Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ruben Navarrette: Whiners, 'let them go'

California is famous for its whine.

Take it from someone who was born in the Golden State and who has lived here most of his life, but who also spent long stretches elsewhere.

Part of living in California is feeling the need to complain about how hard it is to live in California. Many have called it quits and left the state.

Some are heading south. For retiring baby boomers hoping to stretch their dollars, Mexico is the new Florida.

And with Mexican businesses eager to cater to American expatriates, one can get by without having to learn Spanish.

Census estimates suggest that, for the fourth year in a row, the number of people leaving California exceeds the number moving in from another state.

From July 2007 to July 2008, that totaled 144,000 people. In addition to Mexico, many moved to Georgia, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, Washington and North Carolina.

Granted, the exodus is just a sliver of the 38 million people who live in the state, and the population continues to grow thanks to immigration and birthrates.

And people still move here for the same reasons that millions came in the last century -- the kinder climate, the scenic beauty of having an ocean/mountain range/desert/forest all in one state.

Still, talk of California's demise is catnip -- for the residents who like to complain and for those elsewhere who like to think that the West Coast doesn't quite meet expectations.

The headlines don't help. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that California is "in a state of emergency."

Recently, Schwarzenegger cut short his State of the State address and informed legislators that California's massive budget deficit -- which is expected to soar past $40 billion in the next year and a half -- is a "rock upon our chest" that prevents state government from doing much of anything.

There is even the possibility that soon California won't be able to pay its bills with anything but IOUs.

The other day, I was listening to people complain on a radio show from Los Angeles.

There were the usual gripes: traffic, mediocre schools, houses that are too expensive, etc.

And this being California -- home to so many illegal immigrants because it is home to so many U.S. businesses and citizens who hire them to make life more comfortable -- there were also plenty of comments often associated with racists.

"I'm just tired of the people here," one caller said. "The Mexicans. The Asians. They're everywhere."

Another complained that, in her son's school, there weren't "enough white people."

Mind you, this is in a blue state where people consider themselves tolerant because most of them vote Democratic. California went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama last fall.

Listening to the whiners, I wondered if we aren't asking too much of the places in which we live.

We expect our surroundings to make us happy when the truth is that a person can be happy or unhappy just about anywhere.

I've seen Californians head for the exits before.

After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Southern Californians fled to growing cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix.

I say now what I said then: "Let them go."

The future belongs to the brave and the optimistic, just as it did in the last century.

Those who are leaving don't seem to understand this; but their grandparents sure did.

So does a new generation of immigrants who are coming for their own version of the California dream.

I boomeranged back to California after college.

Later, I lived in Phoenix, Boston and Dallas before returning home again a few years ago.

Maybe it's because I moved four times in my 30s or because I'm the grandson of migrant farmworkers who, in the 1950s, left one state for another on the promise that they could make a dollar more per hour.

For whatever reason, I'm a big fan of moving in search of opportunities.

Still, it's better to run toward something than away from the alternative.

So many of us tend to romanticize the places we're headed to and rarely consider the possibility that we'll soon have fresh complaints about our new surroundings.

We also tend not to notice the exodus of folks leaving the place we're going -- including some who might be headed to the place we just left.

That's life on the road. Where the promise of a softer tomorrow always beckons.

And the grass is always greener.

Reach Ruben Navarrette at ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com.