Arts & Leisure

“People’s Guide” a narrow light

CITRUS WORKERS in Orange County in the 1930s (UFCW).

By Jim Tortolano

I have to cock a skeptic’s eye at any book that put a modifier in the title. It’s with this apprehension that I take up “A People’s Guide to Orange County,” a new work from the University of California Press.

Authored by Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano and Thuy Vo Dang, this is as much a history as it is a guide, and is politically akin to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

This trio of authors does an excellent job of shining light on places and incidents not well known in the story of the county most famous for being the home of Disneyland, the long-suffering Angels baseball team and its status as a fast-fading conservative stronghold.

If you can overlook the “woke” selectivity of this guide, there is a lot to enjoy and admire here. The writing is crisp and it uncovers some possibilities previously unknown to the general public.

Were there nuclear weapons in Garden Grove? (Maybe). Was there a Chinatown in Orange County that was literally burned to the ground by panicked whites? (Assuredly). Was the OC a ground zero of the “punk rock” scene – including wannabes? (Surprisingly, yes).

Here’s a place to learn about the county’s hidden history and the sometimes-violent undercurrents of the OC’s former status as a citrus capital.

However, the selectivity of the topics betrays the bias of the collection. As with Zinn’s work, the use of term “people’s” really means those people of specific sociopolitical bent that emphasizes a narrative of evil white people and oppressed minorities (racial, sexual and musical).

There’s no more complexity or nuance in “people’s” histories than in the “patriot” prefixed books from Fox News types in which white America is blameless and perfect, our history having proceeded from one morally pure triumph to another.

Still, considering the paucity of serious literature about Orange County, this “People’s Guide” is a valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in a more complete – if not completely even-handed – picture of the OC.


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