better yet elevation, from the Headlands to the tunnels to the hills. I remember feeling that time had erased itself even as I understood that time kept passing, that it always would. I remember that as much as I wished otherwise—Green Dragon Temple, Greenpeace, Andrew Molera State Park—I was just a visitor here.

David L. Ulin is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, which was shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.


Seeing California through the Semicolon

Jason S. Sexton

California has many official symbols: the state flower (poppy), the state fruit (avocado), the state tree (California redwood), the state animal (the erstwhile California grizzly), and others. We do not have a punctuation mark; perhaps we should.

The semicolon represents California as much as anything. It marks something of a conclusion, but not an entire one; a semi-finale to what precedes, while keeping the forgoing near, lingering, remaining; and yet the same continuum yields to new insights, new horizons, new possibilities. Not closed, but open.

Californians are not worried about this lack of closure. We can move forward with the past somewhere back there; we know that where we are is not the end or the beginning—we’re in-between, trying to hold onto something of what’s gone before, but knowing that what’s coming contains more of the point; we sit suspended but aren’t bothered by it. We shrug at the lack of finality.

Boom: A Journal of California is also experiencing a semicolon moment. With this issue, the sixth volume and print subscription run of Boom comes to an end; but the critical, timely, important conversations we’ve cultivated have just begun. The new Boom California will be a free online publication with articles that promise to continue to reframe our vision, adjust our views, and change conversations—conversations that matter not only to California but to the world.

The challenge of sustaining the printed page is real all around. In Boom’s case, as a University of California Press publication, the journal sounded off with a major grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund a strategic initiative in California Studies. The $722,000 award supported the creation of this journal and aimed to support this emerging field. The experiment raced quickly through the grant in six years (perhaps sooner), and the challenge of blending the academic with the public-facing was not always (and is still not) easy to do, trying to blend reflective journalism and beautiful art with serious refereed academic scholarship. We believe California still warrants this, and perhaps now as much as ever.

Over the last six years, we had some fantastic issues: on water innovation and scarcity; on California’s role in the Pacific world; on California in the world and the world in California; on the problem with San Francisco; on deep hanging out; on religion in California; on California prisons; and many more. Now we wish to open these conversations to the wider world, making all of our previous content free at http://boom.ucpress.edu. Meanwhile, we still wish to write for those who read; we wish to find our readers, California readers. We also wish to find our writers—courageous souls writing this place, mapping it, resisting. It may take more courage to write and read California as the rest of the country shifts from the ideals we share as Californians, which may require ongoing mapping, and increased levels of courage.

Along with Boom, a number of new and courageous voices have arisen who are writing about California in interesting, effective ways. Doug McGray’s award-winning The California Sunday Magazine carries captivating stories of California and beyond. Their partner Pop-Up Magazine also blazes a new path, with live shows on stage in different venues blending music, readings, visual displays of video art, and sometimes well over-the-top performances. There’s Tom Lutz’s LA Review of Books, which has taken the West Coast world of the literature review by storm. LARB really is a worldwide publication, and largely a book review site, accompanied by other creative print media and essays, but nobody has the California beat there. Steve Wasserman just landed back into his hometown Berkeley from his time at Yale University Press in New England, almost as if back from exile. While keeping Heyday’s presence in the Bay and LA he brings a kind of strength and chutzpa that fittingly builds on the strong shoulders of Malcolm Margolin, opening conversations in California to the world beyond in ways that fittingly commence the second chapter of California’s quintessential publishing house.

Add to this the environmental historian and my predecessor at Boom, Jon Christensen, with his timely new Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS), an incubator for new research and collaboration on storytelling, communications, and media in the service of environmental conservation and equity. With LENS (https://lensmagazine.org/) Jon and others advance important interdisciplinary questions of how we tell the stories of this place and will be important to watch. At Zocalo Public Square Joe Mathews and Gregory Rodriguez bring the kind of provocative reflection on California (and other cultures) that standard journalism simply doesn’t deliver, connecting the past to the present. The late Kevin Starr also was beginning to draw from a deeper, even religious reading of early forms of California, as shown in his recent book on the early American colonial experience, Continental Ambitions.

In the last issue of Boom, we reckon with this place and those creating it. The essays are largely autobiopic, showcasing the lives of ordinary Californians; in many cases, these lives are extraordinary. Inside this issue, some of the best California writers wrestle with loss and memory, finding one’s self, and coming of age, and the stories they write help us locate ourselves. We learn the ways of Californians, and of countercultural movements and figures who make their way, critically; seeing and yet not seeing all there is to see; becoming and yet not quite fully becoming, or even fully finding. Yet still, they help us see—their steady pens have delivered many essays helping us to reckon with this place, writing stories we all see ourselves in as their dilemmas become ours, whether we knew before that they should be or not.

After this issue, closing out the volume, Boom transitions to a revamped free and exclusively online publication at www.boomcalifornia.com. For further events and conversations, we hope you will also follow us on Twitter (@BoomCalifornia) and Facebook as we turn our focus toward California social issues and seek to cultivate underrepresented writers in the California landscape, amping things up a bit with our peer-review refereed remit.

