The Golden State

The Golden State

I make no apologies for my love of my adopted state of California.

When I moved to Los Angeles from New York City in 1985, I hated it. I hated it with a passion. There were no subways. The pizza sucked. The buses were a joke.

I conspired to get out of here as soon as I could. My plan was to get admitted to Columbia or NYU, stay with my uncle Rene, and get my ass back to the City.

However, a few things impeded my devious plan.

One, NYU and Columbia are damned expensive. I had the grades, but not good enough for full-ride scholarships, which was the only way I could afford it.

Two, my father was dead set against me moving back across the country. We’re Cuban, after all, and I was the prized baby of the family. And my father, in the frail state of health that he was in, well, I couldn’t go against him.

Third, by the time I was ready for university, I was officially a California resident. Which meant that if I made it into UCLA, I could get in-state tuition, which in 1987 was nothing.

Fourth, I got into UCLA.

And fifth, I finally learned how to drive and got my first car.

It was the fifth part which really sealed the deal. Suddenly, I was again a free agent. I had my own personal subway. I attended art shows, and book readings, and the beach, without depending on others for rides. I roamed near and far, finding the type of ethnic restaurants that the Michelin Guide haughtily overlooks. I went to parties and I met people. I was what I wasn’t in New York City when I left: and adult.

Fast forward 33 years, and I’m such an Angeleno that the 16 year old LL wouldn’t recognize me.

So, when the Catastrophe occurred in 2016, my first thought was this: SECESSION.

Fuck the US. Fuck Idaho and Iowa. Fuck Alabama and Arkansas. And, certainly, fuck Wisconsin and Michigan. If they were so afraid, so fearful that they would vote for literally the most unqualified person to ever run for the presidency, well, fuck them. Let them stew in their own pathology. We’re California. We have the world’s sixth largest economy. We can forge ahead on our own.

That lasted for a few months. It was my psyche’s reaction to the unbearable. We are separate. We are not with these great unwashed. We can create a new world on our own.

Now, if push comes to shove, the Union is not a suicide pact. California is not Arkansas. We have no reason to hitch ourselves to a dying corpse.

But the reports of America’s demise have been exaggerated.

There is resistance, yes, in Alabama, which elected moderate Democrat Doug Jones to defeat child rapist Roy Moore. We hoped, but didn’t expect it would really happen. That one data point alone convinced me that America, though down for the count, was not out.

Then today I read a piece about my state, from a San Cruz Sentinel writer in The New York Times, which had me pumping my fist.

A few quotes.

California’s raw economic power is old news. What’s different, just in the past few years, is the combination of its money, population and politics. In the Trump era, the state is reinventing itself as the moral and cultural center of a new America.

And:

Jerry Brown — Governor Moonbeam — is back, and during his second stint in office has been a pragmatic, results-focused technocrat who will leave behind a multibillion-dollar budget surplus when his term ends in January. But he has also been a smart and dogged opponent of the Trump agenda, from his high-profile visits to climate-change negotiations in Europe to substantive talks in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

And:

Still, there’s no doubt California runs blue — so blue, people say, that its anti-Trump stance is inevitable. But that’s not right; in fact, California defies Mr. Trump — and is turning even more Democratic — not for partisan reasons but because his rhetoric and actions are at odds with contemporary American values on issue after issue, as people here see it, and because he seems intent on ignoring the nation’s present and future in favor of pushing back the clock.

California doesn’t just oppose Mr. Trump; it offers a better alternative to the America he promises. While Mr. Trump makes hollow promises to states ravaged by the decline of the coal industry, California has been a leader in creating new jobs through renewable energy.

While Mr. Trump plays the racism card, California pulls in immigrants from all over the world. For California, immigration is not an issue to be exploited to inflame hate and assuage the economic insecurities of those who feel displaced by the 21st-century economy, it’s what keeps the state economy churning.

For us, immigration is not a “Latino” issue. The state’s white population arrived so recently that all of us retain a sense of our immigrant status. My great-great-grandfather Gerhard Kettmann left Germany in 1849 and made his way to California during the Gold Rush. That’s why everyone is able to unite, even in our diversity.

And the draw of California is more powerful than ever. People come not only from countries around the globe to work in Silicon Valley — more than seven in 10 of those employed in tech jobs in San Jose were born outside the United States, according to census data analyzed by The Seattle Times — they come from all over the country.

California has many problems. My county, Los Angeles County, has the largest homeless population in the country. We could have easily thrown up our hands and said that there was no solution to the problem.

But we didn’t. We passed a ballot initiative which will raise hundreds of millions of dollars to tackle and eradicate homelessness in this county. This is an initiative which, if we were still the Jarvis-Prop 13 obsessed reactionaries of the 70s, would never have been possible. But we marry progressive ideals with practical solutions.

California can do all this because we are responsible for 20% of all economic activity in the US. We are, in fact, a country within a country. Trump and his regime meddle with us at their own peril. If Trump and his minions want to engender a crisis, we can make the country scream.

But we’re not using this power to distance ourselves from the nation. We are, instead, using it to confront the problems the nation faces, and offer alternate solutions. As the article states, we’re a corrective to Trump’s dark vision. We are no longer the “State of Emergency” of the mid-2000s. We are a progressive, prosperous, forward-looking juggernaut. We have Trumpists; every state in this Union does. But they have so little voice that it’s laughable. The state in which the John Birch Society was born laughs at it. Even Orange County voted for Hillary Clinton.

So, as a Californian, I have this message for those of you in Idaho, and Iowa, and Kentucky: We will not forget you. We won’t remake you in our image, but we will offer an example of what progressivism and pragmatism can offer. We will point out that there is an alternative to fear, to insularity, to anxiety. We will show that you should not fear the stranger, but welcome her, because she will work to rejuvenate you.

We will offer the blueprint. It’s up to you to build it.



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