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The Smithsonian’s PC take on California: No wine, surfers or Hollywood: just “immigrants”

July 4, 2016

Here’s my idea of California (I’m a native):

And here’s the Smithsonian Institution’s:

Occupying a significant swath of the western edge of the United States, facing the Pacific, and emerging from a historically significant exchange with Latin America, California is a crossroads. It continues to be shaped by the conflict, creativity, and energy of people creating a home in a region whose cultural and social ground is as ever shifting as its geology.


Among the fifty states, California is the most populous and one of the most diverse, comprised of people who have emigrated from all parts of the globe. It is home to the largest Native American population, one of the largest populations of people who identify as mixed race, as well as people whose families migrated to the state generations ago.

Today, at a time when public discussion around immigration is clamorous, one in four immigrants in the U.S. lives in California.


Join us in recognizing the resilience of artists who cultivate community by both tending to and extending beyond what is near and familiar, who honor tradition while looking forward, and who contribute to creating a diverse, resonant landscape.

In other words, California is all about immigration. And, as it turns out, according to the Smithsonian, all about just one kind of immigration: from “Latin America,” as noted above. The above quote is from the online brochure for the Smithsonian’s 2016 Folklife Festival on the National Mall, a Fourth of July weekend staple here in Washington, DC. So my husband and I, natives both, trekked over. Here’s what we got to see of California’s “creativity”:

11:45 a.m. Mixteco Fiesta Traditions Sounds of California Stage & Plaza Performance
11:45 a.m. Radio Bilingüe: Music, History, Identity The Studio Narrative Session
12 p.m. Identities on the Move: Shadows of D.C. Immigrants Arts and Industries Building Stage Performance
12 p.m. Traditions on the Move: Morphing and Emerging in the Diaspora On the Move Narrative Session

Oh, and Rollo’s Tacos. Now, Rollo’s, specializing in high-end Mexican street food, is actually a Florida outfit, with an outlet in (where else?) Brooklyn–but no presence in California whatsoever. But everybody loves tacos, and tacos are all over California, so what the hay? Long lines for Rollo’s. Long lines of gringos, that is, because hardly any Latin Americans, or members of any other ethnic group besides the Pale People, actually attend the Folklife Festival.

A few other immigrant groups seemed to be vaguely represented at the Festival: Japanese, Thais, Armenians, plus, I guess, those Native Americans (most California Indians so thoroughly intermarried with the Latin Americans that their cultures are hard to tell apart these days, except that the Native Americans run extremely successful casinos).

But whatever happened to these California cultural phenomena: surfers, Okies, hippies, Hollywood, California wine, the Italian immigrants who moved into the Napa Valley and created the California wine industry, Santa Maria barbecue (a genuinely indigenous California cuisine), the missions and the ranchos (speaking of Latin America) that made California’s geography what it is today, and the Bakersfield country music scene?

And by the way, my parents were immigrants to California. Immigrants from New York City, that is. They brought with them a taste for nightclubs, martinis, Seventh Avenue high fashion, and the New York Times. A “resilient” California culture, to be sure, but not represented at the “diverse” Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Posted by Charlotte Allen






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