The new Boom California may yet evolve into something in print, with the most significant articles eventually being steered for longevity in the reader’s paradise of the physical printed page, which we all love, sitting beautifully on the shelf at home; stay tuned for that. But all of Boom’s work will immediately be published online, and at a steadier pace than the quarterly print format allows. The majority of our readers appear to be online already, and we look forward to meeting you there.

With the same mission it had under the capable hands of Carolyn Thomas, Louis Warren, Jon Christensen, and Eve Bachrach, Boom aims to continue to see this place. We aim to offer readers a thoughtful and provocative look at the most vital social and cultural issues facing California and the world beyond, we will seek to cultivate the most timely critical conversations happening on or about California, which touch the heart of our identity, and help us to critically address our past, present, and future. Among many things we’ve learned throughout these six good years of having dinner party conversation pieces served up to us each quarter, we’ve learned that California simply cannot be what it is without us and our stories. And so we look forward to you joining us in the semicolon, and evolving with us in our ongoing reflection on this wonderful place.


Jason S. Sexton


Jason S. Sexton is a lecturer in the honors program at California State University, Fullerton, and a visiting fellow at University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Religion and Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society; he is the editor of Boom.

Photograph by Matt Gush.


Call for Proposals and Submissions

On behalf of the editorial board of Boom California, published by University of California Press, we seek proposals from scholars, students, and writers of California culture who wish to help cultivate critical discourse on California and its values, and to do so in a manner that is public-facing and relevant to our moment in history.

Boom California is a free refereed online media publication dedicated to inspiring lively and significant conversations about the vital social and cultural issues of our time in California and the world beyond. We host academic conversations in the form of peer reviewed articles that both highlight and advance scholarly discourse about California culture, and do so in a manner that is public-facing and oriented toward the social and practical concerns of ordinary Californians.

In light of our fast-changing world, Boom’s emphasis has shifted to concentrate on California social issues, and to cultivate underrepresented writers in the California landscape. More about the transition and Boom’s history can be found in the recent editorial (http://boom.ucpress.edu/content/6/4/1). As a peer review publication, we are looking for contributions in these areas related to California culture:

  • Immigration
  • Race
  • Inequality
  • Social Justice
  • Gender
  • Queer Studies
  • Labor
  • Latinx Population and Culture
  • Asian American Population and Culture
  • African American Population and Culture
  • Poverty
  • Social Movements

In addition to this, we are especially interested in proposals that address two areas of special concern to Boom this year:

  • the lives and experiences of undocumented Californians
  • the native Californian genocide consequent to the California Gold Rush, and today’s reckoning with this amidst native revivalism

Proposals for submissions may be sent to boom@ucpress.edu. For more on our submission process, please visit the relevant page on the Boom website (https://boomcalifornia.com/submissions/).

We look forward to journeying with you this year as part of the resistance.

Sincerely yours,

Jason S. Sexton, Editor


Unknown maker, Untitled (Clenched Fist), circa 1965. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California.


Becoming Kevin Starr: Images in the Making of California’s Son


Great-grandfather and great-grandmother of Kevin Starr


Grandfather and grandmother of Kevin Starr, and father as infant, San Francisco 1918


Owen Starr and Kevin Starr, San Francisco 1940


Kevin Starr, 45 Clayton Street, San Francisco 1945


Kevin Starr, US Army, Germany 1962


Kevin Starr, Allston Burr Senior Tutor, Eliot House, Harvard University, 1972


Kevin Starr, wife Sheila Gordon Starr, daughters Marian and Jessica, San Francisco 1974


Kevin Starr, San Francisco Examiner columnist, 1980


With special thanks to Sheila Starr, who in incalculable ways has made a profound contribution to our understanding of California, and in memory of a true California son, Kevin Starr (b. 3 September, 1940, San Francisco – d. 14 January, 2017, San Francisco). Requiescat in pace.

Copyright: © 2017 Sheila Starr. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


A Boom Interview: Kevin Starr

Kevin Starr

Editor’s note: Narrator of the desires that gave California rise and the experiences of countless Californians, Kevin Starr has written the most comprehensive account of the place. A native son and fourth-generation San Franciscan, he chronicled the dream while living it. His California Dream series tells the story of the American state’s rapid, monstrous growth, along with its struggles, dips, and dodges from moments that could have snuffed out the dream and utterly snubbed the dreamers. Reckoned by some as tending more to tales of optimism and swashbuckling heroism amidst the troubles—in true glass-half-full California style—both Starr’s personal and literary approach to California are actually much more variegated and complex. Between writing the first and second volumes of a new series some call his magnum opus—the first volume titled Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: The Colonial ExperienceBoom editor Jason Sexton recently managed to catch up with Starr. In this interview, we see the personal side of this historian—addressing religion, values, and matters of public concern—including his wide-reaching polymathic abilities that enable his unique kind of magisterial interpretation of the golden state. With ongoing reflections on the place—its past, present, and future—here we see Starr chronicling his own place in California’s ongoing saga, living even more meaningfully into the reality of the dream. This interview was conducted by Jason S. Sexton.

