Taking the Time to Discuss Southern California's Tomorrow and Yesterday

The Road Not Taken
The Road Not Taken | Montage by the author

In a new, four-part series of "Conversations In Place" at Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach beginning in August, the lively talk around the table starts with questions:

  • Do Southern Californians cling to a nostalgic past?What will the future Southern California look like as seen through the prism of its past?
  • And how will Southern Californians shape the message of who they are becoming in the 21st century?
  • The question that most intrigues series co-moderator Claudia Jurmain is "How do we channel the past into the future we hope to have?"

The past might seem to have no place in the future that the rapid pace of change in Southern California is bringing, but the purpose (as I see it) of the Rancho's Conversations series, is a richer understanding of the forces that are shaping the region's economic and cultural life through an increasingly complicated interplay of "then" and "now."

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Claudia Jurmain, Director of Special Projects and Publications at the Rancho and founder of the series, and I will be exploring these aspects of Southern California -- Yesterday and Tomorrow with writers, futurists, entrepreneurs, and cultural observers that include (among others) Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize winning restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times; acclaimed novelist Lisa See who interprets historic events in China and California through the medium of her Chinese American family; Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor and author of "¡Ask a Mexican!" and "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America"; Julia Huang, founder/CEO of interTRENDs, a Long Beach-based firm working with Fortune 500 companies focusing on the Asian-American market; and Jared Farmer, author, historian and self-described "geohumanist."

What brings this diverse assembly to the Rancho is, I think, a shared understanding that places matter and that the history of our place in Southern California isn't altogether past. I cannot imagine a "sense of place" without a sense of the historical narratives that bind people and localities together in a community.

But history must always make room for what we wish to become.

The talk around the table begins August 10 with W. Richard West, Jr., President and CEO of The Autry National Center of the American West and Founding Director Emeritus at the Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution; celebrated architects Milford Wayne Donaldson, who is the Presidential Appointed Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and former California State Historic Preservation Officer, and Stephen Farneth, founding principle of Architectural Resources Group, which has preserved and rehabilitated some of the nation's most significant historic sites, including Rancho Los Alamitos; and Pamela Seager, Executive Director of Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation.

The remaining conversations in the 2014 series will question if the past has any shaping power over Southern California's economic and demographic future (September 14), take on the vexing question of "urban nature" and its relation to our homes, our neighborhoods, and even what food we put on the table (October 19), and examine the impact that new narrators of Southern California stories are having on the way our region is perceived at home and around the world (November 2).

The point of these conversations is simple, really. We're looking for new ways of encountering the past in making the future of the place we call home.

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