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.