If you had to choose, what are three values that matter most to earlier shapers of California?

I frequently use the phrase “a better life for ordinary people.” That, I think, sums up the top three values motivating migration to California: life, the improvement of life, the ability of ordinary people to achieve such improvement for themselves. That is the theme of most of my volumes, or at the least, the background to those volumes, since I frequently concentrate on extraordinary people coming to California as well.

What do you think are the biggest threats to those values today?

The growing divide between the very wealthy and the very poor, as well as the waning of the middle class, as expressed geographically in California by the global wealth of the coast from San Diego County to Marin County and the rapid socioeconomic falloff evident in certain interior regions.


How have your views of California changed over the years?

As I grew older and a little wiser, I became more connected to what the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno describes as “the tragic sense of life.” My first volume is only tangentially connected to this tragic sense of life, while the volume dealing with recent California, Coast of Dreams, seems almost obsessed with it. That is because the present is exactly that: present to us in all of its complexity.

What is the main goal of the historian? And how do you see your work fitting together with the other guild of California historians?

It is the task of the narrative historian such as myself to assemble a narrative of what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls Representative Men and Women, and to place such figures in the context of their times, and thereby create a pointillist-realist probe into the past.

You never went through the tenure track route in academia, opting for an entirely different track altogether. Was this a good move? Do you have any regrets about it?

I am very proud of my diverse services as an Army officer, a senior tutor at Harvard, a librarian/civil servant, a newspaper columnist, a magazine contributor, a communications consultant, and the writer of a number of histories. As Paul Anka wrote for Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way,” thanks to the support of my wife Sheila and my commitment to the education of my children and grandchildren.

People have called you a booster and an optimist, classically juxtaposed to Mike Davis,but my first intro was reading how you accounted for my own story. So I checked for your handling of Tracy, I checked for the homeboys and the matter of mass incarceration—and you had it! And it was troubling. You told things as if you were there, but you managed to not completely fall into the noir California. You kept things sunny. What would really make you despair for California?

As far as I’m concerned, despair is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Given the ordeal of the world in general, Californians would be grossly self-indulgent to afford themselves the dubious pleasures of noir instead of committing themselves to what Josiah Royce and Carey McWilliams describe as the struggle for corrective action.

Californians have serious amnesia. What do you hope to accomplish with drawing from the deepest visions of this place, even back to the conquest?

As a graduate student at Harvard supported by a Danforth Fellowship, I had the opportunity to read somewhat extensively in the history and literature of the United States and, thereby, to come to the conclusion that a fusion of forgetting and remembering, amnesia and obsession with the past, is characteristic of our entire American civilization and not just California.

On the Boom board, we have a number of figures committed to efforts to revive nativism, what about the Native Indians here is critical to sketching California’s future?

One of the pleasures of my decade of service as State Librarian for California was the opportunity to get to know the various components of Native American California and to respect the complex cultural consciousness of these First Californians, from whom we continue to learn to this day. If you want to find an example of Unamuno’s tragic sense of life, just look at the way we treated those Native Americans in the nineteenth century: which is the theme of Helen Hunt Jackson’s great book, Century of Dishonor.

What is a Californian, and can you describe the character traits of a good Californian?

I have always approached the history of California as part of the history of these United States. I, therefore, resonate with the remark of my friend the late Wallace Stegner that California is like the rest of America, only more so. I grew up in California, a fourth-generation Californian; but I discovered California as the theme for history as a graduate student at Harvard, which meant that I perceived this history from a national and comparative perspective. Lately, my thinking has taken a comparable Asia/Pacific and Latin American direction.

You used to sign your books saying that the best Californians are those who choose to come here. Is this still true?

I still adhere to that belief. After all, I was born in 1940, when California had slightly less than seven million people. Today, that figure has become something like forty million and counting. I was born into one of the states of the American Union. By the time I was in my sixties, I was living in a nation-state of global significance. Today we are all living in a nation-state that is the sixth largest economy on the planet. Talented and hard-working people from around the globe have come to California to make this happen.

I recall asking you in 2013 why you didn’t write historical theology. This book—Continental Ambitions—where did it come from?

In Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America, the Colonial Experience, I employ the same narrative technique that I use in my Americans and the California Dream series: a blend, that is, of the nineteenth-century American historians, Vernon Parrington, Van Wyck Brooks, Perry Miller, and Alan Heimert, under whom I did my doctorate at Harvard. I would describe this technique as pointillist-realist narrative, animated by an underlying and continuing dialectic that only rarely surfaces in an explicit manner.

Does the conquest sweep in the same way that California’s modern history does? Has California been a microcosm of the US even in the earliest images?


