California Dr. Kevin Starr, http://www.library.ca.gov/html/starrcv.cfm California's State Librarian, has generously given us permission us to use an exerpt of his work here
The Dream & The Challenge
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One hundred and forty-five years ago, the United States welcomed California as a sovereign and equal member of the union of American states. Californians had already chosen the Greek goddess Minerva for their state seal. Like Minerva, who sprang full-grown from the brain of Zeus in Greek mythology, California had bypassed territorial status, moving rapidly from a military territory, administered by the senior military officer on the Pacific coast, to a sovereign state. Settled by Spain in 1769, reorganized by Mexico in the 1820s, virtually independent after the Alvarado Revolution of 1836, California became a military territory after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago in 1848. Then came the Gold Rush - the largest mass migration in American history to that date - which filled California with hundreds of thousands of adventurous men and women seeking a better life; seeking a second chance; seeking more than an ordinary round of days. Within twenty short years, a remote and sparsely settled province was transformed into a cutting-edge American commonwealth on the Pacific.
Among the first things Californians accomplished was state government. On 20 December 1849, even before statehood had been granted, a forty-two year old lawyer from Tennessee by the name of Peter Hardeman Burnett, placed his hand on a Bible and took his oath as the first Governor of American California, swearing to uphold the Constitution which the delegates to the first constitutional convention in Monterey had just finished drafting.
Awaiting Governor Burnett and the less than one hundred thousand citizens of the new commonwealth, was the awesome task of consolidating American civilization in both its Spanish-speaking and English-speaking manifestations here on the Pacific coast. Amidst every other distraction - to include the rush for gold - those Californians did their job. A village of a few hundred souls in 1848, San Francisco was the tenth largest city in the nation by the early 1870s. By 1869, California had its own state university. By 1888, with the opening of Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton east of San Jose, California was in the forefront of the exploration of the heavens. Soon, at the turn of the century, writers such as Jack London, Frank Norris, Mary Austin, Gertrude Atherton, would create a strong regional literature. A young teenager from San Francisco by the name of Isadora Duncan revolutionized the dance. Josiah Royce made advances in philosophy; Henry George in economics. State engineer William Hammond Hall envisioned the unification of all California through an integrated water plan. And, ordinary Americans were building their homes and planting their gardens and tilling their fields: in the wheat fields of Glenn County; the citrus groves of the Southland, aromatic in the spring with the scent of orange blossoms; in the vast plains of the great Central Valley, redeemed from semi-aridity through the saving work of irrigation; in the Alpine counties of the far north. Great cities arose, and flourishing towns, and suburbs connected to each other (in southern California especially) by whizzing electric streetcars.
From this dream and from this action, arose a commonwealth equal to any commonwealth in the nation. In the richness of its resources, in the energy and ambition of its peoples, in its quality of life, its religious faith and respect for social and civic institutions, arose a commonwealth which could be compared to the Pilgrim states of New England, the Cavalier states of the South, and the Progressive states of the Midwest in depth of culture, level of social commitment, and the dialogue with the enduring values of human culture.
Already, in the Spanish era, a pattern of ethnic diversity had established itself. The original founders of Los Angeles in 1781 included men and women of European, African, and Native American heritages. On the streets of Los Angeles by the 1820s, one might encounter representatives of Latin America, the Hawaiian Islands, Europe, the United States, as well as Spain and Mexico. The Gold Rush intensified this diversity of population. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth, California continued to attract men and women from every part of the globe. Today, 145 years into statehood, the population of California encompasses every race, every ethnic heritage, every religion and every language-group on the planet. Here is more than diversity. Here is an ecumenical civilization building upon a 200 year tradition of diversity: the Native American pioneers who made the long trek across the Bering Straits to find a golden land; the Spanish pioneers who trekked north across the vast deserts of the southwest to settle a fabled place called California; the Mexican pioneers who laid down the civil institutions of California society; the Anglo-American pioneers who ventured forth across the untamed continent in 1849, 1850, 1851, bringing their prairie schooners across the High Sierras and onto the oak-dotted, sun-splashed Sacramento Valley below; the Forty-Niners themselves, men and women of every race and description, who sought a second chance in the Mother Lode. It was not easy for these pioneers - nor was it easy for those pioneers who followed them: the Chinese, who built the railroad and laid down the infrastructure of agriculture; the mid-westerners who settled southern California in the 1880s; the Japanese agriculturalists who began to arrive in the early 1900s; the Dust Bowl refugees, who headed their jalopies west on Route 66 in the bleakest years of the Depression. Each of these California pioneers was animated by a persistent head-long hope that in California, life could be better for ordinary people; that there could be an increased measure of human happiness in this glorious region. They were not mistaken. Whatever their travails, they found something better and they made a new life, and they created a commonwealth known throughout the world as a symbol and beacon of hope.
