Where are you from?
Last updated 5/31/2022 at Noon
“Californians Go Home!”
That’s a sentence I heard and saw directed at me growing up.
In 1969, my father had a job at Black Butte Ranch. He would be designing the new resort’s first golf course, Big Meadow, and helping with other features around the Ranch. When he first told my mom, she wasn’t happy. “Oh no! They can’t develop that beautiful place,” was her first reaction. But once she heard the design concept, she realized if a stunning place like it was going to be developed, the people in charge were going to do all they could to preserve what made it so special. That’s why Dad took the job.
We’ve been traveling Highway 97, then Highway 20 into Sisters ever since. I remember the “Eat” sign towering over the Tumalo Feed Company, and the station wagon with a bull-sized boulder on top of it at the House of Rocks. We drove slowly through town, passing Ruth’s Café, then made the final push through a platoon of ponderosa pines standing at attention along the highway.
By 1971, I began noticing something new as we crossed the invisible border into Oregon. As we followed the curving road up toward the border, my older sisters pointed out a billboard glaring down at us. “Welcome to Oregon — Come Visit Don’t Stay.” The slogan was from a speech Governor Tom McCall made that year referring to the Oregon tourist industry: “I urge them to come visit and come many, many times to enjoy the beauty of Oregon. But I also ask them, for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live.”
His words didn’t work and neither did the unwelcoming campaign. In fact, it intrigued people to visit and then move to a state whose governor was trying so hard to keep them out. The anti-outsider sentiment wasn’t anything new. Long before the 1970s, locals resented out-of-staters taking their jobs. That fierce resentment sometimes resulted in cars with California plates being vandalized, or the infamous middle finger being waved at a driver who dared come over the border to vacation, work, or settle.
As a kid, I felt a sense of shame being a Californian. But every time we arrived at the Ranch, or strolled through Sisters, everyone was welcoming. I began to realize McCall welcomed my parents’ money being invested in the economy, just not their desire to live in Oregon.
When my family finally made the move to Sisters Country in 1993, we did what many out-of-staters did as soon as they arrived: Got to the DMV as fast as possible to get Oregon plates and hide the fact we were from California.
Before we could make it to the DMV, I received a few glares as I drove our 2-month-old baby to the grocery store.
That old sense of shame turned my cheeks red, and made me want to hide.
Standing in line at the grocery store, often the person next to me would ask about our baby, then where we lived.
Invariably they’d also ask how long we’d lived in Sisters.
I cringed and tried to conceal my nerves.
I’d answer softly, hoping other people in line couldn’t hear.
But most of the time, I got a smile of recognition and learned they’d moved from California, or Seattle, or Portland, too.
We bonded over our shared desire for a smaller town, slower pace, and safer community to raise our children.
Almost 30 years later, our daughter is grown and on her own. She benefited from the Sisters schools, the magnificent countryside to explore, and the friends she made who share her love of the outdoors and adventure. She is a perfect example of why our decision to move her was right.
Living in another state, she and her fiancé are already talking about how they can move back to Sisters Country. Having lived in other countries and several Western states, she knows how special our community is.
I’m noticing a resurgence of the anti-California sentiment on social media, in the editorial columns, and on the news. I hear people’s knee-jerk reaction toward anything bad that happens in Sisters Country… “Californians are ruining our town.” Or, “It was probably someone from California.” If there are unruly kids in town, or graffiti sprayed on a building, or someone’s driving too fast, or in any way breaking the law, the influx of Californians is blamed. The funny thing is, the actual statistics often don’t reveal that to be true.
Sisters Country is growing, and growing fast, just like so many other rural towns that have been destinations for tourism. The people relocating here are from all over, like Portland, Seattle, the Midwest, East Coast, and, yes, California. There’s also no truth to the fact that anything bad that happens in town was perpetrated by folks who recently moved here. Sometimes it’s people with families that settled here generations ago.
As I ponder this anger toward outsiders taking over, I see a glaring irony. Go back a while and you’ll see another story of outsiders moving in, taking over the land, the resources, and the homes of those people who lived here. The Native people who have lived here for tens of thousands of years experienced a much worse example of an outside invasion. They were often killed, or mercilessly relocated to reservations where they were forced to live and try to survive. The treaties and promises of ceded land being available for hunting and gathering often never materialized.
To me, that feels more like someone who has a legitimate reason to resent newcomers. I can’t change the past, but I can do my best to behave in a way that is welcoming, while understanding what was lost to so many because my ancestors chose to come here. Knowing that, resenting who’s coming here now seems downright silly and shortsighted. I’m hopeful that those who continue to paint all newcomers with a broad brush will take stock in the story of this place and remember, unless we are Indigenous people, we, or our ancestors, all came here from somewhere else.