San Diego vied with San Francisco to host the 1915 World’s Fair. San Francisco won, but San Diego went ahead and staged the International Panama-California Exposition. Planners of both fairs traded on ideas of empire to raise their cities’ profiles and capitalize on increased commercial opportunities promised by the newly opened Panama Canal, but they took very different approaches. In San Diego, city leaders saw themselves as inheritors of Spain’s colonial empire and as the critical link to a new American empire at the intersection of Latin America and the Pacific. They also saw themselves as the pinnacle of human progress and conquest, distinct from a supposedly primitive nonwhite past and a romantic Spanish interlude. The impact of this view of California history can still be seen and still troubles the state today.

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