“Folklife” is grassroots culture. It encompasses a wide range of cultural expression, from folk songs to outsider art, religious festivals to ghost stories.
California, according to the rest of the country, means nothing more than palm trees, flip flops, and Hollywood. People do not think of California when they think of folklife, they think of Appalachia, Tennessee, Mississippi. This blog hopes to change that somewhat, to open little windows onto the rich cultural heritage of the Far West.
Until I went to graduate school in Rhode Island, I had never really left California’s borders, especially for extended periods of time. For vacations, instead of going somewhere more exotic, I took roadtrips through the many regions of California with family and friends. Not only is California exquisitely beautiful (as any visitor to Yosemite, Death Valley, the redwoods, or the craggy coastline will tell you), but California has many hidden crevices, curiosities, unexpected turns. But I took California for granted.
Leaving my native state has forced me to reconsider California, to notice its particularity and its quirkiness. Recently, I began a periodic event at my co-op in Providence called “Regional Folklore Night.” The idea was to have people from many regions of the country and the world research and share the folklore of their homelands. A fellow from upstate New York shared a murder story from his high school. A couple Washingtonians sang a clamming song. A Hawaiian told a creation myth. And I brought many bits and pieces of California to the table, sharing Gold Rush ballads, Spanish mission hymns, and stories from old hispanic Los Angeles.
This blog is sort of an extension of Regional Folklore Night. California folklife is rich and needs to be shared. This is a formal call for you, dear reader, to send me your stuff: articles or papers you’ve written, songs and stories you’ve heard, interviews, recipes, photo essays, anything that somehow documents the grassroots culture of greater California, past and present. Thanks!