Introduction to the Readers Guide for “Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California’s Inland Empire”

By Andrea Gutierrez

» Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the Read­ers Guide for Inlan­dia: A Lit­er­ary Jour­ney Through Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Inland Empire, 2011.

Most peo­ple know it as the Inland Empire. Young folks often call it sim­ply “the I.E.” But here, we take you on a jour­ney through Inlan­dia, a lit­er­ary anthol­o­gy that attempts to cap­ture the 27,000 square miles of inland South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in poet­ry and prose. An area that encom­pass­es San Bernardi­no Coun­ty, River­side Coun­ty, and part of Los Ange­les Coun­ty, its his­to­ry is as rich as the region is flush with land.

This anthol­o­gy brings togeth­er a col­lec­tion of writ­ers both famous and emerg­ing (John Stein­beck is one of the most cel­e­brat­ed Amer­i­can writ­ers; Michael David Egelin’s sto­ry, “The Lost Gen­er­a­tion,” was his first pub­li­ca­tion), young and old (one of Scott Hernandez’s poems was first pub­lished in his col­lege lit­er­ary jour­nal; Fran­cis­co Paten­cio and Vil­liana Hyde, both Native Amer­i­cans, told their sto­ries when they were in their late 80s), native to the Inland Empire and just pass­ing through (Susan Straight still lives in River­side, where she was born; Joan Did­ion lived in Los Ange­les at the time that she wrote “Some Dream­ers of the Gold­en Dream”). The pieces con­tained with­in this com­pi­la­tion are as diverse as the peo­ple who wrote them.

From the begin­ning of Inlan­dia, a his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive unfolds, start­ing with the native Cahuil­la cre­ation myth, and jour­neys through fur­ther tales by Native Amer­i­cans and Spaniards of the ear­ly Inland Empire. Soon we arrive in San Bernardi­no, where Mor­mons migrat­ed, farm­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties were plen­ty, and vis­i­tors with lung ail­ments rev­eled in the fresh, dry air avail­able to them in this grow­ing town. In the orange groves we meet Chi­nese and Kore­an work­ers, and lat­er River­side res­i­dent Sumi Hara­da mourns the pass­ing of her moth­er in a World War II Japan­ese inter­ment camp.

We vis­it fic­tion­al ver­sions of San Bernardi­no, Red­lands, Palm Springs, and River­side. Twen­ty­nine Palms becomes a desert oasis for the Marines. The first McDonald’s opens in San Bernardi­no. A woman is accused of killing her hus­band in Fontana, and two fam­i­lies are at war in the East­side neigh­bor­hood of River­side. The San­ta Ana winds destroy a toma­to crop, and a cou­ple picks up hitch­hik­ers on a dark stretch of High­way 243. And in the end, we’re left to pon­der how much far­ther inland this urban sprawl will extend in the future.

Inlan­dia proves from the first page to the last that the Inland Empire has a vital­i­ty and lit­er­ary viril­i­ty all its own, and not sim­ply as a satel­lite of Los Ange­les. The sto­ries and poems in this col­lec­tion stitch togeth­er voic­es in a col­or­ful patch­work quilt that though not always har­mo­nious, is at once resilient and hope­ful.