Interview with Authors of Vietnamese in Orange County

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Thuy Vo Dang
The authors with their new book!

It's no big news that the flag of South Vietnam flies next to the American flag all across Little Saigon. In fact, Little Saigon is no real big news anymore, multipart Orange County Register series notwithstanding. But while the general public knows of the enclave, there's always more to the story.

In a new book called Vietnamese in Orange County, authors Thuy Vo Dang, Linda Trinh Vo, and Tram Le provide historical accounts and artifacts showing how the Vietnamese community has evolved in the county. The Vietnamese-American experience, they say, is far from binary.

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The Legend of Rosario "Zarco" Sainz, OC's Last Desperado

Photo courtesy California State Archives

It wasn't enough for Rosario "Zarco" Sainz to break out of the Orange County Jail, beat up legendary Sheriff Theo Lacy, toss a female Bible-study teacher against a wall, lock them both in a cell, steal a rifle and revolver, then make a run for the border. He also wanted a hat.

Sainz was in for first-degree murder, for shooting a man just for the hell of it. He had done four months for the killing after nearly half a year on the lam, a seemingly ignoble end to a criminal career that included smuggling Chinese immigrants into the United States, assaults, brawls, at least five murders for which he never faced punishment, and more nights in the drunk tank than law enforcement in both OC and Baja California cared to remember. A trip to the gallows seemed certain--and Sainz didn't give a damn.

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NBFF 2015: Fear No Fruit Tells the Story of Produce Pioneer Frieda Caplan

Photo by The Mexican
Frieda's Staircase of Fame

One of OC's most influential yet unheralded pioneers is Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, the founder and head of Frieda's Specialty Produce in Los Alamitos. The produce industry respects her like crazy: not only was she one of the first women in that rough-and-tumble, male-dominated, muy macho world, Frieda also proved to be one of the best produce people ever, specializing in then-obscure products like kiwifruit, jícama, habaneros, Asian pears, and so many more fruits and vegetables that we now take for granted. And her company continues to differentiate itself in the field: it's largely female-driven (Frida's daughters now run the company), they love the color purple, and employee enthusiasm makes kindergarten teachers seem like morticians.

The story of Frieda and her company are the subject of a 90-minute documentary, the awesomely titled Fear No Fruit, that's playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival TOMORROW.

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Why Are Santa Ana's Gentrifiers So Afraid of 4th Street's Quinceañera Shops? UPDATE

Wikimedia Commons
Not as scary for gentrifiers because the dress doesn't have that many ruffles...

UPDATE, 3:11 P.M.: Talked to Quinn, and he said he "respects" all the businesses in downtown SanTana, old-school and New Wave and quinceañera shops included. Regarding his quote, Quinn said he was talking theoretically about why some businesses might thrive in the area while others close, and used quinceañera shops as a general example; he never meant to single them out. Good conversation between us, and we're going to meet in-person next week so I can interview him about his feelings on what's happening downtown because that's what journalism and being a good neighbor is about, right? Stay tuned...

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Gustavo's Latest KCRW "OC Line": On the Passing of Henry T. Segerstrom

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Renee and Henry Segerstrom Center

You cover Orange County long enough, you quickly realize that its lords--its Brens and Argyroses, its Lyonses and Nicholases--are almost all douches one way or another, caught up in slumlord this and cheating that. Leave it to Henry T. Segerstrom to buck that trend--as Clockwork Coker noted in his obit, the worst that we ever heard about the founder of South Coast Plaza and the Orange County Performing Arts Center (later renamed the Segerstrom Center in his honor) was siccing his PR people on us every time we called South Coast Plaza a mall. YIKES!

Anyhoo, Segerstrom's passing last week was the subject of my KCRW "Orange County Line" commentary yesterday.

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Civil War Cannonball Found Near Irvine Has Heads Scratching

Photo by Eric Hood/OC Weekly
Could the cannon fire during a Civil War reenactment in Huntington Beach in September have reached San Diego Creek?
You never know what'll wash up in San Diego Creek near Irvine. An old sneaker. A gnarled piece of oak tree. A Union cannonball from the Civil War.

