Multiculturalism in California, Essay Example

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Essay

The diverse nature of California combined with the Hollywood culture makes it a perfect melting pot for those aspiring to capture the American dream. While it is both a major destination for immigration and an atmosphere for corruption and seedy dealings, the history of the area is saturated in aesthetics, nostalgia and metaphor. California in reality is a far cry from California in the mind, but both have their majestic power to excite the imagination and the ambitions of anyone associated with either. There is prevailing feeling of darkness and light, good and bad, or fake and real. It can been seen in the contrast between Hollywood and the criminal circuits, or the wealthy and the inner city, or through the racial interactions who actually contribute to the entire process like variable shades of grey. I find it very ironic that the same hippie-beatnik-free love idealism of the student character in Chester Hime’s “Lunching at the Ritzmore” is representative of the same city Anna Deavere Smith paints a harsh but authentic portrait of in her work “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.” Both stories seem so far from each other, yet they take place in the same city and they are both based on the plight of African Americans in California community. The fact is this wide range of perspectives is the case when it comes to California. If anything these works show that as far back as you can trace the areas has represented every single walk of life in a forward thinking fashion, even when behaving backwards. All of these books share the theme of encountering the American Dream in California as it relates to a multicultural perspective, whether that culture be immigrant culture, homosexual culture, black, Jewish etc… It is fare to say all members of the human species are represented. This is the core difference between these California novels and the Great Gatsby, or the works of Horatio Alger.

PART I: ANTHOLOGY

Anna Deavere Smith: Twilight: Los Angeles 1992

“1991: March 15-26
On the night of March 15, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African-American girl, is shot to death by Korean-American Soon Ja Du in a South LA liquor outlet. On March 26, on the same day that the four officers charged in the King beating enter an innocent plea, Soon Ja Du is arraigned for murder (Smith, p5).”

The gritty nature of Anne Deavere Smith’s work stops anyone who might be paying attention, in their tracks. There is an urgency in her book that almost feels as violent as the era she is documenting, and at the same time there is a simplicity in her consistent fact format. She is obviously bias in favor of Rodney King and definitely in oppositions of the LAPD, but at least at first glance her novel comes across as a neutral objective snapshot of California life, before one realizes every-other story is about a race riot. At the core of there is not a plot or storyline, but there is something to be said for the fact that Smith based he entire book on an issue that literally started a riot. The book has a very prevailing use of anger and hatred, the core components of racial prejudice and also a concept that is iconic of 90’s California.

Walter Mosley, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned

Socrates achieves his job success because he patiently persists to be true to himself, to achieve what is right despite rules as absurd as those on the Bounty application. “If I don’t work I cain’t afford no phone,” he says. “If I don’t have no phone then I cain’t work. You might as well just put me in the ground (Mosley, p63).”

I chose this quote because I feel it fully depicts the hypocritical nature of society, not just California society, but American culture in general. Socrates Fortlow is limited by fine lines that exist everywhere in society, but that are hard to see. This quote represents attempting to achieve the American Dream in California and facing the realities of that pursuit, on a basic core level, but one that can be translated into virtually any situation. Socrates has the type of moral character that is very difficult to find in most novel characters outside of the Western Genre. The reader can’t help but feel he deserves a better shot at life than the one he is getting. Other than the fact that you actually are waiting for something good to happen to him the story is completely depressing and provides the reader with no real incentive to keep going except for all of the nods to Richard Wright it takes. The one comparison I do like about this book is the nod to Western genre, because California is as west as you can get in the U.S., not including Hawaii and Socrates Fortlow is definitely a Cowboy.

Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run?

“The world was a race to Sammy. He was running against time. Sometimes I used to sit at the bar…and say, ‘Al, I don’t give a goddam if you never move your ass off this seat again. If you never write another line. I default. Al Manheim does not choose to run.’ And then it would start running through my head: What makes Sammy run? (Schulberg, p352)”

What makes Sammy Run is time. He is running against his own inevitable demise. But there are also some “Catch Me if You Can” aspects of this book, like he might be running trying not to get caught in his lies. He destroys everything in his path and his only true friend is Al Manheim, who can’t really relate to him. This book is more than just a chronicle of the life of a writer in Hollywood, but it is a core representation of the pursuit of the American Dream because everything Sammy achieves he does based on lies deception and opportunism.

Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust

“Only those who still have hope can benefit from tears (p103).”

― Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust

This is a powerful quote because it dives into what Tod is feeling through the book. He is constantly dealing with all sorts of glorification of fake and empty ideals. All of the images of Hollywood are shown in their true light. This quote represents Tod giving up on the fantasy, but also how he loses hope in the American Dream. Hollywood makes him lose faith in the American Dream and achieving any resemblance of substance in his life. The book does a great job of showing what Hollywood was like in the 1930’s, which at that time was just a glimpse of what it would become, and yet just as flimsy, one dimensional and stale.

Yxta Maya Murray, Locas

“He’s right. I’m standing there like a slack-jawed fool, but I can’t cough out a word. My hands grab into fists because it’s still catching up on me that this is my Manny. He’s skin and bones. He’s got newspapers stuffed in his shows. And he’s a mumble talker too, like an old drunk who’s been singing himself to sleep for too long.” (Murray, p233)

The relation this book has to the concept of multiculturalism and the American Dream in California can be seen in all aspects of the gang culture in which the main character Cecilia gets herself involved. There is one point where she says, “People around here say it’s God who chooses the ones that get crossed out. But I know better. There ain’t no good reason one way or the other. The only thing to do is keep that brain of yours sharp.” This represents all those factors that are synonymous with gang life, teenage angst in an urban setting, and the rigors of capitalism.  The key theme here is multiculturalism and on that note Cecilia represents a minority and a woman, and at one point in the story perhaps a lesbian or bisexual woman. Her experimentation with another woman can also be identified as relating to the free spirited mindset often stereotyped as a California cultural, ‘californication’, norm. The reality is her experimentation is a reflection of her search for love and here disappointment with the men in her life and conflicts with male oppression, especially since she is surviving in a misogynist make driven industry. The quote mentioned here represents the point where Cecilia lost faith in her brother and the relationship they have. The violent gang themes combined with the feministic journey Cecilia has makes this book another perfect example of multiculturalism and its pursuit of the American Dream in California, because like many of the characters Cecilia has to overcome unique limitations based on her specific objectified position.

Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man,

“But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until – later or sooner – perhaps – no, not perhaps – quite certainly: it will come”…“What’s so phony nowadays is all this familiarity. Pretending there isn’t any difference between people —well, like you were saying about minorities, this morning. If you and I are no different, what do we have to give each other? How can we ever be friends? (Isherwood, p158).”

― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

This quote, much like the theme of the book, is blatant attack on political correctness.  The fact that it’s set in southern California during the 1960’s, the fact that the main character is English, and the fact that he is a professor at a University all play into the notion that California is a unique and divers place open to all sort of monumental change. I the grand scheme, when comparing this book to the others as it relates to multicultural progressiveness in California, “A Single Man” meets the quota in that George is both Gay, but also he is depressed. George is also enex-pat from England, which falls into the immigrant category despite the fact that he makes a decent living.

Upton Sinclair, The Ride, chapter I.

“Dad had explained it — money had done it. Men of money had said the word, and surveyors and engineers had come, and diggers by the thousand, swarming Mexicans and Indians, bronze of skin, armed with picks and shovels; and great steam shovels with long hanging lobster-claws of steel; derricks with wide swinging arms, scrapers and grading machines, steel drills and blasting men with dynamite, rock-crushers, and concrete mixers that ate sacks of cement by the thousand, and drank water from a flour-stained hose, and had round steel bellies that turned all day with a grinding  noise. All these had come, and for a year or two they had toiled, and yard by yard they had unrolled the magic ribbon (Sinclair, p5).”

The book was written in the context of the Harding administration’s Teapot Dome Scandal. It’s a social political satire. It’s funny in many ways. James Arnold Ross Jr., nicknamed Bunny, son of an oil tycoon. His story relates to the American Dream in the most obvious of context. He is rich. This work gives the reader unique perspective into the lives of the truly California wealthy. This quote is significant because demonstrates the defining line between the wealthy in California and the poor minorities they exploit, specifically Mexicans and Indians

Luis J. Rodriguez “My Ride, My Revolution”

“I’m awake, sitting at the edge of my bed with my hands on my head, startled by the wedges of daylight through torn curtains, by the voices and inflections, their wild abandon, and by the men’s search for living poignancy from the polished enormity in their midst” (Rodriguez, p9).

