Los Angeles area. Twice I’ve moved away.Despite this, I find myself returning from time to time to see what has changed.In some ways, little has. Los Angeles is an enigma, the literal expression of a Tinseltown ideal. But there are some signs of change, interesting ones. I think of the gentrification of post-World War II housing in the cities surrounding Long Beach, units that were sold to bachelor soldiers and new families working at the Douglas Aircraft plant in the late 1940s and 1950s as Southern California experienced its post-war boom. I think of an increase in community events such as farmers’ markets and street fairs. Slowly, I recognize signs of renewal, of things that were always so new that they seemed like facades on a movie set.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Southern California is the rich diversity here. Of all the places I’ve lived in the US, I’ve most noticed that creeping change brought about by immigration here. When I first lived here nearly twenty years ago, there were certainly many different cultures present, but it has been wonderful to see how those cultures have blossomed, become increasingly visible and become such a part of the Southland fabric. Not living here anymore, it is hard to say how integrated those different cultures have become.But their visibility is a first measure of health.
Despite that, I don’t know if I would enjoy living here again. The weather is nearly ideal, yes, but it is still too suburban and sprawled an area for my tastes. Despite the buses and bicyclists, signs that there are at least some alternatives to individual car ownership, it is an example of that American dream that existed hand-in-hand with the post-war era: a dream that promised prosperity, growth and limitless consumption. A dream that gave everyone a sunny optimism and friendly, if plastic, demeanor while isolating everyone in their steel and glass bubble, ensuring no real connection.
This critique isn’t just about Los Angeles, of course.It is symptomatic of American culture in general, a good example of what I don’t appreciate much about life here and what I don’t miss about it.
It is easy to get caught up in the list of the things I don’t like, easy to identify the reasons that I don’t live here anymore. It is worth the effort, though, to categorize the things that are positive about the Southern California culture. There is an admirable optimism here that contrasts markedly with the nearly fatalistic outlook of the society where I currently live, one that believes fate, chance and inescapable karma have pretty much written your destiny. There is a continual push here, even amidst the congestion and traffic, to improve the quality of living and the breathability of the air.These are no small things.
Maybe these are just the musings of an expat, required every time I cross the border from current home to previous. Required because I have to understand why I no longer live where I once did. Required because – a common theme of long-term expats – I cannot help but to feel a bit of alienation in my homeland, a sense of being set apart from the rest of the society in which I was raised.
Time, then, to set those musings aside, turn on the radio of my rental car, and make my way to the local In-n-Out Burger for a double double, animal-style, with grilled onions.