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Invasion of the Transplants

New Portlanders talk about what they love and hate about the city.

Best of Amy Miller's Fresh Meat Column | Portland Transplants Vs. Portland Natives

"When you erect the fence to keep Californians out, can I have a special dispensation pass?"

Comedian Greg Proops looked so painfully Californian as he asked a Portland audience that question a few weeks ago. They cheered unanimously. The besuited, hyper-liberal, fluffy-haired, vodka-buzzed Proops could stay.

Phew. Like so many of my brothers and sisters from the south, I was lucky enough to make it into Oregon pre-fence, recently celebrating my second anniversary of living in Portland.

And I really love it here. Sort of.

I love Portland—SORT OF.

Why does that caveat fill me with such shame and fear? I can already hear the choir of commenters singing that old familiar tune: "Go back to where you came from! Go Ducks!"

Show me a diehard native of another city—a lady who tattooed the downtown skyline across her shoulder blades or a guy who named his firstborn after a street—and I will show you a list of his or her complaints about that city. And yet I am afraid to bring up even my most valid gripes about Portland in social situations. I get it. You cram a bunch of new people into a small place over a short period of time, and the mood gets a little…tense.

I do not, by any means, seek to trivialize the damage that explosive growth can do to working-class citizens, communities of color and beloved locally owned businesses. Those pieces of a city aren't characters on Portlandia. They are real and deserving of existence, and they're being threatened in my own hometown as well.

But, at least once a week, I hear someone say, "Damn Californians!" I hear it when a business closes, when there's a traffic jam, when Uber moves in. And yet, watching from my newcomer bench as Oakland native Damian Lillard's 3-pointer sailed in at the buzzer last May, I heard not a peep about where he was from.

"Amy, wait! Sports are different! Teams are fluid in nature! We adopt the players as our own and nurture their local contributions temporarily, only to memorialize them when they move on!"

True, not all Portland newcomers are Blazers. Maybe we aren't hitting 3-pointers, but if you read on, you'll meet some people who are here to contribute to music, to communities of color, to your health, to animal rights, to making you laugh, to feeding you, to making your radio smarter. For this year's version of our annual Voices issue, we talked to people who are doing those things, and doing them well.

Only about 40 percent of people who live in the Portland metro area were born in Oregon, with another 10 percent born in Washington, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The other half of us came from elsewhere, ranking Portland a transplant mecca on par with Phoenix, Miami and Denver, and with a healthy lead on the rest of the West Coast.

We are not all Californian. We are from Tennessee, Texas, Montana and weird parts of California that don't even really count as California. We are not wealthy, and we are not buying condos in the building where your favorite Chinese restaurant/karaoke joint used to be. Some of us have also been displaced by harsh economic realities.

If we promise to keep working to make Portland a better place for everyone (because it is not perfect), can we have a pass when the fence goes up?

New Portlanders: The Interviews

Previous New Portlander Interviews: Slices from the Fresh Meat Column 

Chart: Portland Transplants vs. Portland Natives