It Started Here: Jean Vang’s Journey into Fresno’s Hip Hop Past

Popping is a dance style that originated in Fresno and is characterized by abrupt spastic movements. The dancers pop their limbs in sudden drastic motions while incorporating subtle pauses to accentuate these popping gestures. The origins are often credited to brothers Popp’ in Pete and Sam Solomon who helped create the dance stylings in the 1970’s.[1] The Solomon brothers grew up in West Fresno which was predominantly African American. Latinos and African Americans were often segregated to this region of Fresno, which suffered from widespread unemployment and poverty. The schools in this region were neglected and housing was dilapidated.[2] It was under these difficult conditions that the … [Read more...]

All They Will Call You: A Look at the Lost History of Deportation and a Tragic 1948 Flight

All They Will Call You (The University of Arizona Press, 2017) is Tim Z. Hernandez’s attempt at telling the stories of those whose lives were lost in a plane crash in the Los Gatos Canyon, in California’s Central Valley, on January 28, 1948. And telling these stories is needed. Prior to this account the accident and its victims were popularized in the words of Woody Guthrie, who wrote the words to one of the most popular folk songs ever, “Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos (Deportee).” This response, as needed as it was—Guthrie wrote the poem that would become the song as a way of correcting what he saw as an erasure motivated by racism in newspaper accounts of the accident, most of which declined … [Read more...]

A Blaxican’s Journey through Fresno’s Racial Landscape

In the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc tried something new on the turntables: by extending the beat, breaking and scratching the record, he allowed people to dance longer and entertained them with his rhymes as an MC. After that moment, everything changed. The sound that emerged out of the South Bronx in New York City led to a cultural movement that changed the lives of generations around the world.[1] For Phillip Walker, a mixed race kid from Fresno, California, hip-hop not only served as the soundtrack of his youth, but provided a way to understand his neighborhood and build a multiethnic community. Phillip Ernest Walker Jr. was born on January 28, 1976 in Fresno, California. He is the son … [Read more...]

The Story of Boogaloo Sam as Told by Izel Gaye

We all have that one piece of clothing, be it a fresh new hat or a favorite pair of jeans, that when we slip it on it makes us feel like a million bucks.  You walk a little taller and feel as though your outlook for the day may be brighter simply by adorning yourself in this one item.  For Izel Gaye, a 58-year-old man who has lived most of his life on the west side of Fresno California, that special item is a pair of dancing shoes that were given to him by his friend, Poppin’ and Boogaloo icon Sam Solomon. “When he gave you something,” Mr. Gaye reflected in a recent oral history, “It was like oh boy you better hang on to this… it's got the magic touch.  Then when I put ‘em on I feel like I’m … [Read more...]

Straight Outta Fresno: Hip Hop Dance from Popping to B-Boying and B-Girling

In 1979, Soul Train host Don Cornelius introduced the nation to five dancers who called themselves the Electric Boogaloos. “As you may know, these very creative young men have invented a dancing style that’s becoming very popular, and it’s described as ‘popping,’” Cornelius announced to the cameras. Shortly after their 1979 performance, Hollywood produced a series of breakdancing films that featured actual poppers like Bruno “Pop N' Taco” Falcon and Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers showing off the dance’s characteristic pops, ticks, jerks, and spasms.  By the time kids in Kenosha, Wisconsin marveled at Pop N’ Taco’s spastic, yet simultaneously fluid, dance routines in the film “Breakin’” … [Read more...]

The Last Lecture of My First Semester: My Daughter, Pocahontas

For the past semester, I’ve taught California Studies, a course primarily designed for non-history majors and future K-6 teachers. I ended our time together by sharing the following story: Every other Thursday, I bring my five-year-old to campus. Her mother drops her off, we play in my office for a bit and eventually we make our way to the Madden Library. We’ve done this so much that she knows the exact floor and location of her favorite author: Mo Willems. She carefully selects four, sometimes five books from the stacks and then insists that we read each and every single story about Piggie and Geraldo the Elephant…She is only allowed to take two books home, but I tend to concede to her … [Read more...]

Charles and Ray Eames: How Wartime L.A. Shaped the Mid-Century Modern Aesthetic

During the mid-1990s, while working evenings and weekends on her PhD dissertation on 18th-century Philadelphia, veteran Library of Congress archivist Margaret McAleer found inspiration in what one might consider an unlikely place: the papers of legendary Los Angeles-based, 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames. Ray Eames, who died in 1988, had bequeathed the collection to the library, and McAleer was assigned to organize the manuscript portion of the collection in advance of a 1998 exhibition on the designers.[1] She dove into its endless contents. “I was so inspired by their creativity and passion,” she noted in a recent interview. “They developed unique, fresh perspectives on … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings

In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]

How Los Angeles Helped Make the U.S. an Evangelical Nation

Carey McWilliams once called Louis Adamic Los Angeles’ greatest “prophet, sociologist and historian” of the 1920s. Adamic loved California not so much because of the famed climate, though that certainly didn’t hurt, but more because he found it a source of endless entertainment and absorption, and not always toward the good. “Actually, and in spite of all the healthful sunshine and ocean breezes, it is a bad place ... full of curious and wild and poisonous growths.” For the skeptical Adamic, “decadent religions and cults” served as warning of such perils. “Hardly a day passed … that I was not stopped in the street and handed a religious tract,” he noted. L.A. might be “the essence of … [Read more...]