By Jack Rushall (@jackrushallnow)
Long before both the Pilot episode of "Portlandia" and the first time you snapped a close-up of a craft cocktail on Instagram, I lowered my Rite-Aid Ray Bans and made my initial scan of the Portland skyline.
My family was making an unlikely road trip to Seattle via the I-5 from Encinitas, California, in order to drop my sister off at college. I had been growing frustrated from driving through miles of nothing but fir trees, and I was desperate for any sign of modern civilization – for example, a tract housing development, or maybe a Panda Express. Nauseously daydreaming about Beanie Babies, I was interrupted by PDX's ethereal mug and nudged my mom on the shoulder from the backseat.
"Mom, Oregon has things besides casinos and trees? What city is that?" my eleven-year-old self asked as I envisioned my distant, edgy early twenties with Portland cast as my romantic backdrop. I was going to be a walking Killers song: gritty but empathetic, even a little heartbroken. I just had to lose the baby fat and get through five more math classes and the future was mine.
This was the beginning of the end of Old Portland: a Portland that shivered at the mention of tech bros and expected a smoking patio at each new bar.
Indeed, millennial Californians like me were beginning to harvest the seeds of a full-scale invasion, even in 2004. As it turned out, we weren't just part-time models sprawled out over empty In-N-Out bags in the sand; we were actually much like you. In fact, when I was sitting in the backseat that fateful August day, I was listening to Pacific Northwest staples like Modest Mouse, Death Cab, The Postal Service and The Dandy Warhols, courtesy of The O.C. mixes.
Related: The 21 Best Songs About Portland
Today, trying to explain the allure of Portland to a native–or even worse, an East Coaster, from a Southern Californian perspective is shockingly complex. Many locals and transplants alike ask us sardonically why we would ever leave our sun-kissed paradise in the first place. At this point, what I like to do is reverse the question: Would you move to Southern California? The answer, despite the weather and the burritos, is just as surprising: It's always no.
Yet, in a world where refugees are under constant scrutiny, Portland finds itself in a rare position of judgment. I don't mean to speak for all Portlanders, but there are a sizable number who can't imagine why a largely young, middle-class, "hip" population would possibly want to join its ranks. What could the two populations possibly have in common?
Sure, I'll admit that the word "refugee" on its own might be a touch overdramatic, but being a "cultural refugee" is not far off the mark.
Growing up in a small, affluent town north of San Diego as a closeted gay male under the supreme rule of two Republican lawyer parents, I had an especially tough time living in a geographical area culturally dominated by the military, a colorful sampling of the 1 percent (e.g. Mitt Romney now owns beachfront property in the town I was born in), and a potent feeling of an impractical disinterest in social diversity. Certainly, there is pride for having "gotten out."
In fact, people forget that Southern California voted "yes" on Prop 8 back in 2008. When my hometown erected a new landmark, "The Cardiff Kook", a few years back, the clean-cut bronze statue of a 1920s-era surfer received a telling backlash from the surfing community who claimed that the Kook was too "effeminate" because of its haircut and position on the surfboard. Soon after, the statue was vandalized and dressed in a pink pleated skirt. Just last month when I was down South visiting my parents, I was walking home late at night when a car drove by and inundated me with shouts of "faggot," due to my outfit. My outfit: a hoodie underneath a Levi's jacket.
These are social expressions that certainly don't sit well in Portland, a land that could plausibly erect its own Statue of Liberty in welcoming awkward, queer, nerdy and fashionable "outsiders." At least, in theory.
I spent most of my time in San Diego plotting my trip back up North. However, the disheartening truth is that every time I return to PDX, I succumb once again to public displays of the cold shoulder based primarily on the geographical roots from which I had escaped.
It also took me far too long to change my California license plates, a period that saw me receive countless honks and even "the bird" from several Oregonians on the road. (And yes, Oregonians, your license plates are cuter than ours). Moreover, when my origins are unveiled to certain locals, I receive an automated eye-roll and an, "I'm sure you are."
And the California baiting does not stop there.
Stickers of the Golden State in a red circle with a sharp slash over the state's outline have been plaguing real estate signs throughout Portland neighborhoods. GoFundMe accounts attempt to deport Californians through community donations. Even upon buying a new car recently, the man working at the dealership paused before explaining that my new vehicle was transferred from West Hollywood. Why does it matter that my car is from LA?
More importantly, what does this petty resentment really stem from?
Most importantly, Californians moving to Portland appears to be good for the city itself, if not for locals. But the reality of the situation is: Not all of the "Californians" overtaking PDX are even Californians to begin with. It seems especially unethical that this exceptional, concentrated transplant hate is reserved for former denizens of just one of 49 other states.
I will admit that I may fit a few stereotypes: I live in a well-located condo off of Hawthorne that my family recently acquired as an investment in response to the housing boom. I drive a Mini Cooper, and I am definitely not afraid to wait in a long line for a good taco for mostly nostalgic purposes. But when we are looking at Californians–or anybody who thought that Oregon was just a forest a decade ago who now calls the City of Roses their home, we must remember that they came to Portland with the open arms that few of us receive.
Californians are now your neighbors, your coworkers, your Lyft drivers, and yes, even your Tinder dates. Though it's fun to "ironically" pick on the bigger, wealthier state that can supposedly handle it, these anti-California micro-aggressions infiltrate our consciousness and make us feel less than, just like any other form of discrimination. California as a state is not a single political figure: it's a state just shy of a population of 39 million people. Many of these people are probably innocent, trendy, open individuals who can only add to the moral fabric of this fine city.
And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Californians aren't going anywhere– in fact, there are more on their way. But alas, we live in a place where state hopping is seemingly more acknowledged than immigrants settling in the US from a foreign country. And the fact remains: Portland is barely a melting pot. If you can't accept people like yourself, you probably are better off moving to my hometown than the other way around.