OC Fair overlooks OC’s "Rancho" heritage

I read in the Times O.C. today that the Orange County Fair is starting up today, with free parking and free admission for the first hour, and even a fireworks show at 9:30 pm.

Here are a few more details, from the Times:

This year’s theme honors two things close to the heritage of Southern California: cows and sand.

“Every year we try to pick a theme that salutes our past as well as something about our current culture,” fair spokesman Steve Beazley said of the theme, “Cowabunga: The Year of Herefords, Surfers & Sand.” “It’s a nice blending of the past and present. Orange County once had a ranching heritage, and ‘cowabunga’ is a surfing term.”

In keeping with the beef theme, fair organizers are planning a cattle run of 300 Corriente steers through the streets of Costa Mesa on July 25. And the beach component will be represented by master sand animation artist Ferenc Cako, scheduled to perform nightly at the Plaza Arts Stage.

The fair also will include the return engagement of “Weird Al” Yankovic, performing July 17-21 at 8 p.m.; frequent appearances by Aga-Boom!, a theater of interactive physical comedy and circus acts; and a concert series featuring Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and a double bill of Heart and the Bangles.

I find it interesting that the OC Fair spokesperson refers to Orange County’s “ranching heritage.” Actually, that would be “rancho heritage.” Here is what the County of Orange website has to say about this:

In 1801, Jose Antonio Yorba, a volunteer in the Portola expedition, also returned to Santa Ana. He established the county’s first rancho (Santiago de Santa Ana) in what are today the cities of Villa Park, Orange, Tustin, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana.

Following Mexico’s liberation from Spanish rule in 1821, the extensive land holdings of the Capistrano Mission were subdivided and awarded to a number of distinguished war heroes. By this time Yorba’s Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana had grown to resemble a feudal manor, and the romantic rancho era of Orange County had been ushered in.

Cattle were introduced into the area in 1834. A prosperous hide and tallow industry developed. Southern California became a virtual suburb of New England as sailing ships loaded with cargo traveled back and forth between coasts. In 1835, author-seaman Richard Henry Dana arrived at what is today known as Dana Point. He later immortalized Spanish Orange County in his book “Two Years Before the Mast” by describing it as “the only romantic spot on the Coast.” The Spanish California tradition of a carefree lifestyle, fiestas with music and dancing, bear and bull fights, rodeos, and gracious hospitality, survived until the 1860.

What ended the rancho era? Again, the County of Orange website has the answer:

A severe drought brought an end to the cattle industry. Adventurous pioneers, such as James Irvine, capitalized on the economic downfall of the ranchos. Irvine, an Irish immigrant, established a 110,000-acre sheep ranch that is today one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in America.

“Adventurous pioneers?” Sounds like immigrants to me. Irish immigrants in this case.

I decided to research the makeup of the Orange County Fair’s Board of Directors, so as to ascertain why they appear to be unaware of Orange County’s “rancho heritage.” Here is a list of the Board members:

  • Deborah Carona, President, Orange
  • Dale Dykema, Newport Beach
  • Gary Hayakawa, Irvine
  • David Padilla, Costa Mesa
  • Julie Vandermost, Laguna Niguel
  • Kristina Dodge, Monarch Beach
  • Joyce Tucker, Newport Beach
  • David Ellis, Newport Coast
  • Mary Young, Aliso Viejo

According to the O.C. Register, recalled Governor Gray Davis “appointed Carona’s wife, Deborah, to the Orange County Fair Board.” Oh, that’s right. Carona threw a fundraiser for Davis, and that got his wife the appointment.

If you ask me, it would appear that the O.C. Fair ought to be called the “Newport Beach Fair.” Take another look at the list of Board Members – Newport Beach is very well represented.

The Board is missing North and Central Orange County, with the exception of Carona, whose appointment was purely political. The Board is also VERY LIGHT on Latinos – which would explain why they overlooked our “rancho heritage” – and overlooked the fact that white settlers ended the rancho era – after taking advantage of a drought.

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