This book is one of the most socially conscious of all the books we have read as it relates to California life and the cultures of the poor and hard working Chicano in East LA. The protagonist is awaking, he is partly awake and partly asleep, but consciously aware of all of the socially conflict embedded in what is happening outside his window. He is working for $15 taking care of his family and barely making a decent living. The irony of his situation, is that he is a limo driver. The moment when he wakes up in the morning is symbolic because every morning when he wakes up he goes to his driveway and sees his limo muddied and dirty from passersby in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is poor, and this short period of each day is important because it ties into the fact that the character believes he is doing the neighborhood a service by parking his limo there, as it’s a sign of wealth. The entire situation at its core addresses the American Dream from a perspective of, “what if you don’t want it?, or too trapped to know it when you see it.” The main character Cruz Blancarte is trying to impose his wants and desires on his neighborhood, an the author does an amazing job of poetically expressing the complexity of this concept.

Chester Himes, Lunching at the Ritzmore.

“But you would notice the Ritzmore, swankiest of West Coast hotels, standing in solid distinction along the Olive Street side, particularly if you were hungry in Pershing Square. You would watch footmen opening doors of limousines and doormen escorting patrons underneath the marquee across the width of sidewalk to the brass and mahogany doorway, and you would see hands of other doormen extended from within to hold wide the glass doors so that the patrons could make an unhampered entrance (Himes, p16).”

This book has the perfect contrast between the naïveté of the student and the African American perspective at the time of cultural norms. The ending is actually a pleasant surprise, and while it does not completely suggest that racism was entirely in the mind’s of African Americans in the 1940’s, it does suggest that California was a different progressive place compared to the rest of the U.S. even during that period. The theme of the American Dream, as it relates to multiculturalism is still prevalent here as well, as the Negros aspires to great heights to reach the untouchable, and the Ritzmore is painted as the symbol of that height. In this particular the story, the Ritzmore is the American Dream in Hollywood.

Karen Yamashita, “The Orange”

“But from the very beginning Rafaela somehow felt this particular orange was special. Perhaps it was her desire to see a thing out of season struggle despite everything and become whole. As time went on, she found herself watching the orange, wandering out to the tree every day even in the rain, feeling great contentment in the transition of its small growing globe, first green and then to its slow golden burnish.” (12)…. “I figure everyewhere in the world the consequences of the balancing orange reverberated down that imaginary line like sound down the string of a bass fiddle. But these things were momentary and ever so slight; no one paid much attention (Yamashita, p12).”

The orange here has a dual meaning, one end it’s a reflection of the Japanese spiritual culture Yamashita has connecting objects and nature to life. One of the main themes of Tropic of Orange is the connection of objects and people and their universal connection to everything else. The orange is reflective of that concept and displays that aspect of Yamashita’s beliefs. On the other end the Orange represents California. The people are not just living in the setting, but the setting is living as well. California is a living breathing character of the story and represented by the observations of this orange. On the surface this book seems to be more of the multicultural attempt at the American Dream, being about an “homeless, gangsters, infant organ entrepreneur,” with the spin being in this particular book as it relates to the rest of the novels, the immigrant quota is being met. On a deeper level there is a solid appreciation of Japanese culture and the spirituality that comes along with it.

Conclusion

In sum after further assessing the nature of each work as it relates to the theme  Multiculturalism and its pursuit of the American Dream in California , I have come to the conclusion that Hollywood is a much more glamorous place in the mind than it is in reality. I also see how falling in love the illusions can lead to some dangerous consequences. Each protagonist represents their own cultural perspective, all of which are objectified in some way by society. This objectifications leads them to have limitations in their pursuit of the American Dream, but each one has a specific set of limitations unique to their culture. California also plays a role in this as it is a unique city with its own set of ideals some real and some imagined, that it imposes on the characters either in the form of others they encounter or just in the way they perceive the world verses in contrast to how the state presents it.

PART II: REVIEW EVALUATION

Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992

Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Grade: B+

The book is basically a chronicle on L.A. violence. It forces the reader to get a god’s eye view of the entire problem. I felt like I had a clearer, and more intimate understanding of the LA riots and the violent gang culture of the time. But also the entire time I read it, I couldn’t help but think, this was all the result of the crack epidemic and that the book was more like an anthropological time capsule or artifact of a distant era.

Walter Mosley, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned A-

The book has all the making of a western novel without the delusions of grandeur. Even the title tells the reader they are reading a modern Western. I love the fact that Socrates Fortlow has a moral compass, when at times it feels like he is the last of a dying breed in a world that has run amuck. The thing I took away from the book that is more difficult to take from the film is the importance, or poetic intensity of very thing. This book reminds me of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” or even “Invisible Man.” It has that same feel of, “the main character is doomed, but still everything that happens is poetic and of meaning so pay attention. I don’t think the same can be said about the movie.

Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust Grade: A-

Hollywood is always an interesting topic, so is the conversation arises about morality and character. All the issue this book brings up are ones most people can relate to, because it’s more about the contrast between the haves and the have-nots and also the plight of those trying to get it.

Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run A-

This book had many magical elements to it. For thing it’s a piece of writing about a writer. Like films about film, which ironically it also is, writing about writers as a certain element that make the book reach into the reader’s world. I like that. I also like how it’s very similar to “The Great Gatsby” which in addition to being a book about the pursuit of the American Dream under false credentials, which is what the protagonist does, “The Gratsby is also a cherished piece of classic American literature. For this book to even remind me of that through its themes morality, capitalism, and the pursuit and glorification of an infamous American industry, it means it’s somewhere near an A rating.

Yxta Maya Murray, Locas B-

Cecilia loves her brother and looks up to him in admiration because it is a part of her culture. As you read on you realize how powerful the influence of her culture is on her because it takes her so long to realize Manny is no good.  The emphasis on the value of family, as well as the moral challenges she faces, made me appreciate this book more for its realistic representation of a certain cultural lifestyle in California than for its use of plot. Family seemed to be a strong theme, but there were also some feministic elements that made Cecilia journey more interesting and significant to the scope of California in general. I gave it a B, no minus no plus because I feel the plot wasn’t fully realized and soe of the character traits of Cecilia weren’t believable. Despite her love of family, in my opinion, it took here way too long to realize what Manny was really about.

Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man A+

George did not belong in L.A. That said, he was an extremely intelligent and introspective character. I openly admit I did not think I would be able to identify with a character like George. In addition not being U.S. based, he is also a gay man and a college professor. Ultimately, I found myself identifying with many of his views on life and death. This story is about depression more than anything else and specifically how one deals with it in an area where they are displaced. For that reason, since I understand how it could be beneficial to many others, I think it’s an A+ piece of literature.

PART III: REVIEW EVALUATION OF THE FILMS.

“TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES 1992” 3 ½ stars

In my opinion it’s very difficult to adapt theater to film, but this film takes a decent enough stab it. In some ways the audience is given a window into what it must be like to see the actual play live, and at the film benefits from film techniques like juxtaposing images, and short cuts. This can especially be seen with how the entire film was like a montage of the interviews

“ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED”

I had actually seen this film once before this course and didn’t realize what it was until we read the book in class. I am a big a fan of Lawrence Fishburn in general so seeing this flick only further enforced my belief that he is one of the greatest actors to come around in the past twenty years at least. In my opinion, the book was better. The book was able to romanticize some of the harsh realities of poor living in Los Angeles that the film just put on display.

“CHINATOWN”

“Chinatown” :  3 Stars

I am a big fan of Jack Nicholson. I also like the fact that there were some film noir elements to the piece. I don’t relate to the time period or the topic, and for me the plot was actually a bit hard to follow, but other than that, I cannot disregard the quality of the visuals and artistic film techniques that were used. I believe overall though, that the film is dated.

“SULLIVAN´S TRAVELS”

“Sullivan’s Travels” : 3.5 Stars

It’s humorous; but if you are not a screen writer, film director, celebrity, or even working actor, you might find it a bit pretentious. Just like China Town, this film is before my time.

“PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO”

“Purple Rose of Cairo” : 2 Stars

In my opinion this film had very little to do with Los  Angeles , or California culture and more to do with the romantic relationship between the main characters. I am naturally bias towards documentaries, or action flicks, or at least a film with a message. This was none of the above. It was plain and simply a romantic comedy, yuck.

“QUINCEANERA”

“Quinceanera” : 4 Stars

Very similar to The Republic of East LA in that film attempts to embrace and represent authentic Spanish lifestyle in Los Angeles.  The viewer can’t help but identify with the characters, while at the same time, if you are an outsider to California-Spanish culture, even if you are Spanish, you can get an education from this film. I give it a 4 stars, because the plight of the Spanish American is one that is mentioned often in the news, and recognized as a prominent influence on California culture, but rarely represented in film. This is ironic considering that California is the hoe of where most films are made. This film represents a much needed, and often neglected, perspective.

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