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Santa Ana Deliberately Burned Down Its Chinatown in 1906--And Let a Man Die to Do It


The atmosphere was jovial as more than 1,000 people gathered in downtown Santa Ana on May 25, 1906, to watch their civic dream come true: the burning of the city's Chinatown.

Politicians and residents alike had long pushed for the torching, and now was the time to do it. The once-thriving area--bounded by present-day Main, Third and Bush streets--was almost vacant, atrophied over the years by anti-Chinese laws that made a peaceful life there impossible. Health officials had just condemned Chinatown's few remaining buildings, rounding up out the last residents as onlookers jeered. A representative of China's minister to the United States was rushing in from Los Angeles, seeking to stop the planned kindling. But Santa Ana would be denied no more.

Families gathered to witness the destruction, along with law enforcement and businessmen--the whole town, it seemed. "It was like a big picnic, or a Fourth of July," an eyewitness recalled decades later. A fire marshal was on the scene to douse coal oil on Chinatown's structures and set the blaze. But light drizzle throughout the day put a damper on everyone's plans; the fire marshal couldn't strike a spark.

That delay thinned the original crowd to a couple of hundred curious onlookers as the evening arrived. But when the first flames curled up to the sky around 8 p.m., visible for blocks around, a stampede returned "in time to see the fun," according to the Santa Ana Evening Blade.

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Gustavo's Latest KCRW "OC Line": On Orange County's Confederate/KKK Roots!

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From Annie Cooper Burton's The Ku Klux Klan
Head: County founder
Anyone who has read this infernal rag since our beginning knows that laying out the county's sordid history is an obsession of ours, and has taken us from the local Black Panther chapter to lynchings, hippie mafias, exposing historian charlatans, and more. But nothing has been more fun than exposing the Confederate and Ku Klux Klan origins of many of this county's pioneers.

Oh, the local historians have gone on and on about the Confederates, coming from a Lost Cause perspective that conveniently ignores the Grey's racist ideology and treasonous cause. It's this blindness that keeps them from digging into their heroes' KKK ties, whether real (like Henry W. Head, the former state assemblymember who you can see to the right), or circumstantial (Victor Montgomery, the lawyer who drafted the bill that would eventually set OC free from Los Angeles County, served under KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forest and alongside head--if the guy didn't don a hood and robe at one point in his life, then Mike Carona is innocent).

Anyhoo, that was the topic I addressed in this past Monday's "Orange County Line" commentary for KCRW-FM 89.9

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Irene Bernal, Daughter of Civil Rights Pioneer Alex Bernal, Passes Away

Photo by John Gilhooley
Irene, at right, with sister Maria Theresa holding an album about their father's discrimination lawsuit

Yesterday, I spoke at the Brea Rotary Club, and a gentleman asked me who I thought was the most influential Mexican in OC history. Without hesitation, I replied "Alex Bernal," the Fullerton resident whose successful defense in 1943 against his racist gabacho neighbors who said their neighborhood was whites-only not only set a precedent in American housing rights, but also set the course for multiple anti-segregation lawsuits.

Bernal was on my mind that day, and not necessarily for good reasons. This past Monday, his daughter Irene passed away from cancer. She was 78.

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Orange County's Great Drought of 1864

Back to the future!

Rain finally hit Southern California earlier this week--flash floods in the Inland Empire, downpours in Long Beach, 0.001 of an inch in Fullerton. It inspired reams of social-media snark in our parched region, bitter humor to make sense of a historic drought that has gone on for three years now with no signs of deliverance in the near or far future.

Meteorologists keep telling us we're suffering the worst dry spell on record, and they're right in a sense--data with the Western Regional Climate Center, California's official tracker of weather figures, goes back only to 1895. But in the annals of Southern California exist detailed accounts of an even-harsher drought that fundamentally changed the region: a two-year debacle that hit its driest days 150 years ago, in what a rancher of the era described as "perfect devastation."

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