Encompassing the world in terms of its diverse peoples, California is also a world unto itself in terms of its natural environment. No environmental possibility - with the exception of Arctic tundra - is without representation in the Golden State. In the Far North, where more than two-thirds of the watershed of California can be found, are the great mountain ranges and forest lands which make California one of the leading producers of lumber in the world. Running down the center of the state, the great Central Valley - the Sacramento Valley in the north, joined to the San Joaquin Valley in the south - is a virtually unlimited vista of agricultural development. Here, in deed, is the Garden of the West as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century: an agricultural landscape supporting virtually every crop suitable to the Northern Hemisphere. The abundance of this Valley keeps California the leading agricultural economy in the United States. Bordering this valley on either side, east and west, are more mountains: the mighty Sierra Nevada to the east, one of the great mountain ranges of the world, and on the western shore a virtually continuous system of coastal ranges veering southeast at the Tehachapis and thereby sealing Southern California off from the rest of the State. Southern California itself is dominated by another plain, the Los Angeles Plain, home to nearly 13 million Southern Californians; and to the east extends the Inland Empire, another vast suburban settlement; and beyond that, flanking the south eastern portion of the state, lies the vast and beauteous Colorado Desert, which, along with the Sierra Nevada, defines the eastern border of California, rendering the State in so many ways its own autonomous geographical area. A network of equally impressive rivers waters the entire state, with the exception of the southern desert. To supplement these rivers, Californians have over the past one hundred years and more created the most monumental system of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs that have, in effect, re-invented California, re-assembled it, as an integrated water and hydro-electrical system.
So too, is the climate of the state impressive and diverse. Just as no landform is unrepresented in California, so too is the State blessed with hundreds of many-climates, each of them functioning as part of regional climatic zones. The north is abundant in rainfall in two to three rainy seasons. The Sierra Nevada is a characteristically mountainous climate: snow in the winter, rains in early spring, a warm (but not fierce) summer and a perfect fall. The Central Valley, by contrast, in both its northern and southern extensions, is hot, very hot, for half the year, and this heat provides the underlying support of its agricultural economy. This is growing weather and, with the coming of air-conditioning, it is weather for living as well in the great cities of the interior. Outside the hot season, the climate of the Central Valley shows the celebritas diversity of New England and the middle-Atlantic states in the fall and the spring. Down the coast, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, the weather is by turn maritime and sunny. Cool coastal fogs characterize most mornings on most months of the year, followed by sunshine in the late morning and afternoon; and in the evening the sea weather returns, once again, with its mantle of moisture, its caressing coverage of sea fog. South of the Tehachapis is a climate which 19th century California dubbed Mediterranean. More than 300 days a year are sunny, although even here, as recent headlines attest, sudden rainstorms can come with their devastating burden of mud slides and floods. Most of Southern California is semi-arid in climate. Even the coastal regions are touched by the influence of the desert. In winter, the sun sets rapidly, and coolness can replace, very quickly, the warmth of the day.
