Saturday, May 23, 2009

Are You a Native of Your State?

The history of America is about movement. The westward movement was the biggie. In some branches of my ancestral family, I can follow it along generation by generation, from Plymouth Rock Colony (Massachusetts), to Connecticut Colony, the Western Reserve (Ohio), Indiana, Iowa, and California. Another branch went from the New England colonies to Iowa with a stop in Ontario, Canada instead of Ohio or Indiana. My dad's grandfather did a boomerang movement, emigrating from Germany to Iowa, moved to Minnesota, then to Nebraska, and finally back east to upstate New York where he farmed to the ripe old age of 88.

People moved for different reasons, but often it was for economic ones. Often their livelihoods in those days were centered on the acquisition of land, and moving west afforded that opportunity. Once the country was more or less settled and the frontiers were closed (considered to be around 1890 by historians), they still moved around some, but many would put down roots and several generations might live in the same area. When it came, wartime was often an occasion that saw much movement within the country, naturally enough for economic reasons. Lots of farmers moved from agricultural regions to the cities where they engaged in war work making munitions, ships, or aircraft. Lots of poor people in the South moved north to the cities for work. On it goes; people still move around when they can find a better deal for themselves in a place different from the one they live in.

California has long been a place of economic opportunity and that's why many people from other states flocked there for a good long time, like starting in the Gold Rush of 1849, and continuing unabated even now, as people from Mexico and China still find it a better place to live than their home land. California has, for the most part, a forgiving climate that attracts people and enterprises. It has major seaports. A remarkable set of circumstances emerged to create what modern people would call a synergy that resulted in this great economic engine that is California.

The population movement continues now with the out-migration of people from California. Those leaving tend to be middle class, white and retired or close to retirement. As they retire, they want to live in a place with a lower cost of living and no state income taxes, like Nevada. This is simply the ages-old American tradition of looking for a better deal.

It isn't limited only to individuals who wish to move out of California. I was watching an interview on CNBC and it involved a businessman who had relocated to Nevada. His view was that lots of businesses are fleeing California, which has business costs that are typically 20% higher than other states. With the state budget currently 24 billion dolars in the hole, the future doesn't look any better.

I myself was a refugee from California. We moved to Washington state over 22 years ago. It was partially about money, because at that time we could buy more house for the money here than where we lived. There were other reasons, though. Neither of us particularly like heat, so we wanted to live in a cooler climate. We also never really felt that imbedded in the "California culture" and thought a move to another location might be for the better in that way.

In the intervening 22 plus years, where we moved to in Washington state has become increasing built-up and overdeveloped to the point where I'd move again if given the chance. I'm not allowed to move again, however, as my wife wants to stay around our adult children.

I'd lived for a summer in Washington in 1968, and had wanted to move there since that time. It took me 19 years to get around to it, and when I did it wasn't because other Californians were doing so. When we did move, other California emigrants were turning up here and there, but the big wave didn't hit until a few years later. There was a certain amount of resentment among some native Washingtonians against California migrants. After while, if the subject came up in a conversation and the person didn't already know me, when asked where I had grown up, I lied and said, "Iowa". They'd say something like, "Oh, that's a nice state." So, it was okay to be from any state other than California. California was unique as an object of rancor and demonization. We've all seen those bumper stickers that say "Colorado Native" or "Washington Native" or whatever. Native son pride. In many places, it means something to some people to be a local. I was born in California, a "Native Son of the Golden West" as they used to say, and not that common when I was in elementary school and many kids were "from somewhere else". California is the one place where being a "Native" isn't worth a s**t because so many people are from somewhere else; it's a pluralistic society that doesn't place any value on the provincial notion of being a local.

I've spent some time in Missouri when I was stationed there in the Army, and I later had a co-worker who lived there for nine years. In those small towns there, even if you have lived there for 20 or 25 years, you will always be an outsider because you weren't born there. It's the same way in western Iowa where my parents are from.

Some time ago, I had a discussion along these lines with a good friend of mine. We came to the conclusion that there's more to making a major move than economics. In order to make the move for that or any other reason, the people involved need to have a certain sense of adventure, or to put it a better way perhaps, they have be of the sort of personality that can overcome a reluctance to leave a comfortable situation. Not financial comfort, but the comfort of their familiar surroundings. Some people just can't do it. Naturally enough, people who are landed or well-to-do have less reason to leave their happy homeland. Of those who are not wealthy and have an opportunity to leave for some other place where the pickings might be better, some just can't bring themselves to do it.

I have to say from my own experience, even if you have the will and disposition to make a major move, it isn't particularly easy. You have to move your stuff which can be quite an undertaking if you have much. You have to find new banks, doctors, places to shop, and so on. You will be moving into at least one strange house, and maybe more if you rent before you buy. Your surroundings will all be new and that takes come getting used to and learning to navigate a new area is required. If you are working, you have a new workplace, new bosses and fellow employees to get used to, etc. If you have children, they will be going to new schools, finding new friends (or not), and doing new things or having trouble doing old ones. It's a pretty big deal.

No comments:

Post a Comment