In Defense of Californians

I am going to do something that I never thought I’d do: I am going to defend Californians.

What has driven me to this extreme action?

Several things, actually; I will list them one by one. The first is hearing a Berkeley acquaintance’s story about taking a road trip to a large city in Texas. While my friend enjoyed the wide open spaces, he had an alarming tale about life on Texas roads.

Apparently, because he had a California license plate, cars honked at him and made obscene gestures. A couple of drivers dangerously, and purposely, cut him off.

Story number two: Someone told me about visiting a small city in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoyed the lush, green hills and the clean air. However, she was warned by several people to not linger in this place.

From what the locals told her, some residents are so angry about Californians moving in that they can get violent with people’s cars. Therefore, vehicles with CA plates are often keyed; tires have even been damaged as some outraged (and unglued) residents try to drive the “undesirables” from their city. (1)

And the last tale: in Oregon, it is not uncommon to see For Sale signs. Okay– now that’s pretty routine. But what is shocking is that many of them include these words: No Californians. So, while selling their houses, they find it perfectly acceptable to practice discrimination.

Hearing these stories has had a surprising impact on me. I feel sad, angry, but also very deflated.

You see, I have a very idealistic side to me, a grass-is-always-greener belief system. Perhaps it is a holdover from my decades as a naive progressive.

But I sincerely believed that if I left this state, I would find welcoming and kind people. It never occurred to that I could meet with hostility, discriminatory housing practices, and car damage, simply because I am from California.

And, I wonder, how far does this contempt go? Okay, a lot of Oregonians sound peeved at all of the Californians moving into their state. (However, the irony here is that a good chunk of said Oregonians came from California in the first place.) But are other states vehemently anti-Californian?

Is the rest of the south antagonistic towards those of us from the Golden State? What about the Midwest? New England? I mean, would someone like me be welcome anywhere??

From what I’ve heard, in order to hide the incriminating evidence of their putrid roots, ex-Californians chuck their CA license plates as soon as humanly possible. And ditto for their identifying and damning CA drivers license.

But here’s a question: what are we supposed to say about our life journey? How do we explain where we’ve been for the last few decades? In the Witness Protection Program?

(I imagine a conversation with my new neighbor:

Neighbor: You’re a newcomer, huh? Welcome! Where did you move from?

Me: Cincinnati! (as I try to come up with the most innocuous and pleasant sounding of places).

Neighbor: Cincinnati?! Well you must know of Joe Carmichael!

Me: Uh, no, I don’t.

Neighbor: (confused) You must have heard of Joe Carmichael. And Fred Carmichael, his father.

Me: (getting nervous here) Um. . hm. . no I don’t think so.

Neighbor: Joe was the mayor of Cincinnati for l0 years! And before that his father, Fred, was the mayor.

Me: Oh, well, actually the last few years I didn’t live in Cincinnati (scrambling to come up with another pleasant and benign area). . I lived in Tacoma, Washington!

Neighbor: (smiling heartily) Tacoma! Well, what a coincidence! Mimi and I lived there for years when we were first married! What street did you live on?

Me: Um (desperately trying to name a street in a city that I’ve never been to). Main Street!

Neighbor: (now getting suspicious) Main Street? I don’t remember a Main Street there. . and I drove a cab for years in Tacoma.

Great. . .so my new neighbor may not know that I’m from California — but he thinks that I’m a pathological liar.)

Coming up with some phony-baloney story would not work anyway. You see, my accent and mannerisms scream California. I have been told that I sound like a mixture of a New Yorker and a California Valley Girl. Lucky me (not): I would be despised not simply from being a “despicable” Californian, but a born-and-raised New Yorker as well.

Hearing these stories of anti-California actions has had a huge effect on me. For one, I realize that a collective madness has descended upon this nation. Someone could get beat up simply because someone, somewhere, heard through the grapevine that the person was a “nazi.” And a person could be targeted for road rage because of the license plate on his car.

Something else that I’ve realized: We human beings are wretched creatures. I mean, come on here! When did it become acceptable to become aggressive towards someone because of how they voted or the state in which they live? It’s only because of God’s eternal mercy and grace that He didn’t consign us to the trash bin thousands of years ago.

And my final realization, perhaps the most startling one: I am a Californian — for good and for bad. I may try to deny it; I may complain bitterly about it. But after decades here, I have to admit it: this is my home.

I wasn’t born here. .. but probably one day I will die here. And that’s okay — it’s even better than okay, regardless of what the rest of the country thinks.


1. For the record, I have never, ever, not even once heard of anyone in California keying someone’s car, making obscene gestures, or otherwise acting deranged because of an out-of-state license plate. And, believe me, we have been deluged with newcomers for decades, who have driven up housing costs and clogged the freeways.

In my view, people engaging in this bigoted and anti-social behavior should be ashamed of themselves. . . along with anyone who supports it.

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