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This Land Is My Land (Not Yours)

A correspondent of the far-flung variety has sent along an exchange of letters published this spring in the Seattle Times. The subject, said correspondent relates, is a prevalent one up there in the city that sunshine forgot: Californians, or to be more on point, transplanted Californians.

It seems that Washington state feels itself besieged by refugees from California. The same can be said of Montana, Idaho and the rest of the West. A lobbyist for western Colorado put it succinctly last week at a conference on the so-called New West: “When I was a kid,” he said, “the scariest thing in Colorado was a Texan with a high-powered rifle. Now it’s a Californian with a U-Haul.”

Expatriate Californians have become fair game for all seasons. Among the refugees, hasty removal of California plates is considered a basic survival tactic. They complain of “bashing” that, our correspondent (herself a transplanted Santa Barbaran) reports, “goes on all the time: at the grocery store checkout line, on the bus, in casual conversation and especially in the media.”

The Seattle Times letters illuminate the point:

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“I am writing,” began Dan Singer, formerly of San Diego, in the exchange’s opening salvo, “in response to California bashing, which The Times sees fit to publish on a regular basis. I don’t see any letters putting down blacks, Jews, homosexuals or any other racial or religious groups. . . .

“However, since January I have read statements to the effect that we should send all the Californians home (suggestion by the county medical examiner on how to improve Seattle), that we should get rid of all the outsiders--Californians, Midwesterners, Germans--who don’t have roots here going back to 1910 (letter by reader regarding traffic congestion. . .), and that Californians should feel at home here now that we have brought with us our crime, graffiti, smog and theme restaurants.”

This prompted a retort from one Dan Linsday of Bellevue: “When we bash Californians, we are not attacking people from California; we are bashing a mind set. Just as a redneck may have a neck as pale as any Minneapolis accountant, a Californian may be from Texas, Kansas or even Tukwila.”

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After this dubious clarification, Linsday got down to his real business of bashing Californians: “A Californian wears sunglasses whenever it stops raining. A Californian drives to the mailbox--even when it’s at the end of the driveway. Californians call anything with less than six lanes ‘a back road.’ Californians don’t believe in last names. . . .”

And on and stereotypically on, to the conclusion: “But, beneath it all, Californians are insecure. Whenever they find a place that doesn’t match the manicured-grass-and-plastic world they’re used to, they are alarmed. Immediately, they set out to rebuild wherever they are to make it match what they consider normal. That is why we Northwesterners consider them dangerous and why we say, ‘Don’t Californicate Washington.’ ”

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Admittedly the outbound migration of Californians into the West does not qualify as breaking news. Hollywood types discovered Montana, if memory serves, sometime in the 1970s. Los Angeles cops collectively settled on Idaho as a retirement venue at roughly the same time. In the 1980s, amid the last Southern California real estate boom, homeowners discovered their L.A. equity could buy a whale of a house in Walla Walla. And in this decade, the leaving has been prompted by recession, riot, earthquakes and other unpleasantries.

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What’s noteworthy is the uniform animosity directed toward migratory Californians. Much of it appears to be founded on the warped but ever-popular perception of Los Angeles as the nation’s devil city--a view promoted, oddly enough, by the hometown industry. The fundamental fear seems to be that shock troops of Angelenos have been unloosed on the West to re-create across God’s Basin and Range the Los Angeles of Terminator movies.

In any case, a rescue mission does not appear to be in order. Trust that the bashed Californians will endure long enough to go native and start bashing newer models of themselves. Frankly, it is difficult to comprehend why they left in the first place. The beauty of California is that it offers a bit of everything--plenty of forests, deserts, cities, small towns, open vistas, Starbucks and even xenophobic yahoos.

California itself, sadly enough, has a long tradition of making newcomers feel unwelcome: From the Chinese miners, to Dust Bowl refugees, to the Mexican laborers who only two years ago were blamed for every woe in the Golden Land. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the folks who have fled California did so to escape “invaders” from the south. For these anyway, the zapato simply is now on the other foot.


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