The long history of California—Native American, Hispanic, American, global—simultaneously shows discontinuities of growth and development and continuities of continuing aspiration. Certain basic paradigms continue: land and water, for example, continuing through the mining era, the agricultural era, the era of urbanization through dams, aqueducts and reservoirs; or the interaction of nature and technology; or a pursuit of pure science anchored in nineteenth-century astronomy. I am not suggesting cause and effect here but, rather, paradigms that repeat themselves.

What role do churches play in the California drama, in the past and today?

As is the case with the rest of America, religion—as a matter of imaginative and moral formation, language and metaphor, and guide to the good life—has played a most important part in the development of American California. Until very recently, we must remember, Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King and Catholic Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra represented California in the National Statuary Hall in our nation’s capital.

And how did the reformation, coming on its five-hundredth anniversary, help shape any of this vision?

Protestantism dominated the colonial era, the early republic, the nineteenth century, and the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Whatever one’s religious traditions may or may not be, this Protestant matrix goes a long way in helping us to understand our national culture—hence, the importance of the Reformation and Protestantism in the formation and emergence of our national character.

You’ve written that California grew up innovatively as both a religious and secular state, which my students are always surprised to hear. And your work famously revised Hubert Howe Bancroft. But do you think the religious and secular can continue to work together? Or does the runaway tendency of secularism prove nonconducive for the flourishing of all groups here?

I do not accept this disjunction between religion and the world, or the world and religion, in the American experience. The first 150 years of American California showed a strong presence of organized religion as a social and cultural catalyst. Thanks to our separation of church and state, we Americans remain capable of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. These days, the great religions of the world have brought to America and to California their transformative insights. As a force, religion remains in the private sector, but as Mark Twain said of the mistaken newspaper reference to his passing, the reports of the demise of religion as a force in American life have been highly exaggerated.

What role does faith play in your work and writing, both earlier and now? And how would you describe your relationship to the Church?

As far as my relationship to the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, I am proud to be a member in reasonably good standing of this 2,000-year-old faith community. I share this distinction with 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. As James Joyce said of the Catholic Church: here comes everybody!

Will you ever write your own memoir? Especially your own “becoming Kevin Starr” years from your early professional life, along with the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s? Some have identified the novel Land’s End as filling this role. Is this true?

I don’t think I would ever write a memoir. In a very real way, my books constitute a kind of memoir or at the least some form of documentation of my inner landscape. I’m not one for much introspection. I prefer to define myself through family, friends, community, and the act of writing. I do, however, plan to augment Land’s End, expanding it to a full narrative of the life and death of Sebastian Collins, who constitutes the closest I’ve ever come to an alter ego.

Catholic social teaching informs a lot of Jerry Brown’s rationale for big decisions he’s making in Sacramento; how does it inform your own work?

As you suggest, Governor Brown has successfully internalized Catholic social thinking. Like Governor Brown and thousands of others coming of age in Catholic San Francisco, I absorbed this tradition as well. In later life, I had the pleasure of discovering Monsignor John Ryan’s classic The Living Wage, which further solidified my thinking in this area. I have also been influenced by John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, emphasizing fairness. As a graduate student, I had the honor of being a member of the Leverett House Senior Common Room at Harvard when Professor Rawls was writing this magisterial book. Other influences on my social thinking—especially relevant to public service—have been the Analects of Confucius, Cicero’s De Officiis, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Lord Peter Hennessy’s recent Whitehall.

What do you make of Pope Francis?

During my lifetime, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have served as popes. Each of these men was remarkable in differing and shared ways. Two of these popes—John XXIII and John Paul II—have been raised to the altar as saints. John Paul II was an eminent philosopher, with an ability to project himself as an ecclesiastical rock star. Pope Benedict XVI continues his work as one of the leading Catholic theologians of our recent era. Pope Francis shares many traits with his predecessors, to include a capacity for off-the-cuff commentary in common with John Paul I. Like John XXIII, Francis projects warmth, accessibility, love and friendship. Like John Paul II, he is a tireless traveler. The images that come to mind when I think of Pope Francis are the photographs of him embracing the truly afflicted. As pope, Francis has de-imperialized the papacy.

What are the movements in California that you find most hopeful, either for the future of California or else for the future of the US and the world?

I ride DASH to the USC campus on the days I teach. The movement I love the most is the movement of the DASH bus filled with human beings of every age and occupation from every corner of the earth riding to their day’s work.


Susan Moffat, “Dueling Prophets of Next LA: Mike Davis Sees Murky Decay, While Kevin Starr Embraces Shiny Optimism,” Los Angeles Times, 19 November 1994, http://articles.latimes.com/1994-11-19/news/mn-64521_1_mike-davis.


Kevin Starr (1940-2017) was for many years a California historian and a professor at the University of Southern California. He received a Ph.D. in English and American literature at Harvard University and published such works as the multivolume series Americans and the California Dream.


California Dreams and Olympic Schemes at Rose Parades

Mark Dyreson


The City of Los Angeles “Follow the Sun” float.

