Two years ago, I gave up on California — of which I was a third-generation son. I left my Lodi home that I had owned for 25 years. As I drove toward Pittsburgh, I swore I would never go back.
Some things, I reasoned, are better left as part of one's memory. California is one of them.
Unfortunately, tenant problems in my worthless mortgage meltdown house forced me to return last January. Too bad I had to go back. America's unwritten Open Borders policy has made Lodi barely recognizable to me compared to the sleepy agricultural community it was in 1985!
I was born and raised in Los Angeles in the 1950s when the city was more a small town than a metropolis. The Los Angeles of my youth was untainted by the immigration wave that would engulfed it only a decade later.
Californians spoke English, a short drive took our family through the nearest orange groves or to the unspoiled public beaches where we could spend the day without worrying about a possible assault from one of the ethnic gangs that now have mapped out that turf for themselves.
Moments after I arrived in Lodi, I could see how badly conditions have deteriorated.
The Lodi Wal-Mart provided a horrifying look at what California's diversity means.
I heard more foreign languages than English. California has always had an abundance of pregnant women pushing strollers. But the recession seems to have encouraged even more child bearing, thanks in part to California's generous welfare programs.
Not even the local Lodi library, where I dropped in to kill a couple of hours, could provide shelter from the shifting demographics.
Young "students" gathered in groups, talking loudly on their cell phones, and sat three or four to a computer despite signs limiting the numbers of users to one at a time.
On my way out, I asked the librarian what happened to the age-old "Quiet, please!" standards.
Her reply: The library directors informally decided, with the encouragement of school administrators, to ease the regulations.
The theory is that if the kids are in the library, disruptive as they may be, they're not roaming the streets getting into more serious trouble.
I had depressing conversations with my former teaching colleagues about the increasingly unachievable demands made on them in part by the ceaseless English language learners' enrollment against the backdrop of California's financial crisis.
Because of its multicultural enrollment, Lodi Unified has "earned" a 61 score on the newly developed Ethnic Diversity Index, ranking it as one of California's highest.
How do Lodi and other small California towns go from perfectly desirable places to live to one with more challenges than they can cope with?
One reason: No immigration law enforcement. Failure to deport aliens leads to anchor baby citizenship that ultimately results in the creation of Hispanic enclaves. At the San Joaquin County General Hospital, mothers who are illegal aliens deliver 70 percent of all births.
Years of ignoring the immigration mess is one reason many California cities have deteriorated. Because friends warned me off of visiting my old neighborhood, I didn't. Houses, they cautioned, still had foreclosure signs with all the attendant decay of unmowed lawns, peeling paint and decrepit roofs.
I also didn't drive by my favorite haunt of all —the irrigation canal where, for nine months of every year, my dogs romped and swam until they collapsed, exhausted.
Going back to the Lodi where I spent 25 happy years broke my heart.
I wonder: as California goes — so goes America?
In 2008, Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District. Currently, Guzzardi is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.