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above: flag of the state of California (Wikimedia Commons)

Sins of Omission

California Exodus

In the 1950s grammar schools of the Golden State we kids substituted “Oh, California!” for Stephen Foster’s “Oh, Susanna!” The tune was the same, but the lyrics came from the pen of John Nichols just before he climbed aboard the bark Eliza in December 1848 at Salem, Massachusetts, for the voyage to California.

I come from Salem City with my washbowl on my knee.
I’m going to California the gold dust for to see.
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry.
The sun so hot I froze to death, oh brother, don’t you cry.


Oh, California! that’s the land for me,
I’m bound for San Francisco with my washbowl on my knee.


I soon shall be in ’Frisco and there I’ll look around,
And when I see the golden lumps there,
I’ll pick them off the ground.
I’ll scrape the mountains clean, My boys, I’ll drain the rivers dry,
A pocketful of rocks bring home, so brothers,
Don’t you cry.

Nichols was among the first in the tidal wave of humanity that set off for California in what became known as the Gold Rush of 1849. While that tidal wave continued for years, its recent swells causing dramatic demographic shifts, the tide is now going out on California.

The Gold Rush increased California’s population tenfold in one year, from what scholars estimate to be about 10,000 at the beginning of 1849 to 100,000 recorded in the 1850 census. Failing to find gold, thousands of broke and dispirited prospectors left the Golden State during the 1850s, but they were more than replaced by tens of thousands coming in. The 1860 census put the state’s population at 380,000, nearly quadruple what it had been a decade earlier.

Between 1900 and 1920, California’s population exploded from 1.5 million to nearly 3.5 million. The 1920s and ’30s saw refugees from the Dust Bowl arrive by the tens of thousands, pushing the population to just under 7 million in 1940. World War II slowed growth for a time, but the state’s population exceeded 10 million in 1950, and had doubled to 20 million by 1970. For those of us who remembered a California with half that number it was the beginning of the end. The ease of life, farms and cattle ranches, and wide-open spaces that we had known in the ’50s were rapidly disappearing, replaced by industrial tracts, housing developments, and freeways.

At the end of World War II, servicemen who had passed through California on their way to the Pacific returned home, packed up, and moved to the Golden State. Then in the 1970s, small numbers of native Californians who had returned home from another war began moving to Oregon, Idaho, or Arizona to escape the crowds, traffic, and congestion that had come to characterize their home state. They were replaced not only by other Americans moving into California but also by Mexicans arriving illegally by the thousands.

People today tend to think of California, once a province of Mexico, as always heavily populated with Mexicans. However, when the United States took control of the state in 1846, there were no more than 7,500 Mexicans in the entire province. As recently as 1960, the Mexican percentage of the population was in the single digits. Now, California is 40 percent “Hispanic,” and 93 percent of those Hispanics are Mexican by birth or descent. Non-Hispanic whites have dropped from 83 percent of California’s population in 1960 to 36 percent today. Moreover, those whites now account for only 25 percent of births, while Hispanic births exceed 50 percent. California’s demographic future is clear.

If illegal immigration has dramatically transformed “The Land of Milk and Honey,” so too has legal immigration. The Immigration Act of 1965 and various refugee programs have generated a nearly eight-fold increase in California’s Asian population. In the 1950s, Asians, mostly Japanese and Chinese, accounted for some 2 percent of the population. Today, Asians comprise more than 15 percent and have been the most rapidly growing racial group for the last decade. They now represent a racial plurality in Alameda County, which includes the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, and in Santa Clara County, home to San Jose. Chinese and Filipinos are tied at nearly 4 percent of California’s population, followed by Vietnamese at 1.7 percent, East Indians, 1.5 percent, Koreans, 1.3 percent, and Japanese, 1.1 percent.

About 1.5 million Californians are Chinese. That’s more Chinese in California than there are people in New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, or seven other states. San Francisco’s Chinese population has soared from less than 5 percent in 1960 to 22 percent today. At the same time the city’s white population has shrunk from 82 percent to 40 percent. The most spectacular transformation of cities, though, has occurred in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. Town after town that had virtually no Chinese in the 1950s now have a plurality of them and several have a majority. The hometown of the famous Gen. George Patton, San Marino, is now 60 percent Chinese and 28 percent white.  Wealthy Chinese from Hong Kong and Taipei have pushed San Marino real estate prices to an average of $2.5 million for smaller older homes and quadruple that for larger remodeled or new homes.

The East Indian population, tiny in numbers before 1965, now exceeds 600,000 and has transformed large areas of California’s Central Valley. Punjabi is today the third most common language spoken in the valley, behind English and Spanish. Half of the nation’s 500,000 Sikhs live in the valley. Yuba City, the county seat of Sutter County, is a valley town of 70,000 residents with a metropolitan area population of 170,000. Called “Mini Punjab,” Yuba City has four Sikh temples and hosts an annual religious festival honoring the birthday of the first Sikh guru, Nānak, which draws 100,000 or more celebrants. Punjabi is taught in the public schools and there is a Punjabi language radio station.