The 128th Tournament of Roses Parade stepped-off on Monday morning, January 2, beneath overcast skies and temperatures in the low fifties.  It was not the best climate that the parade has enjoyed in its long history but still better than weather in most homes throughout the United States watching the Pasadena festivities on television.  It was certainly far better than weather outside my house in central Pennsylvania–slate grey skies, temperatures in the low thirties, and freezing rain mixed with just plain cold rain.  As I watched the spectacle I wished I could spend the winter in Pasadena, but settled for putting another log on the blaze in my den.  For more than a century the Rose Parade has been holding such visions of California as a mid-winter paradise in front of snow-and-ice bound denizens of the industrial and agricultural heartlands of the United States.

In 2017 the Rose Parade doubled as an advertisement not only for California as the American grail of idyllic living but for the quest of Los Angeles to garner a third Olympic spectacle.   The City of Los Angeles float, “Follow the Sun,” featured a flowery recreation of the Los Angeles Coliseum on which former Olympians and Paralympians cavorted.  Gymnasts Bart Connor, an American hero of the 1984 Los Angeles games, and Nadia Comaneci, an all-time great who after her Olympian career immigrated from Romania to the U.S. and later married Connor, waved to the crowd from the front of the float.  Anita DeFrantz, a bronze-medalist in rowing in 1976, an American member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and one of the leaders of the LA 2024 waved alongside the gymnasts.  Olympic volley-ballers, including beach volleyball stars April Ross and Holly McPeak, played a match in the center of the float.  Lex Gillette, a blind Paralympian who won three silver medals in the long jump, saluted the crowd from the rear of the float as did LA 2024 vice-chairwoman Candace Cable, who competed in nine Paralympics and earned eight gold, two silver, and two bronze medals in both summer and winter events.[1]

Right behind the City of Los Angeles’ promotion of the LA 2024 Olympic bid came the trio of grand marshals—three former Olympians with deep roots in Southern California, Allyson Felix, Janet Evans, and Greg Louganis.  Felix, a Los Angeles native, won six gold medals and three silver medals in a variety of sprints over four Olympics from 2004 to 2016.  Louganis won four gold medals and one silver medal in diving over three Olympics from 1976 to 1988, including double-gold at Los Angeles in 1984.  Evans won four gold medals and one silver medal in swimming in an Olympic career stretching from 1988 to 1996.  The Tournament of Roses selected the trio in concert with LA 2024 leadership to promote the bid effort.  Indeed, Evans serves as a member of the leadership team for the bid, and Louganis and Felix join Evans on the LA 2024 Athletes’ Committee.[2]  The three Olympians embodied the 2017 parade theme, “Echoes of Success,” showcasing that American Olympic prowess emerges from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences.[3]


While some might interpret the choice of the three—Evans, a woman; Felix, an African American woman; and Louganis, an openly gay bi-racial man of Samoan and Swedish heritage who made a post-Olympic career of fighting for LGBTQ causes as a California commentary on America in the age of Trump—they were in fact announced as marshals a few days before the 2016 presidential election when most pundits and pollsters confidently predicted a different result in the race than what eventually transpired.  Louganis, Felix, and Evans appeared at the gala heralding their selection with “Sam the Eagle,” the old mascot of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  They also fit neatly into a much older tradition of using American Olympians to celebrate ethnic, racial, gender, class, and other categories of diversity—one that stretches back to the earliest interpretations of American performance at the origins of the modern Olympic movement.[4]  This persistent and popular deployment of American Olympians as symbols of some sort of heterogeneous “melting pot” as a key to the national success in international competition has never been a partisan position in American politics.  Instead, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, the ardent left and the fervent right have cheered U.S. Olympic teams as signifiers of equality and meritocracy. From Theodore Roosevelt (Republican) and Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) to Ronald Reagan (Republican) and Bill Clinton (Democrat), American political leaders have long embraced Olympians to promote their visions how diversity has promoted American exceptionalism.[5]

While ideologues of a wide variety of stripes have used American Olympic diversity to combat the extremes of nativism that have historically waxed and waned in American culture, had the LA 2024 bid committee and the Tournament of Roses Association really wanted to send a message about the contributions of immigrants to American prowess they could have selected a triumvirate of immigrant American Olympian grand marshals that included Lopez Lomong, a Sudanese “lot boy” migrant who carried the flag for the U.S. at the 2008 Beijing games; Meb Keflezighi, an Eritrean refugee whose family relocated to the U.S. when he was a boy and later became the silver medalist in the marathon at Athens in 2004; and Southern California’s own Olga Fikotová, who won a gold medal for Czechoslovakia in the 1956 Olympics, married her American sweetheart Harold Connolly, migrated to Santa Monica, and served as the U.S. flag-bearer in the 1972 Munich Olympics.  Had the engineers of the 2024 Los Angeles bid sought to express solidarity with the LGBQT community they could have chosen U.S. soccer gold medalist Megan Rapinoe and U.S. basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne to serve alongside Louganis.

