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Explore California History

“There’s only the American Dream and the California dream.”
—Gov. Gavin Newsom

What is it that makes California so extraordinary? And what exactly is the California Dream?

These questions have been asked countless times since California became a state 170 years ago on September 9, 1850. There are almost as many different answers as the number of times the questions have been asked.

But while it might be impossible to agree on a single definition for a place as complex and unique as California, there are numerous examples of California’s singular character going back long before the Gold Rush.

Image adapted from the cover of “I Love You, California” sheet music (1913) by Pacific Music Press

California’s character has been forged by adversity and nurtured by abundance. Tolerance and inclusivity have been woven into this state’s social fabric by slow and sometimes painful mending of past injustices.

California’s diversity is its greatest strength. This state is home to the most diverse group of people brought together as equals in the history of human civilization. Close to 300 languages and dialects are spoken here. Forty percent of California’s 40 million residents speak a language other than English at home. One in four Californians was born in another country – about the same percentage as during the Gold Rush.

Californians are indomitable. Californians don’t ask if something is possible, they go out and get it done.  

Californians are famously optimistic and consistently creative. Where else would you find a company that employs “Imagineers”?

More often than not, if it’s a tectonic cultural shift, it happens first in California then spreads, inspiring change around the world.

But that’s just a handful of California characteristics.

CAL@170 is a collection of 170 stories celebrating California’s 170 years of statehood. The aim is to offer examples of California’s unique character and that of its residents, past and present. That means among the good there will be some bad. For every success story, there’s a failure, a tragedy, an injustice. It’s from these mistakes that we learn and grow stronger together.

Share a story with us that helps define what California means to you.

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