San Diego, United States – the birthplace of California, an Introduction

Sun, beach, babes,

laid-back lifestyle, great weather, delicious food…

Tacos from Lolita’s

Bluejay Burger from Hodad’s

That’s just some of many ways to look at San Diego.

San Diego City today

But the idyllic lifestyle brushes away the idea of history to the mind of the tourist which is unsurprising. And yet, this beautiful city of almost 1.5 million people located in the southermost part of California and bordering the Mexican city of Tijuana (forming the San Diego-Tijuana courbation) is also the birthplace of California.

This is a post that is probably atypical of the usual San Diego articles.

Originally belonging to the American Kumeyaay* people (as of 1999, there are only 3200 Kumeyaay people both living on and off reservation lands), San Diego was first claimed for Spain in when the Portugese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (who was funded by Spain) landed on Point Loma of the San Diego Bay. He originally named the city San Miguel.

San Diego Point LomaPoint Loma, the first place where Juan Rodriguez Carbillo arrived in 1542 (Source)

In 1602 the Spanish soldier Sebastian Vizcaino city arrived in California on the flagship San Diego named after Saint Didacus (or Diego) of Alcala.

Settlements were only created in the mid 1700s with the establishment of a fort Presidio Real de San Diego and Mission San Diego de Alcala both in 1769. The former was a settlement of Europeans while the latter a religious mission set up by Franciscan priests to evangelise the native population.

North America was a cauldron of change by the late 1800s, in the Northeast, the 13 colonies began their War of Independence from Great Britain and in the Southeast Mexico erupted in war with Spain for independence.California emerged from all this as a spoil of war.

Map of MexicoMap of Mexico in 1847 (Source)

It transferred hands from Spanish to Mexican rule in 1821 when Mexico successfully obtained its independence from Spain after fighting a war with the Spanish.

Barely a quarter of the century later in 1847 the state of California changed hands again, this time when expansionist from the United States launched a war with Mexico to stretch their territory from the Atlantic side of the continent to the Pacific side of the continent.

Stories from that era have been immortalised in modern Californian history. As war became imminent between the two countries, the Mexican government increased the intensity of its rhetoric to expel Americans in San Diego. 30 American immigrants, in a rebellious mood, drew and raised the flag of the Bear Republic on 14 June 1846. They formed the short-lived Californian Republic that lasted 3 weeks before it was subsumed into the United States. Historians have argued that the leaders of this revolution could have been on the order from the expansionist President, James Polk.

California was a prize, because it was rich in gold. And once California became part of the United States, a mad rush brought some 300,000 people to the state. This was the historical California Gold Rush.

The gold rush drastically changed the face of the state. The small town of San Francisco became a large town growing from 200 people in 1846 to 36,000 in 1852.  A state constitution as drawn up with a governor and legislature set up.

People from all over the world were drawn over, from the United States, Latin America, Europe and as far away as China.

The new American state of California was admitted into the United States in 1850 and San Diego received a boost as the capital of San Diego County and by extension the whole state. The old town of San Diego was however a poor choice, because it was in land away from connectivity and a water body. Within a decade townsfolk began to promote a New San Diego, present day San Diego city as the centre. The main person behind this move was Alonzo Horton, for whom Horton Plaza is named after.

Horton Plaza, San Diego

Despite the elevated status of capital, California and San Diego remained a relative economic backwater (because it was so isolated) until the arrival of rail in 1878. Then San Diego boomed. It was showcased as an important port of call from the Pacific and held a number of large global EXPOs. During the Second World War, with American eyes turned to the Japanese, part of San Diego was turned into a military hub, a hub that it continues to serve as today.

San Diego’s fortunes took a dive after the Cold War, when aerospace and local defence contractors lost business. In its place was tourism, science and technology, San Diego’s place in science grew with major global research institutions like University of California San Diego, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Salk Institute for Biological Sciences all found within the area.

Join me on the next few days as I find out more about the “finest city in America”!

*I use the word American Kumeyaay instead of native American because the native American people are American. A native Asian is called Asian, a native African is called African, a native European is called European. Caucasian white America is not native, it is immigrant Caucasian-American, just like Asian-American, Indian-American, African-American.


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