But the LA 2024 and Tournament of Roses collaboration was not designed to promote alternative political or social visions.   It was crafted to sell Southern California to the nation and the world as an Olympian paradise, a California dreamscape that would be ideal host for the world’s most spectacular sporting event.  Such collaborations between sporting magnates and boosters of Southern California lifestyles have an ancient–by California standards–history, stretching back into the late nineteenth century.  The Rose Parade and Los Angeles’ multiple Olympic bids have their genesis in the idea of using sporting spectacles to sell California to the world.[6]

Like many Southern California traditions, the Tournament of Roses Parade began as a promotion for a real estate development.  In 1890 the well-heeled members of Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club, most of them transplants from the high society environs of New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and other established metropolises, came up with the idea for a Tournament of Roses to advertise their majestic mid-winter environs to snow-bound relatives and neighbors in their former hometowns.  They planned a retro medieval-style tournament that featured a mixture of modern and antiquated equestrian events, from jousts to polo matches.  With an abundance of mid-winter flowers in bloom, they kicked-off their well-bred extravaganza with a parade that featured horse-drawn carriages garnished with bountiful blossoms cut from local gardens.  So began the Rose Parade, an annual event held ever since to promote Southern California as the sun-dappled, affluence-blessed lifestyle capital of the United States—the sweetest slice of the American dream.[7]


Early Tournaments of Roses showcased the athletic and aesthetic sensibilities of the country club set.  Dr. Charles Frederick Holder, a former curator of the American Museum of Natural History and the scion of a prominent Boston family who had retired to Pasadena to take advantage of local sport fishing opportunities, led the charge as the first president of the Tournament of Roses Association.  In addition to the parade and equestrian sports, Holder sprinkled in a few other athletic events, including footraces and tugs-of-war.  American football, a game that originated during the 1870s as primer in manhood at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the other finishing schools of the country-club set, joined the Tournament of Roses festivities in 1902.  The University of Michigan trounced Stanford University in the inaugural tilt between gridiron gladiators.  In spite of the overflow crowd that turned out for the game, football would not return to the festivities until 1916.  In its stead, in 1904 the Tournament of Roses added chariot races, inspired by best-selling novel Ben-Hur, that sought to evoke the neo-imperial grandeur of Rome in modern America.    The chariot contests ultimately proved too expensive and too dangerous, much as they had for the Roman Empire, and disappeared in 1915.  Football returned the following year.  The Rose Bowl gridiron matches have proved more enduring than the chariot races and remain a Tournament of Roses staple that neither danger nor expense has yet curtailed.[8]

From the outset grand marshals led the parades that started the Tournament of Roses festivities.  Early marshals were elite sportsmen drawn from the leadership of the festival’s sponsor, the Valley Hunt Club, including Professor Holder and his cronies.  By the end of the 1920s the Southern California boosters turned to celebrity marshals to generate national publicity for the parade.  Hollywood actors, military heroes, politicians, astronauts, and other American luminaries dotted the roster of parade leaders.  Many had California connections, from Jimmy Stewart (1982) to Kermit the Frog (1996) to Earl Warren (1943, 1955).  Others, from John Glenn (1990) to Dr. Jane Goodall (2013) to Gerald Ford (1978), were national figures without any obvious California linkage.  The Tournament of Roses selection committee probably came to regret a few of the choices in light of later scandals—Paula Deen (2011), Bill Cosby (2003), and Richard Nixon (1953, 1960) spring to mind.  Athletes have figured prominently on the grand marshal roster.  The veteran voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin Scully, led the parade in 2014.  Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color line in major league baseball, received a posthumous nod in 1999.  The last major leaguer to begin his career, like Robinson, in the Negro Leagues got the Rose Parade nod the year after he overcome a mountain of racist venom from angry white fans and broke the all-time major league home run record: “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron led the parade through Pasadena in 1975.  Golfers Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez (1995) and Arnold Palmer (1965) served as grand marshals, as have global soccer legend Pelé (1987), football player and announcer Merlin Olsen (1983), and legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (1944)—although in Stagg’s long tenure his teams never played in a Rose Bowl.[9]

The 2017 marshal trio are not the first Olympians to lead the parade.  In 2015 a rider-less horse led the parade in honor of Louis Zamperini, the evangelist, war-hero, and Olympic runner at the 1936 Berlin games whose astounding life story had been chronicled in a best-selling book and major motion picture.[10]  Zamperini passed away in the summer of 2014 before he could undertake his marshal duties.  David Wolper, the Hollywood producer who helped to stage the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, shared marshal duties in 1999 with Jackie Robinson (a posthumous honor since the legendary star had passed away in 1974) astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Hollywood child-actress legend and diplomat Shirley Temple Black.  Two American Olympic stars, track-and-field star Carl Lewis and gymnast Shannon Miller, earned grand marshal honors in 1997.[11]

