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The History of California's Population Diversity

British historian James Bryce said California was the most striking state in the whole Union. The scholar examined the state's economy and culture in his classic, two-volume study called The American Commonwealth released in 1888. The historian said the region had the characteristics of a great country capable of standing alone in the world.

Bryce's statement is even truer in the modern era. California has one of the highest, most diverse populations within the nation. Almost 40.2 million residents live within the state. A 2018 U.S. federal study reported the area's bustling economy has surpassed the United Kingdom's to become the world's fifth largest. 

WalletHub, a financial website, awarded California the number one spot on its  Most & Least Diverse States in America list. The company said the area was the nation's most culturally diverse. This year, the publication ranked California cities as the most diverse in the nation. They include:

  • Los Angeles (4th)
  • Long Beach (6th)
  • San Jose (8th)
  • San Diego (9th).

Other Californian cities dominated in the top 20 rankings. These include:

  • Anaheim (12)
  • Fresno (13)
  • Sacramento (14)
  • and Oakland (15).

How did California become one of the nation's most diverse states? In today's article, you'll learn about the rich cultural diversity that has helped transform the region's historical legacy.

Language Network_ The History of California's Population Diversity (1)




California's Native American Tribes

According to the University of Washington professor James N. Gregory, the state became the most populous in the nation because many people migrated to the area from other states and nations. The first inhabitants of coastal California were Native Americans. They occupied the land for thousands of years. Almost 300,000 Native Americans in the Pacific coast region before European settlers arrived. Archaeologists found that the area already had a variety of languages and cultures. These tribes spoke a combined 135 different languages. Many Native Americans contributed to the name of the state's most popular towns including Malibu, Tahoe, and Simi Valley.

Today, there are still living descendants from the Golden State's first inhabitants. California has 115 Native American tribes. According to the U.S. Census 2010, Native Americans make up 1.6 percent of the area's population.


Spanish Explorers and Californian Settlements

Europeans began their migration to the Americas in 1492. According to the National Park Service's Early History of the California Coast, Spanish explorers were the first ones to visit the Pacific area in the 1500s. The most famous explorer was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. He and his crew entered San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Cabrillo named the region"Alta California." They developed cattle ranching in the area. The word, "ranch," comes from the Spanish word "rancho."

Spanish migrants established the first permanent settlement, Presidio at San Diego, in 1769. Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra had a significant impact on the colonization of the state. He sent more than 21 Spanish missions throughout California. Missions were churches with farms and work areas.

The missionaries wanted to convert Native Americans their Roman Catholicism. They also taught native inhabitants skills to help manage their farms. During the fall, one of Serra's expeditions explored San Francisco Bay.

Eventually, the Spaniards divided the Californian region into four military districts called presidio that protected the missions and their land. These missions also ensured Spanish control over native inhabitants. The country established presidios at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco.

Modern-day California still maintains the rich inheritance its ancestral beginnings. Its metropolitan cities have retained their Spanish names including Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Jose. Today, almost 39.1 percent of Californians have Hispanic ancestry. These include persons of Mexican, Latin American, and Spanish descent.


Mexican Independence and California's Bear Revolt

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. During this time, Alta California was no longer a Spanish colony; it was a Mexican province. The state remained a part of the country for more than 27 years.

In the mid-1800s, California began a new, prosperous era. Large ranches flourished throughout the territory, and American trappers traveled to the coastal area to hunt game and wildlife.

The Mexican government secularized missions in 1834 and later abandoned them. American settlers migrated to the area, and in 1846, they revolted against Mexico. They occupied Sonoma Plaza and proclaimed this area, the Republic of California. Historians call this insurrection, the Bear Flag Revolt. This June 1846 rebellion, along with other battles, resulted in California's separation from Mexico.


The California Gold Rush, Californios, and the European Migration

President James K. Polk believed the U.S. borders should expand to the Pacific Coast. The leader said this was America's manifest destiny. Polk argued that the United States should annex Texas, New Mexico, and California.

An international conflict helped Polk's vision become a reality. On April 25, 1846, Mexico's cavalry attacked and killed a dozen U.S. troops led by General Zachary Taylor. Congress declared war against Mexico on May 13, 1846.

