San Francisco and the American Dream


San Francisco, California, the 2nd most populated city in the United States, is located in the northern part of California. It is sometimes referred to as The City by the Bay, the Golden City, or The Paris of the West. This city has historic neighborhoods that show the culture and identities of the people who live there; for instance, Chinatown, Japantown, and the Fillmore all have a unique vibe that is specific to its majority population. Popular areas of interest include places, such as, the Financial District, The Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, and Cow Hollow. Walk the streets in an area called The Castro and you will see rainbow flags hanging, signifying a community of gay pride, which is also a prominent part of the city’s identity.

American Gold Rush

California played a major role in America’s gold rush. As soon as James W. Marshall found a single gold nugget in the American River, the news exploded and immigrants from far away countries and those living in the United States, made a mad dash to California to discover their own wealth and fortune. During this gold discovery, San Francisco started out as a small town with a population of 200 in 1846; however, by 1852, with everyone scrambling to become rich, San Francisco’s population grew to be over 36,000; turning the town into the largest city on the west coast during that time period. With the population invasion, the arrival of newcomers changed not only the economic background of California, but also altered its cultural, social, and political backgrounds as well, adding to the history of California and San Francisco.

Manifest Destiny

The term, Manifest Destiny, was first used by John O’Sullivan, an editor for a New York Newspaper. It is an official doctrine which justifies U.S. expansion of territory and power; stating that the American culture and government system should extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and that doing so was both inevitable and justifiable. According to the doctrine, it is the moral responsibility of the United States to educate others on America’s system of government.

The negative impact of expansion is that it deals with discrimination against those of a different ethnic background; namely the Native Americans, Mexicans. These groups were labeled as “the lesser people” and it was believed that they could not govern themselves. Their cultures would not be accepted under the rules of expansion; even their properties could be legally taken or seized. Manifest Destiny involved dramatically reducing the population and influence of Native Americans and bringing Mexico under compliance with the western expansion movement in America. This contributed to the Mexican American War, having taken place between 1846 and 1848.

Immigrant Culture

San Francisco has always been an immigrant portal to a new life in the U.S. When people started leaving their homelands either by force or voluntarily deciding to come to the United States; they not only arrived at Ellis Island in New York, but they arrived in San Francisco too. By 1860, half of this city’s population consisted of immigrants who worked for cheap pay. Today, there are over 283,000 foreigners who call San Francisco their new home. With the arrival of immigrants who built towns and created jobs for themselves in the new land, it put California on the top of the list as being an economic leader; showing that acceptance of immigrants was also good for society. Today, over 200,000 immigrants from different backgrounds have passed through the Angel Island Immigration Station. It was the Chinese immigrants who laid out the tracks for the Central Pacific Rail Road, working for cheap labor.

Civil Rights

The Fillmore District of San Francisco brings interests to visitors because of its historical background in the Jazz culture. Today, it is an urban center of shops and store fronts. After the 1906 fire and earthquake destroyed most of San Francisco, the Fillmore District was the only area that was largely spared from the damaged; which meant many businesses that were in operation before the disaster moved to the Fillmore District to continue serving their patrons.

Fillmore diversified and became home to many different cultures, including Filipinos, Russian, Mexicans, African Americans, Japanese, and Jewish people all living and working in this one area. Today, Fillmore is a place to hang out because of its entertainment and social venues of theaters, nightclubs, dance halls, brewery, and amusement park.

Another aspect of San Francisco is its LGTBQ community, specifically that within the Castro District, where the population of residents observing an alternative lifestyle has grown since World War ll. This is why San Francisco is commonly called the City of Tolerance. Each year at the end of June, the City of San Francisco celebrates LGTBQ pride with a well-known parade and citywide celebration of uniqueness and equality.

Cultural References

Other points of interests that highlight San Francisco are places such as:

  • Alcatraz Island, where the notorious prison is located.
  • In Haight-Ashbury, you can learn all about the days of the hippies and flower power.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge is another iconic symbol of San Francisco.
  • Did you know that San Francisco is the film location of many popular movies that you might have seen? For instance, Basic Instinct, one scene took place on Pier 7 and another in Chinatown. A scene from George of the Jungle took place on the Bay Bridge.
  • You can even tell how popular San Francisco is when you hear its name mentioned in music titles. Listen to Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” or “San Francisco Blues,” by Lowell Falson. You can experience the blues and jazz of San Francisco because you can see it and feel it in music.

Additional Cultural Points of Interest and References

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