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San Juan remembers California's first constitution

Folks in mid-1800s attire lined up to cast votes Tuesday night at San Juan Capistrano City Hall – only there was no election and it certainly wasn't the mid-1800s.

But vote they did – this time to remember the 22 San Juan residents who helped approve California's first constitution 163 years ago.

The city's Youth Advisory Board and a group of fourth-graders from San Juan Elementary School – Orange County's oldest public school – celebrated the anniversary with a re-enactment of the ratification vote.

The constitution was approved in November 1849, nearly a year before California was admitted to the United States in September 1850. San Juan was one of two polling places south of Santa Ana.

Galal Kernahan, a Laguna Woods resident who has been working to raise awareness of the state's history, said California was one of the few to have a bilingual constitution because of its diversity at the time, which Kernahan noted still exists.

The first constitution was replaced by a new one in 1879, Kernahan said.

Youth Advisory Board adviser Jerry Muir said Mayor Larry Kramer gave the group the task of re-enacting the ratification.

"This is part of the history that has been forgotten," Muir said.

The board invited the San Juan Elementary fourth-graders because the school was founded in 1850 and because fourth grade is when students learn about California history.

The story of the first constitution is not in the textbooks, Muir said.

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