What Happened to the "Golden State?"
(I doubt the situation in California is this idyllic now.)
As some of you may know, I'm a native Californian. I was born and raised in the "Golden State," went to grammar school there, enlisted in the military there, and was fortunate enough to return home there after two Vietnam combat tours ('66 and '68).
In terms of my undergraduate college education, I'm a product of California's junior college and (as unlikely as it may seem) the left-leaning University of California systems. My grandparents on both sides are buried in California, as are my mother, father, brother, uncles, aunts, and a great grandmother as well.
I used to take great pride in the fact I was a native Californian and not some wise-cracking East Coast transplant or naive Midwesterner looking to hit it big or "find" themselves in the "Golden State's" cultural and economic melting pot. I was home grown and proud of it.
At one time I truly loved my home state. I grew up in the shadows of the Sierra Nevadas with the southern end of the Motherlode gold region a scant hour's drive away. My home town in the San Joaquin Valley was small, divided mostly along economic and religious lines, and filled with hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who grew the most abundant harvest ever known to man...peaches, apricots, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, walnuts, pecans, almonds, cotton, and alfalfa, to name but a few. I also cut my gold mining teeth in the streams and deserts of the "Golden State."
Writing on the Wall
Like many others, I'm an expatriate Californian now as is my wife who is also a native. I saw the writing on the wall in the "Golden State" twenty one years ago when I moved my budding little family to Northern New Mexico to escape what I considered a downward spiral that would only worsen with time. In this regard I was absolutely correct.
One of the great strengths of California early on was its openness...not only the largess of its people but of the land itself...from oceans to deserts, to mountains, to redwood forests, to the richest gold-bearing region ever discovered or mined. California was open to all comers...a land of opportunity and dreams. Therein lies the state's true malaise.
Orchards Picked Clean
Open lands have disappeared in California at an exponential rate over the past 30 years, only to be replaced by over-priced condos, housing tracts, and apartment complexes as more and more "rats" crowded into California's gilded cage and purchased overinflated properties that are now on the chopping block. Untrammeled immigration (mostly illegal) has taxed every public service system to the limit, including the education, health care, and welfare rolls. Metaphorically speaking, the once bountiful California orchards have been picked clean.
Self-serving politicians and the well-organized special interest groups who prop them up have ensured that their (not the people's) agendas are carried forward, no matter the cost in dollars or in human heartache. The live-and-let-live ambiance of California that typified the "Golden State" since the days of the Gold Rush has degenerated into an aggressive selfishness where every aspect of social and sexual deviancy are proud banners to be waved, if not flaunted, in the faces of California's taxpaying working and middle classes.
Turning Over in Their Graves
To say I am greatly saddened by the current condition of my home state is an understatement. Real gold never tarnishes or decays...the same cannot be said for the once-"Golden State" however. It has fallen prey to overcrowding, mismanagement, a "me first" mentality, and social, political, and economic idiocy.
I bet the '49ers who rushed in 163 years ago to create a new, independent republic under the bear flag are turning over in their graves. They could never have envisioned such richness used so poorly and then tossed away like so much gutter trash.
(Californians...please feel free to pass this post along to your friends, relatives, acquaintances or anyone else it may register with.)
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2012
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org