Living in the Gam Saan: a Tale of Two Californias


tina_turner_treesI was not happy to move to California when I was 15. Having just buried my father and shut the door on an idyllic life in a small Nebraska town, I wrote a poem in which I likened California to a massive paper plate—an angsty teen’s commentary on throwaway culture. (And I find palm trees . . . annoying.)

Over the years, though, I’ve found increasingly significant reasons to love being a citizen of the Gam Saan (Golden Mountain). They are too numerous to go into here, but I caught this on Vox this morning and just had to share.

In response to a political candidate’s contention that California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations”, the Voxer wrote:

“California’s climate regulations are indeed the most ambitious in the nation, and they just keep getting more ambitious. (A pair of new climate bills has cleared the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.)

“If California were its own country, it would be one of the world’s top 10 in total renewable energy generation and one of the bottom two in carbon intensity. It is the top state in the nation for venture capital investments in cleantech, cleantech patents, and advanced-energy jobs. In fact, it leads the nation in virtually every cleantech category, from electric vehicles to green buildings to solar capacity to policy to investment, reliably topping the US Cleantech Leadership Index.

“Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2013, thanks to energy efficiency, the average residential electricity bill in California declined, on an inflation-adjusted basis, by 4 percent, even as bills rose elsewhere in the country. Between 1990 and 2012, the state cut per-capita carbon emissions by 25 percent even as its GDP increased by 37 percent. Its total carbon emissions are declining, even as its economy continues to grow.

“Oh, and California created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, with the fifth-highest GDP growth rate. And its budget is balanced. Looks like the state is surviving its environmental regulations so far.”

Not bad for the “land of fruits and nuts”, eh? So, California, please pardon my youthful ignorance. I hereby take back what the 15 year-old poet wrote in her grief-fueled verses. It is in the spirit of offering an olive branch that I include here a commentary I was impelled to write earlier in response to some “man on the street” interviews with members of the audience at a political rally held recently in Alabama and which one or two friends asked me to post some place where they could permanently link to

multi-racialIn that commentary, I noted that it happens far too often that politics and issues of human integrity, dignity and solidarity collide. Coming, as I do, from a faith community that believes down to its ruby red core that the world will never know true peace or prosperity until the oneness of the human family is made the framework for progress, the spectacle covered in this article is incredibly sad.

What prompted me to apply my post-op barely-there brain to this with such immediacy was this from near the end of the article:

“Cheryl Burns, 60, was on a road trip from California when she heard that [Donald] Trump would be in Alabama. She turned her car around and got in line, warning people of what happened to states when liberals took them over. “There is no more California,” Burns said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.”

This woman is near my age. She lives, she claims, in the same state I do. But I don’t recognize the state she describes. The California I live in is multicultural, and for the most part, joyfully so. We celebrate diversity here in our houses of worship, our schools, our community centers. My family moved from the mostly white foothills of No Cal to San Jose (egad! the name isn’t even English!) in part because we wanted to live in a culturally and ethnically diverse area.

BundyRanch_SniperFreewayOverpassThe California I live in is far from lawless. Yes, we have fewer law enforcement resources than we need, but we have a state government that is working to ameliorate that now that the economy has recovered sufficiently. I have news for Ms. Burns. Most murders in our state are not committted by “illegal aliens” (or unauthorized immigrants). In fact, unauthorized immigrants commit crimes at rates lower than the national average. They also contribute far more to America’s economy than they receive in pay and benefits and pay billions of dollars in taxes each year. The statement ‘People are being raped’ with its passive voice dodge is apropos of nothing. People are being raped—mostly by acquaintances and “friends”—rape by strangers is a far more rare event and of those, the number committed by unauthorized immigrants is statistically insignificant.

Woman in Turtleneck Looking Down ca. 2001

What is significant is the number of young women among immigrant farmworkers who are raped by American bosses who know the victim will have no legal recourse. This, notwithstanding the fact that it is these immigrant workers—many unauthorized—who have helped make California the 16th largest economy on the planet. The flip side of this is that our largest cities—especially L.A.—are hip deep in impoverished populations. That is not something to celebrate, but it is a problem for which we Caifornians (excepting, of course, Ms. Burns, who lives in a dystopian alt-reality California) must seek solutions beyond “let’s make all those poors go away.”

Among those solutions is not putting a bounty on the heads of unauthorized immigrants, as another member of the rally audience suggested, or beating them up and peeing on them (a novel approach), or hunting them down like vermin and kicking them out of a country a large part of which once belonged to their ancestors. The solution is not a magical-thinking, blame assigning, godless, inhuman orgy of zero-sum political promises: Lose the 14th amendment? Deport all unauthorized immigrants? Make Mexico build a wall? Those aren’t solutions. They’re pipe dreams that, were they even doable, would devastate the integrity and economy of the entire nation and would call for a massive, intrusive federal effort that would require economic resources heretofore undreamt of. So much for small government.

These are lose-lose “solutions”. They benefit no one and harm immigrant and American alike. It takes only some basic information and a moment of thought to see a myriad ways in which this is so. If you can’t think of any, ask.

IMG_0745Mr. Trump lying? Only he and God know. Perhaps he really believes the things he says (at the least the things that are specific enough to understand; he uses vagueness expertly). In that case, he is arguably lying to himself, because nothing he has suggested is doable, let alone “easy” . . . or necessary. But I have to think that a man whose life has been about making money understands the bonehead economics 101 causaility loop that connects the unauthorized immigrant workers to the ecomomic underpinnings of the nation—most especially of states like California that rely so heavily on agricultural workers. Ms. Burns may not realize it, but the food on her table is there in large part because of the skilled hands of the very people she’d like to toss out of “her” state. It may amuse her to know that since the illegal immigration rates have plummeted in the last several years, California growers have been having trouble finding sufficient skilled workers to handle their crops, which has led to higher prices in the markets for some commodities.

I’ve heard it proposed that Americans would gladly take the jobs vacated by immigrant workers. Ask the farmers in Alabama how that worked out for them several years ago when their immigrant labor pool vanished almost overnight because of anti-immigrant legislation in state law. They were unable to even get American citizens to do the work (not even prisoners), let alone do it properly. Follow the link above, Google it. It made international news.

I wish I could sit down with Ms. Burns and have a nice long talk. I wish I could show her MY California—diverse, quirky, innovative, and humane. Something California has that I have come to appreciate only recently is a sense of US. That we are all in this together, that we share stewardship for this plot of earth and that we are bound to each other by ties of duty and shared humanity.

The expressions of unwarranted fear and hatred such as Ms. Burns’ sicken me, but they also fill me with ever more certainty of my own purpose—to use my energies and resources to build bridges instead of walls.

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