The notion - that life in California could be better - had deep historical roots and resulted in the economic development of California through a sequence of booms. It animated the Gold Rush, with its dazzling prospect of quick riches, bringing more than 300,000 young men and women into California between 1849 and 1851, for one of the largest mass migrations in American history. In the 1880s, when a direct rail connection was at last achieved between Southern California and the East, the hope for a better life brought hundreds of thousands of new Californians into the Southland. Then came the boom following World War I, bringing more than three million people into Southern California, with more than a million of them settling in Los Angeles. Another million, mainly refugees from the Dust Bowl states, arrived in two massive waves. Then the greatest boom of them all: World War II and the Cold War that followed. Millions of service men and service women were trained in California or passed through California enroute to the Pacific. Millions of others found work in defense industries. When the war was over, liking what they had seen, they stayed or they returned. Taken cumulatively from 1939 through 1962, this defense-related boom, ballooned the population of California from nine to twenty-plus million, driving it past New York as the most populous state in the Union.
Then, suddenly, the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Soviet Union dissolved, and defense spending, which had surged through the economic bloodstream of California like steroids for more than a half of a century, began to disestablish itself with a rapidity that was devastating to the California economy. For the past five years, California has been coping with the restructuring and re-assembling of its economy in a post-Cold War era. To be sure, the formula is there: that distinctive blend of agriculture, finance, high technology, entertainment, tourism, manufacturing and assembly, that structured and animated the California economy through most of the twentieth century. To this formula has now been added a new array of information-based industries and services building upon technologies developed in the defense sector during the Cold War. Truly, ploughshares are being refashioned into ploughs, defense systems into information networks.
The culture of California, like its landforms and weather, like its people, is eclectic, encompassing, diverse. In the time of the first Californians, more than 300 distinct triblets and language groups occupied the state. Today, California represents a distinctive achievement of what historian Arnold Toynbee once termed the ecumenopolis, which is to say, the world city, the global commonwealth. It is also the prism through which the United States is glimpsing its future.
The American people have assigned California a special role: to seek out the American future, to test it, to try its options, rejecting what doesn't work and building upon what does. In 1846 the United States needed California to test and assert its identify as a continental nation. In 1853 the rise of California prompted the first official contacts between the American people and Japan, thereby testing an even further alternative, the United States as an Asia/Pacific nation. In the 1870s and 1880s a new national agriculture, employing the latest technology, was created in California. Following the Second World War, California tested a key American question, one directly connected to the notion of the pursuit of happiness put forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Can we have a mass society which is also an excellent society? Can ordinary men and women, in other words, enjoy the benefits of job security, home ownership, public safety, education, and belief in the future? The answer came, resoundingly, from hundreds of California suburbs, cities, and towns - and the answer was yes, yes, yes! California could be a better place for ordinary Americans.
Sensing that answer, that resounding yes, millions of Americans and immigrants from across the planet interrupted their lives and moved to a land of golden promise. That promise was nothing less than the promise of America. It had a California context, to be sure; but it was nothing separate from the dreams and hopes and aspirations of all the American people, in their collective struggle to create a decent, fair, and secure Republic. In recent times, the American people have turned to California and asked it to create a technology revolution, and California responded - in Silicon Valley, in San Diego, on the campuses of our great universities. The American people turned to California for new models of lifestyle, new ways of enjoying and celebrating the gift of life, and California responded with an outpouring of architecture, landscaping, entertainment, sport and recreation, a new relationship to the outdoors - all of which expanded and enhanced leisure in these United States. Once again, the United States is testing its future through California. Looking at California, as they have always looked at California - as a bellwether state, the American people are asking a series of questions which now become the California challenge. Can the American economy restructure itself in the aftermath of the Cold War? Can the American people turn to positive effect the cultural diversity of a nation in the process of being transformed through legal immigration? Can the American people maintain their standards of living and education? Can the American people be safe in their homes and on their streets? These are crucial American questions, and they are being asked of California, and California is answering them.
Yes, California is saying a post-Cold War economy can be restructured and reanimated. Yes, California is saying, Americans of every cultural background can learn to live with and more importantly to respect each other. Yes, California is saying, the American people can still find homes, and jobs, and a good education. Yes, California is saying, the violent criminal can be apprehended and sent to prison. The streets can be safe. There is no excuse, no reason whatsoever, for everyday Americans to surrender their public places to violent criminals who have forfeited their right to move freely through society. Yes, California is saying, the people who play by the rules - who work hard, pay their taxes, believe in their own and the American future - can pursue their lives in safety and security.
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