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Dana Parsons

Nowadays There's No Place Like Home--Not Even Home

September 22, 1993|Dana Parsons

Isn't life full of tart little ironies? Just when Californians say they're sick of immigrants moving here to improve their lot in life at the expense of longtime residents, another group of immigrants is upsetting locals in other states.

The immigrants in the latter group, dare we say, are Californians fleeing the Golden State hoping to--well, to borrow a phrase--improve their lot in life.

Put down that phone. Don't start that poison pen letter.

I'm not precisely equating fleeing Californians with illegal immigrants, but surely you've read that many residents of Rocky Mountain states are greeting the waves of California expatriates with scowls. The emigrating Californians can argue all they want about how they're bringing tax dollars and expertise to their new communities, but all many natives see are people with out-of-state license plates using up their finite natural and civic resources.

Californians just can't seem to win these days. On the one hand, they're told every day their state is disintegrating. But pack up and move out, and they're welcomed in their new communities like tsetse flies.

Californians, it seems, catch it coming and going.

This can't be good for the psyche of a Californian. After all, we are people accustomed to waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and liking what we see. We're Californians, by God! We're special people.

Now those who leave must feel like strangers everywhere they go. They're probably disoriented and may be headed for that worst of all conditions for a Californian--totally bummed.

Eureka, no more.

Have Californians become the pariahs of the 1990s?

The Associated Press reported this week that a former San Diego couple is moving back from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after wearying of local anti-California sentiment. Among the contributions at their yard sale was $5 from someone who wrote: "Glad we could help you go."

Time magazine recently devoted its cover story to the Rocky Mountain States' boom and included several anecdotes about local residents' disenchantment with invading Californians.

Time told the story of ex-Californians who settled in Durango, a scenic Colorado mountain town. The couple's golden retriever went onto a neighbor's property and ate some of his chickens. In accordance with time-honored tradition regarding trespassing animals and dead poultry, the neighbor shot the dog. When the ex-Californians complained through a letter to the editor, a dozen respondents basically told them if they didn't like Old West culture, they could move back to California.

Coloradans have long been leery of outsiders. The "threat" in the 1970s was from Easterners and Midwesterners. A recent letter to the editor in the Denver Post read, in part: "I am motivated to write because I see Colorado becoming more and more like Southern California. Let us reconsider Highlands Ranch and other big-time tract home developments before the gorgeous Colorado prairie becomes dust in the wind. Let us learn from California's mistakes; there should be no alternative to slow growth."

John Parr is an old Denver friend and president of the Denver-based National Civic League. He offers the slightly contrarian view that Rocky Mountain residents aren't specifically upset with Californians. "People from Coeur d'Alene probably hate people from Seattle and Portland as much as Californians," Parr said.

What's happening, Parr theorizes, is that people are simply less interested in economic development--such as a boom from California could provide--as a benchmark for success. Rather, Westerners, in particular, are concentrating on quality-of-life issues, such as education, housing and transportation. To the extent that outsiders add or subtract from that equation, Parr said, "it doesn't matter where they're from."

As usual, I can't figure things out. Do Colorado and Idaho and Arizona homeowners publicly say they hate Californians but privately celebrate that their property values are going up because of them?

Could be. I just keep flashing on this image of once-proud and smug Californians, full of self-esteem but now slinking under cover of darkness into their new communities wanting nothing more than to be liked and wondering why they aren't. I expect a glut of articles in the years ahead depicting former Californians as forlorn wanderers, traversing the country seeking acceptance.

Another Denver friend says I worry needlessly about Californians, at least in Colorado.

That's because, as she reminded me this week, even if Californians went out of their way to rankle Coloradans, they'll never sink as low on the social totem pole as that other despised immigrant group: Texans.

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