Soapbox

Celebrating the anniversary of our statehood

Burlingame hosts the Museum of Pez Memorabilia.
Burlingame hosts the Museum of Pez Memorabilia.

California is exceptional. By any objective standard: We rock!

One of the best books about the Golden State is actually titled “California – The Great Exception.” Written by Carey McWilliams in 1949 for the 100th anniversary of California’s statehood, the book’s cataloging of California’s uniqueness is as on point today as we mark the 165th anniversary of California becoming the 31st state in the union.

The date of admission was Sept. 9, 1850, although Californians didn’t know of the vote in Congress until 40 days later, on Oct. 18, when the SS Oregon steamed into San Francisco Bay with a banner in its rigging declaring “California is Admitted” or “California is a State,” depending on the account.

To celebrate our 165th anniversary of statehood – and California’s exceptionalness – the State Library (with a lot of help from our friends) has been compiling lists of extraordinary facts about California.

Californians already have a pretty solid handle on how awesome this state is – the 840-mile coastline, unparalleled natural beauty, world-class cities – so all the State Library had to do is shine a bit of light on some of the aspects of California’s awesomeness that aren’t so well known.

WD-40 was invented in a San Diego garage. Burlingame hosts the Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Psychedelic poster artist Rick Griffin was born in Palos Verdes.

The lists can be found at CalRocks165.

In creating the lists, research reveals how amazingly varied the accomplishments of Californians have been over the past 161/2 decades and how variety defines our character as a state.

Yes, there’s urban/rural, coastal/inland and northern/southern but, fundamentally, it’s the diversity of Californians that makes us so exceptional.

California is the first place in the history of civilization in which such a diverse group of people has been brought together as equals. The University of California says there are 300 languages and dialects spoken here.

Visit the Wilshire branch library in Los Angeles where the biggest group of patrons is members of the largest community of Mongolians outside of Mongolia. The next-biggest groups of patrons are Oaxacans and Bengalis. The branch manager’s family hails from El Salvador.

California didn’t always celebrate its remarkable diversity. Just over a century ago, the state’s famed progressive governor, Hiram Johnson, signed the Alien Land Law aimed at preventing immigrants – primarily Japanese – from owning agricultural land.

But with age comes wisdom. In this century, Californians share a strong awareness of just how unique our diversity is as well as a growing recognition that it’s actually our ace in the hole.

California’s diversity is a big part of the spark that ignites our innovation and fuels our dreams. We can bring multiple perspectives to bear on complex problems and, consequently, we repeatedly overcome challenges that would confound other states.

And that sure makes this anniversary of our statehood worth celebrating.

Maybe with a Popsicle.

Ice pops were invented in San Francisco in 1905 when 11-year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left a mixture of soda powder, water and a stirring stick outside on a cold night.

Greg Lucas is the California state librarian.

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