What It Means to Be American
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Identities

The ‘Ambassador of Aloha’ Who Showcased Hawai‘i’s Splendors to the World

Duke Kahanamoku Broke Records, Integrated Swimming Pools and Beaches, and Personified the Islands' Gracious Spirit

By David Davis
June 18, 2018

On the morning of June 14, 1925, Duke Kahanamoku was camping out on the beach in the seaside village of Corona del Mar, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, getting ready to do some surfing with friends, when he noticed a fishing boat named The Thelma heading out to sea.

Kahanamoku was at a crossroads in his life. He was about to turn 35 years old and his days of winning Olympic gold medals for swimming were over. …

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Ideas

Why California’s Godless Governor Was Ahead of His Time

A Friend of FDR but Not of Big Business, Culbert Olson Believed Humans Had to Save Themselves

By Debra Deane Olson
May 29, 2018

Culbert Olson is one the most important men you probably never have heard of. He was the only Democrat to serve as governor of California between 1896 and 1958, and he lasted just one term—elected in 1938, and ousted in 1942. He was that rarest of birds among American politicians elected to high office, an atheist and free thinker.

He may be best known for refusing to say the words “so help me God,” substituting it with “I will affirm” …

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Ideas

The Golden State’s Unpopular Pro-Slavery Governor

The First American Executive of California Was a Pioneering Man of the West—and the South

By R. Gregory Nokes
April 19, 2018

Peter Hardeman Burnett had probably the most impressive list of achievements of any leader in the early American West. He served on the supreme court of the Oregon Territory and became the first governor of California.

So why has he been forgotten?

Because sometimes history gets things right. Burnett’s stellar resume could not offset his blatant racism and inept leadership, which have denied him a prominent place in the region’s history.

Burnett is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, for his …

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Identities

How UCLA Helped Break the Color Barrier in College Athletics

Jackie Robinson and Tom Bradley Were Among Sports Stars Who Proved That Integration Made Schools More Competitive

By James W. Johnson
April 12, 2018

The arrival of five athletes, all African American, on the UCLA campus in the late 1930s would prove to be a moment of destiny, not just for college sports but for the United States itself.

These five men could have been called the original Fabulous Five. And that designation was no exaggeration, because they went on to change the cultures of professional athletics, entertainment, the civil rights movement, and politics.

The athletes who played together in the 1939 school year were: …

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Places

When L.A.’s Recording Studios Ruled the Music Scene

The City's Irreplaceable "Temples of Sound" Were Customized With Hot Tubs, Personal Chefs, and Waterbeds

By Kent Hartman
March 1, 2018

It was 1962, and the rock and roll record business was on the rise after the multiyear slump that had followed the debuts of artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. The industry’s savior, in large part, was a manic, diminutive, wig-wearing, Hollywood-based record producer (and future convicted murderer) named Phil Spector.

The mastermind behind such throbbing, multi-instrumental hits as “He’s a Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Be My Baby,” Spector was a gesticulating wunderkind on the other …

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Identities

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Cinco de Mayo

In One California Town, a Holiday Co-Opted by Beer Companies Has Roots in a Celebrated Citrus Crop

Cinco de Mayo, holiday, parade

By José M. Alamillo
May 5, 2015

What’s with Cinco de Mayo, anyways?

Corporate advertisers treat it as the de facto Mexican Day, if not Latino Day, in this country. In 1998, the United States Post Office issued a Cinco de Mayo stamp featuring two folklórico dancers. In 2005, Congress passed a resolution making Cinco de Mayo an official national holiday to celebrate Mexican-American heritage. And it’s customary for presidents to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on the White House lawn with margaritas flowing, mariachi music playing, and dancers …

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Engagements

Undocumented, and Riding Shotgun

I Thought I Was an Average American Teen Until I Tried to Get a Driver’s License

Janine Joseph, Golden Gate Bridge, immigration, undocumented

By Janine Joseph
January 13, 2015

Up until my early 20s, I rode shotgun. With my high school and college sweetheart, I flipped through the soft sleeves of our shared CD binder in search of the right music. I double-checked our drive-through orders for extra ketchup; I pointed out the sights only I caught in time. With my friends, I was the one who tuned the radio through static and made sure everyone in the backseat had enough air.

I was born in the Philippines. My cousins, …

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Identities

The Hidden Life of Japanese-American Teenagers

Facing Exclusion and Internment in the World War II Era, Boys and Girls From Seattle to San Diego Created Social Clubs Where They Could Dance, Play, and Belong

By Valerie J. Matsumoto
November 18, 2014

Fumiko Fukuyama Ide always loved to dance. Being a member of the Tartanettes, a club for Nisei (U.S.-born children of Japanese immigrants) girls in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, kept her dance card full in the 1930s. Ide grew up during the Great Depression, sewing her own clothes, darning her socks to make them last longer, and helping out in her father’s Little Tokyo hardware store. She was active in school clubs and edited the Belmont High School newspaper, but much …

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