By Jacquelyn Davila
Sacramento may be going through an identity crisis. Our holy water tower, our beloved welcome mat on Interstate 5, was recently defiled. It once proudly proclaimed “Welcome to Sacramento City of Trees.” Now those last three words are gone, replaced with an unfamiliar phrase: “America’s Farm to Fork Capital.”
It was one of our own, Visit Sacramento, the local tourism agency, that led the sacrilege. “Farm to Fork Capital” is more on-brand for where we want to be in the future, they said. So many other cities already call themselves the “City of Trees,” they said. The City may have been seduced, but the real city was enraged.
Somewhere around Meadowview an old man scoffed. A soccer mom from the Pocket shrieked with unproductive frustration. And in a corner of the Robbie Waters Library, a patron gasped, then quickly composed himself, deciding that his tears were not worth the water-damage to Of Mice and Men.
I took my first official tour of the California State Capitol Building in elementary school. Our tour guide was an energetic middle-aged woman, fully capable of dealing with the challenges of school visits. With the most calming yet controlling of smiles, our leader navigated through the rantings of a parent-chaperone fangirling over Schwarzenegger, the pitiful jokes of fourth-grade boys, and the blockades of camera-wielding Chinese tourists. She pointed out all the right details and recounted all the most interesting anecdotes: The portrait of the five-day-governor who in 1860 had resigned his position as leader of our state in order to join Congress. The California golden poppy mosaic floors we were standing on. And of course, the Capitol Park, all twelve city blocks filled with plant species from nearly every part of the globe, both native and exotic varieties. Coast redwood here, Montezuma cypress there, each tree was marked with a white or green tag. The park grounds were enriched with silt and soil from the bed of our very own Sacramento River.
It is Sacramento’s particular environment, its climate and its soil, that allow trees from all over the world to grow, both native and exotic, both Californians and immigrants. What was it about a slogan that affected us so? A slogan, you say? It was our creed! A change.org campaign was started! The Sacramento Bee, the local newspaper I thought dead, resuscitated, and it did not fail to report on this.
Where is Sacramento, you ask? It’s too far north of Los Angeles and around three hours too close to San Francisco. It may be in California, but Sacramento is not as liberal as San Francisco nor as delusional as Los Angeles. The truth is we shouldn’t compare Sacramento to the more cosmopolitan parts of California. We are the capital city of the golden state. We are the seat of government of the fifth largest economy in the world. If the popular saying “As California goes, so goes the nation” is correct, then why do they not respect us? If our basketball team is called the Kings, why do we perform so meagerly? Perhaps these are the same heretical thoughts that plagued the members of Visit Sacramento and led the City into temptation. They were simply tired and too proud to continue living in the shadows of San this and Los that.
Here at Princeton, a math major asked me if Sacramento was really as religious as it seemed on Lady Bird. I told him that the city, like Lady Bird, is in the middle of an identity crisis. Growing up in Sacramento, all you want to do is leave because you are eager to “mature.” It is only when you are no longer in the City of Trees that you realize what an excellent place it is to raise a family.
The rumor is that after much backlash, the City might try to squeeze both phrases on the water tower. The City sought to compete for fame and prestige, but Sacramento’s lack of identity is a blessing. In a world of cities of love and cities of light, we exist, like a child of immigrants, perpetually searching for an identity. We’ve been called “River City,” “Almond Capital of the World,” and even “Big Tomato.” Now we are “America’s Farm to Fork Capital.” Who knows what names the City will invent in the next decades? At least, the trees will remain.