That’s where my father had said we were going when he decided to move us to California. To paradise, with palm trees and blue oceans and grapefruits the size of your head and sunshine and bungalows and big back yards and…paradise.
It was to be a new life without “dirty dagos” or “wops” or futures that were already taken up by everybody else. No more dark, narrow streets with only small slits of sky and cars parked on the sidewalks and fathers who were plumbers or bricklayers or tailors.
No more women leaning out the windows talking to each other in Italian. No more sweeping the stoop every morning with buckets of water and a broom and no more horse-drawn vegetable wagons (or horse-drawn ice wagons or coal wagons, or even horse-drawn merry-go-rounds).
No more horse-drawn anything.
It was California here we come, and sun-kissed maids saying don’t be late, and the Don Martin School of Radio Arts and my mother’s sewing label that didn’t just read Claire, but read “Claire of California.”
“You know the first thing I’m gonna do when we get to California, Clara?” my father said to my mother.
We were in the car heading west on the proverbial Route 66 when it was still a route and before a song had been written about it. I was riding in the back seat with my sister. The windows were down blowing air like a heater into the car. It was so hot out my mother said we could take our tops off because nobody could see.
Just the other side of the windows a prickly world raced by with dangerous looking mountains coming too close to the car.
I straightened up, my ears ready like a dog’s, and leaned over the back of the front seat so I could hear my father. My mother turned her face towards him. He was smiling, dreaming, happy, looking out over the steering wheel at the world. She said something to him in Italian.
“English, Clara. English. We’re Californians now,” he reminded her.
“I don’t know what you’re gonna do the first thing when you get to California, Salvi,” she said. “What is it?”
“What is it, Daddy?” I watched him in the rear view mirror. He looked at my mother. My sister moved up so she could hear, too. We all waited.
“I’m gonna buy an electric can opener,” said my father, the man who was always eager for a change, for something new, and who equated American gadgetry and ingenuity with nothing less than patriotism and a great future.
The man with a dream.
I sat back down on the floor behind the front seat and felt the hot, bumpy road rolling along under me. I pulled a sheet over the top of my spot on the floor, making a shaded, private child’s world while in the front seat my father started singing, “California here we come!”
My father would be proud of California today. Proud of the state he adopted with the fervor of a man who was seeking a new life in a new land. He always said, “As California goes, so goes the country.”
Today, as I see all together in one list the progressive, visionary, inclusive new legislation that California has passed, I celebrate that great state and celebrate how governments can and do make dreams come true.
- Abortion: California has become the first state in the nation to regulate so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that prey on women considering an abortion, often giving misleading or false information.
- Right to Die: “In the end,” the California Governor wrote, “I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.
- Equal Pay: Starting in January, as per the California Fair Pay Act, women who learn that their male counterparts are earning unjustifiably more than they are for work of similar value can sue their bosses.
- Environment: California has pledged to produce half its electricity through renewable energy sources within the next 15 years.
- Farming: The routine use of antibiotics to promote growth in animals has been banned outright.
- Immigration: Undocumented children in California will now be eligible for subsidized Medi-Cal health insurance.
- Voting Rights: Californians who register cars or take driving tests at their local DMV offices will automatically be registered to vote unless they opt out.
- Gun Control: Laws have been passed prohibiting the concealed carrying of weapons on or near college campuses.
- Ban on “Redskins”: On Oct. 11, California became the first, and only, state in the nation to ban the use of the derogatory name “redskins” by sports teams.
- Medical Marijuana: With new regulations in place, the way could be paved for full marijuana legalization in California, with voters being likely to see a ballot initiative to that effect next year.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Travis May
Image: TV screen shot