There is heated political rhetoric when anyone mentions the “Great Replacement,” referring to traditional white populations in European nations or in the U.S. being replaced by nonwhites from overseas. But in California it’s not a far-fetched vision of the future—it has already occurred.

Concomitant with California’s dramatic demographic change is an equally dramatic shift to the political left. Californians elected Ronald Reagan governor in 1966 and 1970. These days, however, Californians regularly elect Democrats to the governorship and all other statewide political offices, with super majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The failed recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom in September is a painful reminder of the hold the Democrats have on the state.

Absolute control by Democrats has been ruinous for California. It leads or is near the top of the list of states for homelessness, public debt, tax rates, failing infrastructure, and the number of businesses relocating elsewhere. California’s cost of living is second only to Hawaii’s, another Democrat-dominated state. California also has horrendous commuting times, high gas prices, endless regulations, frequent power outages, dozens of compulsory vaccinations for children with no allowance for religious or medical exemptions, and poor-performing public schools with curriculums shot through with cultural Marxism.

Despite these problems, California has the second highest average home prices in the nation, the result of the population soaring to 40 million while home construction failed to keep pace, and the continuing lure of California’s incomparable climate and magnificent geography. High home prices are no problem for wealthy newcomers or middle-class folks who have owned homes for years, but are real problems for the children and grandchildren of those middle-class families and for businesses who want housing for their employees.

California’s increasing problems have led to a net outmigration—mostly of white middle-class residents—that began in earnest about a dozen years ago. Even before then I had friends, all fellow veterans and conservatives, who said goodbye. A retired flying buddy of mine built a home in a remote area on San Juan Island in Washington; another who left part of his lung in the Central Highlands of Vietnam moved his family to Hayden Lake, Idaho; still another, retired from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), bought a home on a mountainside in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Now, a younger generation has created what might be called the California Exodus. In 2010, 560,000 people left California. Greater numbers have left in every year since, peaking in 2018 with 691,000. Although people, mostly from foreign lands, still come into the state, outflow consistently exceeds inflow, usually by well over 100,000. As a result, California lost a congressional seat for the first time in history.

This phenomenon was indicated by U-Haul prices long before statisticians began analyzing census data. Over the last decade, the average rental price for a U-Haul truck one-way from California to other states has been five to 12 times higher than the other way around.

My daughter and her husband have several friends, all native Californians in their 30s, who have packed up their families and left. Kyle quit the LAPD after seven years and bought a home on the banks of Tennessee’s Lake Cumberland; Nick, a documentary film producer, is now in Texas; Jeremy left Ventura County fire department after 15 years and now calls Eagle, Idaho, home; Brian, an executive with a biotech company, has a house under construction just outside of Eagle; Jackie, who grew up playing tennis with my daughter, and her husband have relocated to a hilltop near Coeur d’Alene. The mother of four daughters, Jackie, said exactly what all the others did when asked why they moved: “I don’t want to raise my children in California.”

I can recall having flag duty in grammar school in the ’50s. We raised Old Glory and below it, we raised the Bear Flag. I looked up at both and was incredibly proud. I was both an American and a Californian. What could be better? Evidently, a lot today.

Roger D. McGrath

Roger D. McGrath

Chronicles corresponding editor Roger D. McGrath is the author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes. A U.S. Marine veteran and former history professor at UCLA, he has appeared on numerous documentaries, including The Real WestBiographyTales of the GunCowboys & Outlaws, and Wild West Tech.

 

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Maha
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In 1954, my father took a job with Kaiser Engineers in Oakland, California. We moved into a housing track in San Leandro that was built on a former beet field. My neighbors were all working class--they were mechanics, carpenters, small business owners. Before diversity was a word, we had it. My best friends had names like Hodge, Cruz, Naranjo, Pasqual, and Jensen. We walked to school in safety, and chased frogs and built forts in the creeks that drained the coast range hills into the San Francisco Bay. We had Republican governors: Goodwin Knight until 1959, then Edmund G. Brown until 1967. Then Ronald Reagan, until 1967 when the magic really started to vanish, with the election of Moonbeam Jerry Brown. San Francisco started its slide then, as the drugs and attitudes of Haight Ashbury spread to the kids in the suburbs, and black militancy became a byword in the jungles of East Oakland, and of course further south in Watts. We moved away in 1965 because my father felt like "things were changing for the worst" and he didn't want to retire in California. I don't know what he knew or thought he knew, but he was right. I was glad to have seen the promised land before it became the political, crime ridden hellhole it is today.
 
 

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