June 07, 2011
War clouds were gathering in Europe, however, and to no small degree because of the movies, many folk fled sadder lands for refuge here. Back during the mid to late 70s, Los Angeles was still home to the aging remnants of the wave of Central and Eastern European immigrants that had sought refuge from various revolutions and dictators—generally noblemen, bourgeoisie, or artists. Russian, German, Czech, Pole, Lithuanian, or Croatian, they had all sought to reconstruct their lives in the Big Nowhere. Their clubs, churches, and restaurants allowed them to gather and relive les bon vieux temps passé. In dusty, tchotchke-filled eateries such as the Little Prague and the Paprika, their conversations’ hum cast quite the spell on me as I blundered through my teens. They had accomplished what would have seemed impossible in 1920: They made Los Angeles as cosmopolitan as San Francisco.
Alongside these exotics, World War II and its aftermath brought hordes of Americans both black and white from across the country to work in the defense industries. The blacks filled up South Central Los Angeles, while the whites transformed the San Fernando Valley and other places from orange groves to tract housing. The interwar paradise was replaced with yet another one, but the old corruption remained and adapted. This was the Southern California my family and I came to in the mid-60s—The Beach Boys on one hand and L.A. Confidential on the other. In my memory, LA consisted of beautiful places, cloying smog, brand-new infrastructure, and, well, a lot of Anglos. This paradise, too, was doomed.
Shortly after we moved here, the hippie revolution began and a new horde of seekers came to San Francisco, Berkeley, and LA. Their values became institutionalized in the 70s, and men’s hats accompanied women’s slips out the door. But for some people it was a new paradise, and for good or ill, it is such folk who now occupy the halls of power in the state, the nation, and to some degree the world. They, too, are seeking a lost El Dorado, a Fountain of Youth. Too bad they won’t find it. The hippie generation’s mismanagement and stupidity have done of lot of terrible things to the state.
We now have a new band of paradise-seekers. Many are Asian; their proof of success is to replace ugly post-war ranch houses with bizarre-looking mini-mansions. Others are Latino, and it is they who breed the most fear and suspicion among the current natives. For one thing, they breed; I cannot remember the last time I had an Anglo trick-or-treater at the door in my primarily Anglo neighborhood. For another, they speak Spanish.
Yet again, paradise is being lost.
Meanwhile, the steady outflow of native Californians continues—I have met such in Australia and Ireland.
No matter. In coming columns I’ll keep you informed on this California—its past, its present, and its transformation into we know not what.
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