California: Expect the Unexpected

"Of all the states in the union, only California has attached to
 its identity the concept of dream."

"California has always been a figment of its own imagination, ever struggling for identity, ever inventing itself."

- Kevin Starr, Professor of History, University of Southern California

california palm trees

The California image of beaches, blondes, flaky surfers, and “California Dreamin’” doesn’t tell the whole story, or even most of it.  In California, always expect the unexpected.  Just when you’re sure you know the state…

  • California was named by the Spanish for Califia, a mythical paradise in a Spanish romance written in 1510. The name refers to a country full of gold and pearls inhabited by Amazons ruled by Queen Calafia. (1)

  • Movie stars pontificate about national politics, and immigrant workers many of whom don’t speak English, shake up the nation by massing in downtown Los Angeles in 2006 to protest an immigration bill.

  • It’s huge in population, by far the largest population of any state, with more than 35 million people, one out of every 8 Americans.  Three of the ten largest American cities are in California: Los Angeles - #2; San Diego  -  #7, San Jose, - #10 (which just recently passed Detroit to make it into the top ten).

  • San Bernardino County has the largest land area of any county in America; Los Angeles County has the largest population.

  • California alone provides more than one-fifth of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency (55 out of 270), but the presidential nominees ignore the state in the general election because Democrats now carry the state by large margins.  So California’s voters rarely get to see presidential campaign ads anymore.

  • California ranks as the world’s seventh largest economy.

  • Every California governor is an automatic contender for national office.  But only one president, Richard Nixon, was born in California compared to eight from Virginia and seven from Ohio.

  • California is now a reliably “blue” state, taken for granted by the Democrats. Between the New Deal and 1992, it was a steady base for Republican presidential candidates, only voting Democratic once (1964) after 1948.  In addition, Republicans have won the governorship more frequently than Democrats.

  • Two actors have become governor of California, and one went on to become president.  California has two Jewish women United States Senators.

  • California has the highest and the lowest points in the continental United States, Mt. Whitney and Death Valley.  They are within 100 miles of each other.

  • Coastal California is known world wide, but the growth of California is happening inland, in both northern and southern California. The California Dream is now being built in inland counties with lots of land, where families can afford to buy homes. (2)

  • One out of every four immigrants comes to California.  A third of the state’s residents are foreign born.  A language other than English is spoken in 39% of California’s homes.  An estimated 40% of all unauthorized immigrants live in California.  Fifteen percent of the state’s voters are now Latinos. (3)

  • Disneyland is the iconic image of a white California dream.  Disneyland is in Anaheim, whose city population is now almost half Latino. 

  • California immigrants are not monolithic.  Fifty-seven percent of immigrants from India have college degrees:  Two-thirds of immigrants from Mexico have not completed high school. (4)

  • California has had more than its share of racial conflict.  But it also enjoyed the pioneering mayoral elections of Tom Bradley (5) and Antoniovillaraigosa election night Villaraigosa, and now the state legislature is led by a Latino speaker directing a heavily minority Democratic caucus.

  • California voters gave landslide support to Proposition 187 in 1994, a  measure to bar undocumented residents from public services. Although Proposition 187 was later ruled unconstitutional voters re-elected Pete Wilson in 1994 as governor due in part to his support of the Proposition. The 1990s saw a million new Latinos register to vote giving voice to their disapproval of Proposition 187 and the re-election of their governor. (6)

  • There are more than 6.4 million students in the state’s public schools.  Of these, 26.4% are English Language Learners. With 12% of the nation's population, California has 40% of the English learners. (7)

  • The Bakke decision that limited racial preferences in higher education came out of California, as did the historic Proposition 13 to limit property taxes in 1978.  But so did the historic grape boycott that led to the unionization of farm workers, and successful hotel workers efforts in Los Angeles.

  • Conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves of Southern California often taking an anti-immigration stance.  A huge march in Los Angeles, however, was inspired by a network of Spanish-language talk shows that encouraged immigrants to unite in defense of their rights. (8)

  • In 2003 Gray Davis became the first governor of a state to be recalled from office by the voters since North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921. (9)

  • Pre-contact California had the largest number of native peoples who spoke the widest variety of languages in the world. Some sixty different languages and many more dialects were spoken.  Today California again has the largest number of native people in the continent.  (10)

  • Northern California’s legend is built on the cutting edge technology of Silicon Valley allowing much work to be done by fewer hands. Southern California is driven by the energy of millions of immigrant workers whose collective labor is fundamental to the economy of the region.

  • California has led the nation in agricultural production for the last 50 years. Farms comprise one-third of the state’s land area. It is the largest dairy state in the nation. Grapes are the second biggest product of California agriculture. California agriculture employs more than a million people. (11)

                                                                 peach pickers


(1) Gudde, Erwin G. "The Name of Our State." California Blue Book. 1958 ed. Sacramento: State Printing Office. 651-652 cited in, 14 April 2006

(2) Mark Baldassare, 2000.  California in the New Millenium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

(3) Public Policy Institute of California. 2002  Just the Facts: Immigrants in California.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Raphael J. Sonenshein. 1993. Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

(6) Field Poll. 2000. The Expanding Latino Electorate. Release No. 1960, no. 1.

(7) Christopher Jepson and Shelley de Alth.  2005.  English Learners in California Schools.  Public Policy Institute of California.

(8) Teresa Watanabe and Hector Becerra.  2006.  How DJs Put 500,000 Marchers in Motion.  Los Angeles Times, March, 28.

(9) Larry Gerston and Terry Christensen.  2004.  Recall: California's Political Earthquake.  M.E. Sharpe.

(10) Jed Riffe, Co-Executive Producer, California and the American Dream

(11) U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Farm Bureau Federation


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When to Watch

California and the American Dream premieres April 13, April 20, April 27 and May 4, 2006
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