CALIFORNIA: It Is Still America's Promised Land --

A place of heartstopping beauty, spectacular energy and stunning diversity. But faced with drought, mindless growth and a sputtering economy, can it preserve the dream?

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Los Angeles, for example, is one of the most segregated cities in the world -- a horizontal automobile culture sectioned off into a patchwork of ethnic and racial enclaves, all almost self-sufficient, inward turning and immiscible. The middle- and upper-middle-class whites of West Los Angeles, of Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Westwood and Brentwood and Bel-Air, drift dreamily along in the illusion that the society still belongs to them. In important ways, it does, of course. But out across the city grids lie Koreatown and Chinatown; and Watts, for so long a black enclave, is changing into a barrio. Up north on the Berkeley campus, Sproul plaza has a line of desks arrayed for the recruitment of Armenian students, South Asian students, Japanese-American students, Vietnamese students, Thai students, multicultural gay and lesbian students, Korean-American students, Native American students. And so on.

O. Henry once observed that Californians are not merely inhabitants of a state; they are a race of people. But at this moment of blinding change, Californians are defined by their differences, and their uncertainties. The Japanese quarrel with the Koreans, the blacks and Anglos with each other, and with the Mexicans, and with all the other new immigrants flocking in from everywhere. How can all these quarrels be sorted out when the economy is faltering, wildfires rage, water is scarce and the very ground beneath your feet trembles and threatens to fall away? The whole world would be wise to pay close attention to the drama of incipient decline and resistance now unfolding in California, for the future that begins there tends to spread across the world.

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