The first—and for interpretations of the 2017 parade as a commercial for the Los Angeles Olympics, the most significant—appearance of an Olympian as grand marshal occurred in January of 1932 when William May Garland, a Los Angeles real estate developer, member of the IOC, and the godfather of the original installment of the Los Angeles Olympics, served as grand marshal.  Garland and the Tournament of Roses Association made the entire parade into an Olympic promotion under the theme of “Nations and Games in Flowers.”  Every float that year took on an Olympic theme, representing either a nation attending or an athletic event or an ancient Greek Olympian connection.[12]  The Olympian Rose Parade bedazzled Jean Bosquet, a recent Eastern transplant to Southern California who covered the event for the Los Angeles Times.  For Bosquet, the experience of wintertime rose petals combined with Olympian grandeur carried the power to instantly transform Easterners such as him into converts of California as paradise, as he breathlessly confessed in a front-page essay on the Rose Parade.[13]


Like the originators of the Rose Parades, Garland staged the 1932 Olympics to sell property.  As one of the largest realtors in greater Los Angeles, he managed to get municipal governments to use taxpayer funds to spiff up his holdings by planting the ubiquitous palm trees that came to signify the city along the boulevards that led to his developments.  That same spirit of civic boosterism and profit motive would animate the 1984 Olympic extravaganza, as governments in the Los Angeles basin rewarded real estate developers with additional palms to gentrify local throughways.[14]   As political theater the 2017 grand marshals and Olympic-themed floats have more in common with the 1932 Rose Parade led by Garland than they do with a growing progressive spirit among the powerbrokers who stage these events.  True, in 1932 a rich, white, male entrepreneur served as the public face of the Los Angeles Olympics while in 2017 the diversity of both the core leadership of the bid group and the public faces of LA 2024 reveal some remarkable changes in the constitution of power elites.  Still, Evans, Felix, and Louganis are being made to do essentially the same thing today that Garland did decades ago.  The effort is not calling for a profound social revolution or an ambitious economic redistribution but rather is selling the Olympics to a public whose consent is required to get the job done.  The corporate promoters who design Olympic bids understand that what rich, white male personas could do in 1932 now takes a multi-cultural team. However, while the racial, ethnic, and gender make-up of the elites has broadened considerably, they remain the class destined to profit most handsomely from a third Los Angeles Olympics.  This is not meant as an indictment of Evans, Felix, and Louganis, who have each used their global fame to partner in important charitable campaigns to improve the quality of life for all Southern Californians.  Rather, it is intended to highlight the ironies that while since Garland’s era the elite classes have been profoundly democratized in terms of their ethnic, gender, and sexual composition, the mechanics of acquiring an Olympics in Los Angeles or any other city have not been similarly democratized but remain in the hands of the elites.

For a real challenge to social status quo, the 1975 grand marshal choice, Hank Aaron, represented a much more radical departure by the Tournament of Roses Association.  Aaron was the first African American grand marshal in the history of the parade.  His chase of Babe Ruth’s all-time home record had elicited death threats from white supremacists and revealed the deep racial fissures that remained in American culture in the post-Civil Rights era.  Aaron consistently refused to offer white America feel-good platitudes about how his own personal triumphs demonstrated that racism was about to disappear from American life.  He routinely decried institutional racism in baseball and other American institutions even as legal and customary segregation diminished during his career.[15]

Rarely, however, have the promoters of Southern California who stage the Rose Parade made as dramatic a choice as Hank Aaron.  What if they had selected native Pasadena son Jackie Robinson as grand marshal in 1948, in the aftermath of his first season in the major leagues when he had led the Dodgers to the World Series and won plaudits for his fierce determination to erase the national pastime’s color line, rather than when he had been dead for almost three decades when they finally made him a posthumous grand marshal in 1999?  What if they had tabbed Greg Louganis as grand marshal in 1996, shortly after he came out as both gay and HIV-positive?  What if they selected Los Angeles native Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1989, after she set sprint records as the fastest woman of all time in the 1988 Seoul Olympics?  What if in 1937 the Tournament of Roses Association had selected a trio of local African Americans who had won glory and medals under incredible duress at the 1936 “Nazi” Olympics in Berlin—James LuValle, the bronze medalist in the 400-meter dash who grew up in Los Angeles; Cornelius Johnson, the gold medalist in the high jump who grew up in Compton; and Matthew “Mack” Robinson (Jackie’s older brother), the silver medalist in the 200-meter dash who grew up in Pasadena?[16]

“What ifs,” however, are the historian’s trusted sleight-of-hand, designed mainly to shift the focus in order to pontificate about what might have been rather than what was.  The civic deacons who stage Rose Parades and select its grand marshals are not social crusaders who appeal to better angels of human natures.  They are purveyors to the ice and snow-bound masses of January rose petals and sylvan vistas, of suburban utopias in balmy Mediterranean climes, of palm trees and Pacific beaches, of mission-style cul-de-sacs littered with year-round backyard swimming pools and perpetual orange blossoms.  They trade in California dreams—a product they share with Los Angeles Olympic promoters.  Sometimes, as in “Echoes of Success” and “Nations and Games in Flowers,” their advertising campaigns intersect.  From my bleak midwinter chair in front of the television and fireplace in gloomy central Pennsylvania, their pitch has a remarkable appeal.  Janet Evans, Allyson Felix, and Greg Louganis would make fabulous neighbors.



