Southland vs. Inland Empire

Dear Matthew:

It seems that whenever I have contact with the Los Angeles news media (KNX radio or the Los Angeles Times) I often come across the terms "Southland" and "Inland Empire." No one I've asked seems to know what either expression means, even my friends in L.A. We do agree, however, that (1) they clearly have something to do with Southern California, but (2) they are not used in San Diego. Surely you can enlighten us on their meaning.

Joe, San Diego

Territorial chest thumping has been honed to a fine edge. Southland and Inland Empire are two such examples. (San Diego's shopworn America's Finest City has been finally trash-canned, I think.) California north, embodied by San Francisco, and California south, embodied by Los Angeles, have vied for power for as long as there was power to vie for. The origins of Southland are unclear but probably sprang from the fertile brain of an early-day Los Angeles newspaperman or real estate developer as a handy reference to the glories of the state from the San Joaquin Valley to the Mexican border. The term likely dates from the 19-teens or 20s. Geographical boundaries of these things are always fuzzy. So Southland now just means anywhere in the Los Angeles area, at least any place very far from that uppity San Francisco.

According to reams of information sent by the San Bernardino Public Library, the roots of Inland Empire are only slightly less vague but follow the same us-versus-them theme as Southland. This time "us" is the San B.-Riverside area; "them" is the dreaded Los Angeles. A concept any San Diegan can appreciate. The first printed description of the area as an Inland Empire occurred in a newspaper in 1914, perhaps the brainchild of an editor wanting to boost the hinterlands in the eyes of any prospective businessmen. This was shortly before we all expected an influx of tourists for the Panama-California Exposition, so the timing was good, anyway. Unfortunately, people are still arguing about the geographic boundaries. Originally it referred to the newspaper's circulation area, a narrow strip from Upland and Chino to Banning; but now it's loosely used as a nickname for the general two-county area.

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