Why Is California Called the Golden State?

Typically books published by independent presses do not get as much attention as those published by the major publishing houses. That is not to say, however, that they are any less noteworthy.  Perhaps these small publishing ventures are even saving literature as we know it. From Virginia Woolf who started Hogarth Press to James Joyce who was published by Sylvia Beach, independent publishers have been giving the public unique insights into forgotten aspects of history.


Today, alternative views on familiar subjects may be even more important than ever, with mainstream titles flooding bookshelves all touting a perspective of our country that does not necessarily diverge from the accepted rhetoric. Take, for example, California.


Do you remember reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in high school? Maybe you have fond memories of it, or maybe you were just mystified as to why there was an entire chapter about a turtle. Either way, this book was a touchstone of its time period and opened a dialogue about migrant workers and the second settlement of the California coast after the Gold Rush.


However relevant and poignant this class critique of California was for its time, it is not the only perspective. Though many who have read this classic treat it as the factual oracle for insightful information on the California Dustbowl Era, this book was really just one fictionalized tale interwoven with the opinions of one author.


There are so many other story threads on this period available to spark your interest. Aren’t you curious to see the tale through someone else’s eyes? If you are, take a look at some of the titles below for an alternative viewpoint into the development of California.


Golden Memories of the Redwood Empire

Have you ever wanted your history straight from the horse’s mouth? Thanks to Lee Torliatt, now you can have it that way. In a collection of their own words and personal photographs, residents of the northern San Francisco Bay Area recount 100 years of history, from the Gold Rush until the end of World War II.

Each story is different. Each perspective focuses on another aspect of life. Some people speak about surviving the harrowing journey out West, while others consider how they can make chickens a profitable commodity in the region. The Santa Rosa earthquake of 1906, the flu epidemic of 1917, and the Dust Bowl era all get touched on by those who conducted their daily lives as though these historical disasters were just something else to take in stride.


California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley

Have you ever thought of what part the fruit itself that was being harvested by migrant workers played in John Steinbeck’s novel? Well, take a look into the California apricot industry. As the largest producer of apricots in the world, Californian farmers took this Spanish fruit and built an agricultural economy based off of it. From the eighteenth century on, apricot orchards dominated the Santa Clara Valley and supported families for generations. Throughout this book, Robin Chapman goes on to explore what happened to these orchards, almost none of which exist today.


Chinese in San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley

Santa Clara Valley, better known as Silicon Valley, has long been home to a variety of groups. Some of the largest immigrant populations of this area consisted of the Chinese, who took a chance and came to California seeking to better their lives.


This particular population was one that faced unique struggles as they tried to integrate into the western United States. This book by Lillian Gong-Guy, and Gerrye Wong explores how generations of immigrants and their families overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to end up as a core force in the idea-generating incubators that dot Silicon Valley.


Early Cupertino

Early Cupertino, by Mary Lou Lyon encompasses the powerful history of a sleepy little missionary town that became one of the technology idea powerhouses of the world.


Beginning with its settlement in 1776 by the missionaries of Juan Batista De Anza, Cupertino received its name from St. Joseph of Cupertino, Italy. This little whistle-stop town grew up on the banks of a stream that today is known as Stevens Creek, and which was known for vineyards and blossoms. As it developed, trains began connecting Cupertino to bigger cities like San Francisco, where it became known as a part of the Valley of Heart’s Delight. This continuous progress continued until the late 20th century, when businesses like Apple began to take root, forever cementing this little creekside town as a modernizing force for the entire world.


Italians in the Santa Clara Valley

Termed the “Eden of the World,” the Santa Clara Valley began beckoning Italians from all corners of Italy as early as the 1880s. Due to the fertile soil, ideal climate, and the blossoming industry of the West Coast, thousands of immigrants flooded into the Golden State to make their fortunes.


Eventually, these new residents began to fill positions in all walks of life, from farmers and wine makers to packinghouse employees and cannery owners. Although present in many parts of Santa Clara Valley society, Italian cultural influence is often overlooked. In his book, Frederick W. Marrazzo explores the lives of Italian immigrants through stories and photographs in hopes of understanding how Italians’ world-renowned openness and can-do spirit allowed them to flourish in California society.


By reading these other accounts of life in the Santa Clara Valley, you are giving new communities a voice.  Each group of people is a piece of the puzzle and should be empowered to share their version of history. Give yourself a wider lens to look through. You might find yourself getting answers to questions like, “Were the golden hills of California golden because they were riddled with fabled gold, or because they were constantly lacking water?” Although maybe not an earth-shatteringly important question, it can help open your eyes to the details that made the Silicon Valley what it is today, and wouldn’t we all like to understand the magic that it holds?



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