Will Economy Push Californians Back To Midwest?

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"California is the Garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see; but you won't find it so hot if you ain't got the do-re-mi."

So sang the bard of the Great Depression, Woody Guthrie, as millions of dispossessed farmers and the unemployed of the Midwest took to the road and headed for California's promise.

I remember being a child in Communist Romania and reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and thinking, "How could Americans be so poor if they all have cars?" But poor they were and West they went, by the millions, away from the Dust Bowl and from the middle of the country, in search of work, a gentler climate, and fruit just falling from trees ready to eat.

Many were disappointed and found none of their fantasies there, but they stayed and insisted, and one generation later they began reinventing themselves and the Golden State became golden again. It took more than one generation. In the 1970s, Los Angeles still felt like a hick Midwestern city despite the glitz of Hollywood. It wasn't until the late 1980s and in the 1990s that it became the cosmopolitan city it is today, and it owes much of that sophistication to other waves of immigrants, from Mexico, Central and South America, who added new layers to the culture of that big immigrant wave of the Great Depression.

Now, when I heard that the Golden State is selling off the furniture signed by its movie-star governor to raise money, I'm sure that a reverse migration is on the way. The grandchildren of Depression-era immigrants will be coming back to the Midwest to reinhabit the places their grandparents abandoned. The Midwest, including the beautiful Ozarks where I live, is still a bargain for land, but it isn't just the land: The people here know how to be poor, to work hard and to enjoy each other -– values that the hustle of California could never replace, for all its fading glamour.

Already, movies are made elsewhere. Personally, I have mixed feelings. Californians already invaded other Western states, and people there had bumper stickers that said, "Don't Californicate Oregon" — or Colorado — but those Californicators were wealthier, I think, than the ones who'll be soon pouring out.

Immediate side-effects for us should be: faster Internet, organic farming, cooler styles, bad traffic and higher prices at Dollywood.



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