Legendary California Racism Writer’s Forgotten Indictment

Hello and welcome to Essential California newsletter. This is Tuesday July 12, 2022. I’m Gustavo Arellano, reporting from Orange County.

When Wallace Stegner who died in 1993, obituaries across the country hailed the Los Altos resident as the doyen of writers on the American West. His body of literature – essays, non-fiction tomes, novels and more – and his work as an editor and teacher have influenced a generation of writers such as former students Ken Kesey, Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry and even future Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice. But Stegner slowly faded from the popular American imagination, as a new generation of writers criticized his “white” gaze and universities stopped teaching his work.

There is one Stegner book, however, that I think those haters could embrace that few Stegner fans have ever read: “A nation.”

This is a 1945 collection of black and white essays and photos from missions with Look at the magazine. Long out of print, “One Nation” is an unwavering take on the prejudiced minorities across the United States — blacks, Jews, ethnic Catholics, Native Americans and others — faced at a time when this country was meant to be united against bigotry in the face of the Axis threat during The Second World War.

“We are not dealing with isolated, local situations, or even primarily a national situation,” Stegner wrote in his introduction. “The things we allowed have a clear relationship to Nazi practices; the difference is only a difference of degree.

And no state was meaner in Stegner’s estimation than California.

It devotes four chapters to the bigotry of the Golden State, each focusing respectively on the struggles of urban Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese and Mexicans. We see manongs (an Ilocano term that translates to “older brother” but means a respected older man in Filipino American culture) working the harvest in the central valley and go to Stockton, where a sign reading “Positively no Filipinos allowed” hangs on the door. It follows Japanese Americans from the relative safety of Little Tokyo to incarceration camps 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Army’s legendary “Go for Broke” regiment. Legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe captures San Francisco’s Chinatown as a vibrant neighborhood that has survived despite decades of law-sanctioned segregation.

Meanwhile, Stegner is kicking with the pachucos of Boyle Heightswhom he considers a “lost generation” even though photos of sweet chuccos and Guisas Firms having a good time suggest otherwise (of particular note: a drawing of a buff homeboy from happy valley ready to take down a trembling Okie who pleads, “Now let’s be reasonable”).

Stegner’s writing may seem paternalistic all these decades later, but his outrage is palpable. It’s a remarkable indictment of the California dream, at a time when the only other person willing to criticize the state’s treatment of minorities on a national platform was Carey McWilliams. It was ethnic studies before ethnic studies.

I’m no Stegner scholar, so I don’t know why it didn’t sell or why so few remember “One Nation” today. You’ll only find it in library special collections or second-hand bookstores for the starting price of $100 (sorry, you can’t borrow my copy). But it’s useful and essential reading for Stegner fans, California lovers, and people who believe in “America for All” that Stegner begs his readers to incorporate into the conclusion.

“It’s a job,” he concludes, in words that still resonate, “for the average American in every community, the Smiths, Johnsons and Browns in whose image democracy was created.”

And now, Here’s what’s happening across California:

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California cities are banning new gas stations in a battle against climate change. I’m sure the beautiful Bay Area suburbs that implemented this policy and the politicians considering such a move tapped into Ed Begley Jr.’s Simpsonian technology of powering cars with his own sense of self-satisfaction. Los Angeles Times

Dodger Stadium concession workers threaten to strike the All-Star Game. The mighty Unite Here Local 11 still knows how to troll Angeleno’s civic life in the name of worker dignity. Los Angeles Times

All-Star festivities begin Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Above is the home opener against the Cincinnati Reds on April 14.

(Jack Harris/Los Angeles Times)

Larry Wilmore knows no bounds. The legendary writer, producer and television mentor talks about his craft but also his childhood in Pomona, when it was a hub of middle-class black life in Southern California. Vulture

The Zacatecas-LAX express. Professor and member of UC Riverside Jerezano Adrián Félix writes a beautiful tribute to the ritual that thousands of Southern Californians are taking this summer (but, teacher comp, what about the CBX crossing at Otay Mesa?). Tropics of Meta

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She won a local election in a landslide. A conservative activist nevertheless launched a recount. Randy Economy, late to Gavin Newsom’s laughable recall effort, tried to waste everyone’s time in Nevada County. He canceled it after The Times published an article about it. Los Angeles Times

An exit interview with Ana Matosantos, Newsom’s Cabinet Secretary. Let’s go for the next adventure, this keeper of secrets! Los Angeles Times

Animation museum project gets $2.5 million from California. State sponsor Sen. Anthony Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge) must have forgotten that animation is a multi-billion dollar industry and his district has more pressing needs than subsidizing the Hollywood giants – like reminding us how to get to La Canada Flintridge. Hollywood journalist


How drag queens fight queer censorship. After the Proud Boys targeted Drag Queen Story Hours throughout Pride Month, a San Francisco-based drag performer finds hope in youth and the LGBTQ+ community. The progressive

Fresno’s first cannabis dispensary opens. The member of the municipal council is the first official customer. Somewhere, William Saroyan is laughing. fresno bee


“No cure until tragedy” is our mental health system. CARE Court may change. My fellow columnist Anita Chabria argues that Governor Newsom’s plan to create a civil system of courts to deal with cases of serious mental illness “is not just a good idea but a moral obligation.” Los Angeles Times

A viral video shows sea lions chasing bathers at La Jolla Cove. Somewhere, Buster Bluth is crying. Los Angeles Times

Trees shade a path beside a building.

A pepper plant near the gates of the Hollywood Bowl Museum in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

In celebration of a pepper tree. You’ll need to know how to read Spanish to read this Paraguayan newspaper and the wonderful story of the Southern California pepper trees – but you already know how Spanish, right? ABC color


How an acclaimed cartoon shines a ‘crucial’ spotlight on Black American Sign Language. Cartoon Network’s delightful “Craig of the Creek” takes representation to the next level with the help of the Black Deaf Advocates of Southern California. Los Angeles Times

How this champagne-colored 1965 Ford pickup stole Adri Law’s heart. Nothing against Angeleno’s native profile, but as an owner of a ’68 VW bus, ’79 Ford Supercab and ’73 Eldo convertible, Rancheros is everything. Bloomberg Lawsuits

Death and the playwright. Luis Valdez talks about Mayan physicality, his new book and his legacy. Voice of the Monterey Bay

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Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 79. San Diego: partly cloudy, 71. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 68. San Jose: partly cloudy, 84. Fresno: sunny, 105. Sacrament: sunny, 96.


Today california memory is of Eric Carey:

In 1975, after moving from the East Coast and renting a small apartment in West LA, I headed to a nearby department store to pick up a few items. At the checkout, I wrote a check and gave it to the saleswoman with my driver’s license. She studied it, looked up, and glancing at me said, “District of Columbia. Is it in South America?

If you have a memory or a story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please limit your story to 100 words.)

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