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1 8 6 W A L 3 4 ( 2 ) SUMMER 1 9 9 9 actually more Mexican than when I left it. Spanish radio programs, tiendas, restaurants, colorful posters advertising a Mexican rodeo— a charreada— suggest a reconquest in full swing, reminding us of all the territory in 9 western states that was once literally Mexico. Valley Indians are also more present than before, in the form of the welladvertised Table Mountain Casino. As in the rest of the West, the old extractive industries of logging, mining, and ranching have given way to the 2nd homes, vacation resorts, retirement communities, and tourist haunts of the new recreational West. In Madera I pay a Hindu for gas and buy a Fresno Bee, where I read that nearly 2 out of 5 people in the Valley are now foreign born. Not bad, I think. Almost like the Old West once again, when the states with the largest percentage of foreign-born population were all west of the Mississippi. California is changing, that’s for sure. No doubt future novels will dramatize transformations and paradoxes we haven’t previously seen in literature. But as California changes, it will continue to be what it was— more, not less, western than the rest of the West. Novelist and Professor of English at Vassar College, Frank Bergon grew up on a ranch in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He is the editor of the Penguin Nature Classics edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark and the author of the novels Shoshone Mike, The Temptations of St. Ed and Brother S, and Wild Game. Part of each novel is set in California. In t e r p r e t in g C a l if o r n ia a n d “t h e W e s t ” J o h n m . G o n z á l e z I grew up in the twin border towns of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and so 1experienced the West before I could name it. Only later— at Princeton and Stanford— did I encounter “the West” as an academic discourse with its well-known vocabulary: “the westward course of empire,” “the frontier,” “the middle ground,” “the bor­ derlands.” My experience filtered through an academic discipline, I learned of “the West” as an interpretive institution through the words of 19th-century empire-building historians (Bancroft, Parkman, Turner), and those of late 20th-century revisionist historians (Limerick, Slotkin, White). Arriving at the University of Michigan, I felt “the West” as a dis­ C a l i f o r n i a D r e a m i n g 1 8 7 course and experience to be quite distant from my current situation in the Midwest. But here I gained a new perspective on the notion of “the West.” After all, early in the history of the United States what is known today as the Midwest was at one point the Northwest Territory, “the West” of 1787. This fact recalls not only the historic' ity of geopolitical designations but also the powerful role such desig­ nations played in the history of the European settlers’ colonialism on the North American continent. As instantiated in the United States, “the West” epitomized American exceptionalism as a result of the national teleology of Manifest Destiny and its turn-of-the-century variant, the Turnerian frontier thesis. “The West” was where true American exceptionalism could flourish, and California, “west of the West” in Roosevelt’s words, would be the exceptional state in an exceptional region of an exceptional nation. “California,” more often a synecdoche for “the West” than its antithesis, served as a dis­ cursive site within the Euro-American imagination wherein the script of colonial ordering was, and continues to be, written. Yet as paradigms of region stress unique traits, communities, and geography, I failed at first to see that similar dynamics of globaliza­ tion and worker diaspora that had informed life in California and Texas were operating in southeastern Michigan. I came to this real­ ization while reading in a local newspaper what is a common occur­ rence in “the West”: the deportation of undocumented Mexican workers. The article...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 186-191
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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