Native suns of the golden west

Enjoying the afternoon sun and a rest in the hammock while I listen to the sounds of my hometown Niles, California. It has been such a pleasant day, arriving in the east bay after driving all over the state. Here where I grew up feels most like stereotypical ‘California’ to me. The landscape here speaks of home, and yet now I have seen similar elements all over the state:

· Pink and white flowered bushes line the interstate highways

· Palms blow in the wind overheard

· Fruit trees (fig, avocado, citrus, meyer lemon and tangerine)

· Farm buildings and old rusty windmills

· Crusty dry earth

· Rolling golden hills

When I was driving back from San Diego I caught a re-run of this amazing program on This American Life about Road Trips. Now I can’t stop thinking about what I expected from this trip. The show argues that road-trips are expectantly too self-reflective, but I think I was kind of looking forward to indulging that. Over the past month, I have been thinking that I am “endlessly traveling home” and therefore never traveling at all. But there are a lot of places here I’ve never been, never really had the need to visit. Some of the cities on my list are no longer research priorities, but I’d like to visit Lodi and Eureka anyway! I want to see the state inside and out. I want to drive north until it no longer looks like home and then keep going until it is familiar again. For me, this trip is about finally being able to say “I’m from the West Coast” with conviction.

My training in urban studies has been opening my mind to theoretical arguments about how the west coast came to be how it is. Networks of immigrants have influenced the landscape through converging norms of settlement, while processes of development animate how a community changes over time through individual choices and collective active. And yet I need to see it for myself. That’s what this project is, it will be a series of photographs saying- this is what was here. And rarely, this is what is still here. And I think that this sense of context matters, whereby the past and the present are united in the same place.

My field research is documenting a building type, but I think the majority of these hall arose mostly out of convenience. During the 1920’s mutual aid and fraternal societies were at their peak and for the most part these social clubs consisted of an office downstairs and a social hall upstairs. External decoration distinguished these clubs from neighboring businesses. Some of these buildings have survived only to have the hall boarded up and a business open downstairs. Occasionally these halls have continued to serve as a gathering place, particularly in Los Angeles where there were quite a few community churches springing up in old fraternal halls. Of the organizations which have continuously served an ethnic community over a long period of time, it seems that their needs have grown and that spaces have developed which serve subtle but specific cultural traditions.

The interplay between groups really interests me. I am curious how members of these social organizations interacted within the same neighborhood. How and why would a community decided that they needed a hall of their own? Judging by the records, for a time fraternal orders fostered an incredible melting pot experience. I can’t wait to delve into the specifics of a single hall, because leadership and finance must have been incredibly important. But what happened for these immigrants in other countries? And what social movements were occurring backing in the home country too? I can hardly begin to understand these stories, these places yet.

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