All photographs provided by LA 2024.

[1] Daniel Etchells, “Los Angeles 2024 Promote Olympic and Paralympic Bid at Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game,” Inside the Olympics, 3 January 2017, http://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1045390/los-angeles-2024-promote-olympic-and-paralympic-bid-at-rose-parade-and-rose-bowl-game.

[2] “Rose Parade 2017: Here’s the Complete Lineup with Every Float, Band and Equestrian Group in Order,” San Jose Mercury News, 21 December 2016, http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/12/21/heres-the-complete-rose-parade-2017-lineup-with-every-float-band-and-equestrian-group-in-order/;  Claudia Palma, “Your 2017 Rose Parade Grand Marshals Are Olympic Athletes Allyson Felix, Greg Louganis and Janet Evans,” Pasadena Star-News, 3 November 2016, http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/lifestyle/20161103/your-2017-rose-parade-grand-marshals-are-olympic-athletes-allyson-felix-greg-louganis-and-janet-evans; LA 2024 Bid webpage, https://la24.org/home.

[3] “2017 Rose Parade Theme,” https://www.tournamentofroses.com/rose-parade/theme-grand-marshal

[4] While some categories of diversity such as ethnicity, race, gender, and class, have remained constant over the history of American Olympic enterprises, others have changed considerably.  In the first half of the twentieth century pundits paid a great deal of attention to regional identity, particularly East versus West.  By the end of the twentieth century notions of regional identity had mostly disappeared, but questions of sexual identity had become a major focus of interpretations.

[5] Mark Dyreson, Making the American Team: Sport, Culture and the Olympic Experience (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998); idem, Crafting Patriotism for Global Domination: America at the Olympics (London: Routledge, 2009); idem, “Return to the Melting Pot: An Old American Olympic Story,” Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies 12 (2003): 1-22; idem, “Playing for a National Identity: Sport, Ethnicity and American Political Culture,”  Proteus 11 (fall 1994): 39-43; idem, “Melting Pot Victories: Racial Ideas and the Olympic Games in American Culture during the Progressive Era,” International Journal of the History of Sport 6.1 (May 1989): 49-61.

[6] Mark Dyreson and Matthew Llewellyn, “Los Angeles Is the Olympic City: Legacies of 1932 and 1984,” International Journal of the History of Sport 25.14 (December 2008): 1991-2018; Mark Dyreson, “The Republic of Consumption at the Olympic Games: Globalization, Americanization, and Californization,” Journal of Global History 8.2 (July 2013): 256-278; idem, “The Endless Olympic Bid: Los Angeles and the Advertisement of the American West,” Journal of the West 47.4 (Fall 2008): 26-39.  On the mass media’s role in this process Michael R. Real, Super Media: A Cultural Studies Approach (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1989).

[7] “Tournament of Roses History Timeline,” https://www.tournamentofroses.com/sites/default/files/2015%20History%20Timeline.pdf; “Rose Bowl Game Result History List,” https://www.tournamentofroses.com/sites/default/files/2016ResultsRBG.pdf; History of the Tournament of Roses Association,” https://www.tournamentofroses.com/sites/default/files/2016ResultsRBG.pdf.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal History,” http://d2ijx9hwh2n8da.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/2017%20Grand%20Marshal%20History%20List%20.pdf.

[10] Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (New York: Random House, 2010); Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, Universal Pictures, 2014.

[11] “Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal History.”

[12] “Garland Named Roses Marshal,” Los Angeles Times, 9 December 1931, sec. A, p. 1; “Floats Entrance Throngs,” Los Angeles Times, 2 January 1932, sec. A, p. 1.

[13] Jean Bosquet, “Beauty and Glory Join in Rose Parade Epic,” Los Angeles Times, 2 January 1932, sec. A, p. 1.

[14] Dyreson and Llewellyn, “Los Angeles Is the Olympic City”; Dyreson, “The Republic of Consumption at the Olympic Games”; Dyreson, “The Endless Olympic Bid.”

[15] Certainly Aaron’s autobiography challenges the racial status quo.  Hank Aaron, with Lonnie Wheeler, I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991).  See also, Howard Bryant, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010).

[16] John Gleaves and Mark Dyreson, “The ‘Black Auxiliaries’ in American Memories: Sport, Race, and Politics in the Construction of Modern Legacies,” International Journal of the History of Sport, 27.16-18 (November/December 2010): 2893-2924.

Mark Dyreson is professor of kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University, specializing in history of sport, social and cultural dynamics of human movement, race, ethnicity, gender, and sport. He has served as President of the North American Society for Sport History, is co-editor of several collections on sport and society, and author of Making the American Team: Sport, Culture, and the Olympic Experience, and director of research and educational programs at the Penn State Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

Copyright: © 2017 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/