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A party for Californians: a sign of the times

December 1st, 2006 · 3 Comments

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When Ted and I moved to Bainbridge Island from San Jose, seven years ago, one of the first things we did was get rid of our California license plates. I grew up in the Seattle area in the 1980s and I remember the tension that existed between transplants and natives. After all, the Californians moving north had made the housing prices jump into the stratosphere, and they also competed for limited jobs, or so the reputation was. A television commercial for local potato chips both mocked and emphasized this fear of foreigners: in the ad, shoppers had to prove their native status with a Washington drivers license before being allowed to buy the prized potato chips (and yes, I think one shopper had a California license as part of the joke…). Being a Seattle native was cool; being a Californian transplant was not. I was almost ashamed to become Californian, years later, when my husband and I moved to Silicon Valley.

Even when Ted and I arrived on the island in 2000, I still sensed a strong native pride. Many have lived here for generations, and are distressed by the development and changes (just as those in Silicon Valley were also protesting). As a new resident of Bainbridge, and as someone who bought a new house, thereby condoning such development and destruction, I felt guilty. I wished I had a heritage here, like my friends who had grown up on the island or lived in their grandmother’s home. Although we moved from San Jose, I often tried to emphasize my local family and upbringing, as if my Seattle pedigree would somehow make us easily-identified Leungs seem less like invaders, make us more invisible.

So I was surprised to see this poster a few blocks from the ferry terminal, advertising a party for Californians who have moved to Bainbridge Island. And I confess I was surprised to see that the poster remained, without someone taking it down or commenting on it. I suppose it is a sign of the times. There are now so many who have moved here, so many transplants, that the natives are a minority. And it seems there is no longer any shame in being a Californian.

The poster makes an important point about island life:

Think about this: of every possible place in America to move to, we all chose this island. So we must have similar dreams and desires.



When Ted and I lived in Silicon Valley, whenever you met someone for the first time, the question was “Who do you work for?” Soon the conversation centered around various acronyms or names associated with stock market charts. It was evident that one’s identity was work, that the culture was corporate.

However, it is true that people must choose to live on Bainbridge Island. It is a deliberate decision that comes with its own set of disadvantages and benefits. Here whenever we meet someone for the first time, the question is “Why did you choose to live on Bainbridge?” Soon we are digging into deeper issues and personal values, such as education and family, lifestyle and environment. It is unique to be a part of a community where everyone has made a choice to embrace a ferry-dependent small-town island lifestyle.

And so yes, we must have similar dreams and desires. At least if we perceive this island with similar eyes or had similar motivations for moving here. It’s quite possible the Californian transplants would have many things in common and it could be a good party indeed. I like the fact too that the poster promises a pledge to be good stewards of our new island home.

Isn’t this America, in a sense a mini-America? We all come with dreams and desires to these shores. We’re not natives, but we promise to take care of our new home. And so we become Bainbridge Islanders. Even Californians. Because we are Americans.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ed // Dec 1, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    In case you didn’t see it, Rachel Pritchett interviewed the women organizing the party:

    http://blogs.kitsapsun.com/kitsap/bainbridge/archive/2006/12/california_transplants_get_rea.html

  • 2 tamarika // Dec 2, 2006 at 3:43 am

    Yes indeed, Julie, I surely came to these shores with dreams and desires … yes indeed! Beautiful post!

  • 3 Lucy // Dec 8, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    I am beyond THRILLED to find you posting again!

    But some little something grabbed my attention from your post. You said “And it seems there is no longer any shame in being a Californian” after mentioning that the natives are now a minority. It seems to me that shame should not be dependent upon numbers.

    I remember living in Oregon in the early 90′s. Locals there generally weren’t thrilled with the wave of Californians coming to Oregon, but rather than view them with animosity most viewed them with pity! (It was an interesting dynamic, involving a world-view that California is equivelant to Hell)

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