Cruising through Borders in Palo Alto, I recently came across a fantastic little book named “Crossing California”. If you get a chance, read this gem. It’s about a bunch of Jewish teens growing up in West Rogers Park in good ol’ Chi-town. To me, the book is about teenage angst, about the culture of a city at a particular point of time framed against the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis.
The title “Crossing California” refers to California Ave which sounds like a 70s, bourgeousie version of infamous 8 Mile Road of Detroit. People on the eastern side of California live in walk-ups, are poor and aspire to “cross” California. Conversely, people living west of the street look down upon their less fortunate neighbors.
The author himself confesses to feeling, as a child growing up in those parts, that everything would be alright once he crossed California. Being non-white myself, I was particularly intrigued by the racist statements made by the Jews in the book. While this sounds counterintuitive, it struck a chord with me, particularly since I’ve heard Indos make some particularly egregious, racist statements over the years (sometimes only jocularly, other times not so much). Racist statements about “Chinamen” and the neighborhood changing “shades” (that is, becoming predominantly Korean) uttered by Jewish grandmothers point to the foolishness of men and the risks of putting down groups – did they forget the persecution of the Jews after they started their new life in America?
The book is also a fun read about high school in the 70s and all the other hijinks that follow therefrom. I highly recommend it.