My home state turned 164 years old last week. On September 9, 1850, the United States Congress admitted the State of California as the 31st state of the Union, as part of what is now known as the Compromise of 1850. The bills were an effort to placate the pro- and anti-slavery camps in Congress, successfully delaying the US Civil War for another decade. During the war with Mexico, American and European settlers discovered gold in California, and thousands from all over the world rushed into the territory that had been recently added to the US, prompting the need to organize a state government.
I’ve lived in California all my life. If you want to get really technical, I spent two months doing an internship at a university in a neighboring state, and I spent some time traveling in which I didn’t set foot in California for almost four months, but I always kept a permanent address in California, so that doesn’t really count. And in that time, I’ve grown to develop a love-hate relationship with my home state.
I love the geographical diversity and the scenery. We have beaches, mountains, dry heat, snow, big cities, small towns, farms, deserts, forests, and pretty much anything you could imagine within weekend trip distance at the most. I love the cultural diversity. You find people from all over the world who bring their cultures (and their ethnic food) to California, as well as big city liberals, small town conservatives, suburban conservatives, small town working class liberals, rednecks, hippies, and just about every type of American subculture possible. I love the weather. Where I am, it’s mild in the winter but never too far from snow, and hot and dry in the summer but never too far from the cool coastal climate.
I hate the way that California is so divided. So many Californians on both sides of the political spectrum carry an elitist attitude where those who don’t see the world their way are viewed as lower life forms. I hate the way that the government is similarly divided in a way that makes the state ungovernable. Either no one can agree enough to get anything passed, or one side will do something that the other side sees as imposing radical unworkable ideas on the rest of the state that doesn’t want them. I hate the way that California is so crowded. The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with population growth, and so many parts of the state, especially the more populated areas, are full of traffic with crowded schools and subdivisions taking good farmland out of production. I hate the way that Californians can be self-centered in thinking that the world revolves around them. Any time I hear Californians say that they don’t have an accent, I want to cringe, then make them listen to people who actually live in places other than California (or New York or London). (Psst: “Cot” and “caught” aren’t supposed to be homophones. They have different vowel sounds with different spellings. We Californians pronounce them the same. That’s an accent. And don’t even get me started about people who pronounce “back” almost like “bock,” which by the way isn’t me.) I hate the way that Californians jump on emotionally charged political bandwagons without thinking of the real consequences of their policies. And I hate the way that so many other states see us as a laughingstock. We really do deserve that reputation, because of the rest of the reasons in this paragraph.
Sometimes I fear for the future of my home. Will we keep paving over everything until there is no open space left? Will we run out of water? Will our poor political decisions result in jobs leaving the state for more business friendly environments? Will the nanny government tendencies continue to grow until one’s every move is scrutinized with freedoms continually eroding? As I mentioned before, California statehood was born of a compromise between two very antagonistic factions in Congress. This art of compromise seems completely lost in today’s government, both at the federal and state levels. I wish it would come back. I don’t want to see this state’s problems continue to go unsolved because two sides can’t agree, nor do I want to see either side destroy the state by imposing their will on an uncooperative populace. Bringing together so many diverse populations within one state should involve give and take rather than so many disagreements. Recently, a petition to divide California into six states failed to qualify for the ballot. I had mixed feelings about it. Part of me feels like I would have liked to be in a different state from San Francisco and Los Angeles, so that politicians from there with whom I disagree wouldn’t be able to dictate what I do. But like I said, I love the diversity of this state, and I would hate to see us admit that it doesn’t work… not to mention that any specific plan to divide California would come with so many kinks that it would probably get worse before it got better.
Despite all this, despite everything I don’t like about California, I can’t deny that California is in my blood. That is why I chose a California highway sign for the logo of this blog, and the Bear Flag for the cover photo of the blog’s Facebook page. California has always been a big part of who I am. When I spent the four months on the road, I left thinking I was only coming back to California to get my stuff. I ended up settling back here in Sacramento County (which, interestingly enough, borders two of the other three counties in which I had lived, including the one I was moving away from) because Sacramento is California’s happy medium. It’s not as elitist as San Francisco, not as shallow as Los Angeles, and not as rural and provincial as much of the rest of inland California. It’s just right for a guy like me, and it’s home now. And in addition to all the things I like about it here, I’m also never too far from most of the rest of California. Because, as Tupac and Dre said, California knows how to party.