A Land of Im­mi­grants and En­trepreneurs

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY DAVID ARM­STRONG


When mi­gra­tion to Cal­i­for­nia be­gan in earnest in the 19th cen­tury, light­houses be­came ne­ces­si­ties to pro­tect ships skirt­ing the rough rocky coast. Many of the light­houses were re­mote and hard to reach on land, and the job of keep­ing the lights burn­ing was a chal­leng­ing and dif­fi­cult one, es­pe­cially in bad weather when they were needed most. Piedras Blan­cas Light­house, above, on the Cen­tral Coast near San Simeon, was dam­aged by an off­shore earth­quake on De­cem­ber 31, 1948, and had its lantern room and lens re­moved. The tower was capped off, and in re­cent years has been ren­o­vated and is open for tours.

The Span­ish Fran­cis­can

friar bless­ing an adobe church at Mis­sion Basil­ica San Diego de Al­calá in 1769; the Chilean miner try­ing his luck pan­ning for gold in a cold Sierra cataract in 1849; the Chi­nese la­borer cross­ing the heav­ing Pa­cific to work on the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road in 1869; the African Amer­i­can leav­ing the South to build war­ships on the Oak­land wa­ter­front in 1942; the Haight-ash­bury hip­pie with her wake­ful dream­ing in San Fran­cisco’s Sum­mer of Love in 1967; the In­dian engi­neer launch­ing a high-tech startup in Palo Alto in 2018, all have some­thing in com­mon: start­ing over.

The United States is said to be a place where the world comes to be­gin again—to rein­vent it­self, in the cur­rent coinage. If so, Cal­i­for­nia is the “Amer­ica” of Amer­ica. This was so even in pre-his­tory, when the first mi­grants from Asia crossed the land bridge be­tween Siberia and Alaska, hung a right, walked south­ward, found pas­tures of plenty, rich marine life and heart-stop­pingly beau­ti­ful moun­tains and ei­ther de­cided to keep walk­ing or stop right where they were.

The place wasn’t called Cal­i­for­nia then, of course. That came later, the name taken from a 16th-cen­tury Span­ish novel and used by ex­plor­ers, sol­diers and mis­sion­ar­ies, who were them­selves start­ing over in the New World. The Span­ish built 21 Ro­man Catholic mis­sions, from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north, from 1769 to 1823. In con­vert­ing na­tive com­mu­ni­ties to Chris­tian­ity, the new­com­ers over­whelmed

na­tive cul­tures. Of ne­ces­sity, the Na­tive Amer­i­cans started over in a be­wil­der­ing new world.

In 1821, Mex­ico, with its re­mote north­ern­most prov­ince, Alta Cal­i­for­nia, wrenched it­self free of the Span­ish Em­pire. In 1833, the mis­sions were sec­u­lar­ized by the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment and aban­doned. Their build­ings moldered, their pi­o­neer­ing vine­yards and olive groves were even­tu­ally over­grown and for­got­ten. Not un­til the 20th cen­tury were the mis­sions re­stored and re­vived. Many flour­ish to­day as re­doubts of his­tory and con­tem­po­rary wor­ship, hand­some, evoca­tive re­minders of the first ma­jor Euro­pean pres­ence.

The Gold Rush

Alta Cal­i­for­nia grew slowly in its iso­la­tion. That changed on Jan­uary 24, 1848, with the dis­cov­ery of gold on the Amer­i­can River. The Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush, begin­ning in earnest in 1849, gave for­tune-seek­ers a sec­ond—some said a last—chance to make good. Half-a-mil­lion new­com­ers—many from Europe, Asia, Latin Amer­ica and Africa— glob­al­ized Cal­i­for­nia in a hurry. The Mex­i­can de­scen­dants of Span­ish set­tlers—the Cal­i­fornios, with their sprawl­ing ran­chos and lives at­tuned to the slow turn­ing of the sea­sons—were swept aside, left to start over.

Many 49ers stayed on and found another kind of gold: richly pro­duc­tive new lives in a place where begin­ning afresh—per­son­ally, fi­nan­cially, even spir­i­tu­ally—was al­ready a com­mon rite of pas­sage. In 1850, pried loose by the U.S. vic­tory in the Mex­i­can War and ac­cel­er­ated by the Gold Rush, Cal­i­for­nia be­came the 31st state of the United States. New Cal­i­for­ni­ans brought the new Golden State into be­ing, plow­ing its fields, found­ing its great uni­ver­si­ties, build­ing its cities.

Cal­i­for­nia’s lus­trous rep­u­ta­tion was tar­nished on the morn­ing of April 18, 1906, when a mas­sive

PIEDRAS BLAN­CAS Light Sta­tion in San Simeon, op­po­site; Bodie Ghost Town res­i­dence, above; Cabrillo Na­tional Mon­u­ment at Point Loma Penin­sula, San Diego, right; Carmel Mis­sion, be­low.

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