I’ve lived in the Golden State for two years now and I have lost count of how many times I have heard “He (or she) is California!” At first, I didn’t understand that phrase. After hearing it said several times, I was finally brave enough to ask. To my surprise, those who used it didn’t necessarily have a definition themselves.
So, over the last two years every time I heard someone use this phrase, I would quickly ask, “What do you mean when you say they are ‘California?’” Not once did I ever receive a common answer, but I have learned a great deal about the culture of this state. Now when people come to visit, I give them my four words I’ve learned about life in California and how to “be California!”
Possibility – I am fascinated by the West. I can’t tell you how many documentaries, articles, and books I have consumed about the American westward expansion. Imagining a 19th Century couple with a dream and a whim joining a wagon train to venture to a wild land full of unknowns and possibilities astonishes me. Would I have had that kind of bravery? The gene pool of Californians is inundated with inventors, dreamers, and pioneers. It’s not just people who bought into the Manifest Destiny but also people who dared to cross a border under the cover of darkness to give their family a chance. The people who populate this state are the direct descendants of pioneers who made their dreams become reality. They still dream of the next possibility, and this makes California the world’s capital of creation.
Hustle – California is expensive! For all of us who move here, sticker shock is real. When I think of a “million-dollar home,” I don’t think of a run-down 1100-square-foot two-bedroom bungalow. But if you live in one of the metropolitan areas, that is what a $7,000-a-month mortgage payment will get you. If you are going to live here, you better be ready to work more than one job and ask the same of your spouse. If you want to go on vacation, you better have a side-hustle. This can be very wearying. It also leaves very little time for relationships. Making a life here is both busy and lonely.
Back Porch – Where I come from (South Carolina), people dream of a wrap-around front porch on their dreamhouse, complete with a rocking chair and some sweet, iced tea. California is a “back-porch” culture. But most homes here don’t have a front-porch. Instead, if you are invited into someone’s home, they will probably have an amazing back-porch, maybe with a pool, hot tub, firepit, and/or veranda. A back-porch culture is one where you aren’t afforded trust; you must first gain trust to have access to your neighbor’s world. But if you are invited in, you have a true friend who will stand by you through all of life’s challenges.
Confidence –When your state GDP is larger than most countries, when you make up 12 percent of America’s population, and you boast the largest collegiate system, you have earned the right to be confidant of your state. It’s not an in-your-face kind of confidence because Californians are self-effacing and not smug. This isn’t swaggering state pride; it’s more a pride in ideas than in a place. This confidence drives the soul of creativity that gifts the world with new technology and new art, and dares to challenge the status quo.
These four words have helped me understand my new home, but even together they all still fall short of encapsulating what it is to “be California.” Can I be so bold as an inquisitive outsider to take a stab at what this phrase really means? “Being California” is a mindset.
You can receive this title as a surfer dude from Santa Cruz, a valley girl from Reseda, a Chicano from Chula Vista, or a hip hop fashionista from Inglewood but what unifies all these groups is a common mindset. To “be California,” you must believe in your soul that there is only one place on the planet to call home. Are the taxes high? Yes. Do you loathe the traffic? Absolutely! But there is no other place in the world to live. If that is your mindset, then YOU ARE CALIFORNIA!