American soldiers invaded the country and fought Mexican troops for two years. In September 1847, their battalion laid siege against Mexico City. Eventually, they won the war. Mexico and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Under the agreement, Mexico recognized America's annexation of Texas. The nation agreed to sell California and the land north of the Rio Grande for $15 million.

After the war ended, California's Gold Rush began. Miners discovered gold in the state's Sutter's Mill. This event ignited gold fever, dramatically changing the course of the area's history. Congress granted California statehood on September 9, 1850.

Mass migrations, along with abundant natural resources, fueled the state's population growth. Americans of European descent migrated in the thousands to search for gold in California. Foreigners from other nations also joined the rush. Immigrants traveled from Mexico, China, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Italy, and England. Californios, were Mexicans born in the U.S. prior to 1848. These residents owned acres of fertile farmland.

According to the U.S. Census, 74 percent of California's population is white. This includes Hispanic and non-Hispanic individuals.



African Americans in California

According to the latest U.S. Census, African-Americans make up 6.5 percent of California's total population. Black people began migrating to California from Mexico during the 1840s. Most were former slaves. Among them was William Leidesdorff, an African-American businessman that built San Francisco's first hotel in 1846.

The state's Black population grew slowly compared with other minorities within the state. Census records show that 962 African-Americans lived in the state in 1850, and 4,086 by 1860. By 1910, the state's Black population was only 22,000. The African-American population increased significantly following World War II when more people moved into the area.

The state's black residents fought courageously for equality in several courtroom cases. In 1866, Mary E. Pleasant, a former slave, sued a streetcar company in San Francisco that refused to give her a seat. She won in the trial. Another legal case, Ward v. Floor, fought against California's segregation practices in education. In 1872, the California Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools was unconstitutional and violated the U.S. Constitution's 14th and 15th amendments.

In 2010, California experienced a net loss of its African-American population for the first time in 30 years. Several prominent individuals have made contributions to the nation including writers Octavia Butler (winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant), Walter Mosley, and landscape architect Paul Williams (who helped design Los Angeles' International Airport).



Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

California has the highest population of Asian-Americans in the United States. According to the U.S. Census data, Asian-American residents make up 13.6 percent of the area's population. The Golden State also has the second-highest proportion of Asian-American residents after Hawaii. The federal agency estimates the state's Pacific Islander population at 0.5 percent.

Almost 100,000 Chinese-Americans lived in California by 1870. Later, the state had the highest number of Japanese-American residents in the nation. Seventy thousand individuals of Japanese-American ancestry lived in the area by 1910. Koreans began migrating to the Golden State by the 1880s.

Currently, 21 percent of San Francisco's population is Chinese American. The cities of San Francisco and San Jose have sizable Vietnamese populations, and many Cambodian-Americans reside in Long Beach.


Asian Indians in California 

The U.S. Census Bureau uses the designation "Asian Indian" for people who migrated from the country of India. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are almost 14.2 million Indian migrants worldwide.

Most emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, which was the top destination for Asian Indians (2,852,000), followed by the U.S. at number two, (2,061,000).

According to the institute, three Californian cities accounted for the highest concentrations of people from India. They include the following cities:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara California (89,000) at number three
  • San Francisco-Oakland (86,000) at number four
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (80,000) at number six.


California's Diverse Culture Requires More Interpreters

California's diversity has helped its economy bloom. Unfortunately, its diverse cultures have spurred a new problem. Its court systems, businesses, and schools require more interpreters. The state's residents speak a combined 220 languages. Seven million Californians cannot speak English fluently. Almost 44 percent of the state's resident speak languages other than English at home.

The top languages spoken in California are Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Farsi, Cantonese, Russian, Tagalog, Arabic, and Punjabi. Others include Cambodian, Japanese, Malayalam, Hmong, Lao, an Aleutian Island dialects.

California has the largest court system in the nation. In 2017, the state's court system faced an interpreter shortage. They could no longer handle the eight million cases that pass through their courts every year.

Language Network has linguists trained in legal, technical, and medical fields that can provide accurate translations for you. Our interpretation services include conference, on-site, and over-the-phone interpreting.

Find out why so many of our clients trust our interpretation services. Contact us at (949) 733-2446 to request a quote today.



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