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Central Oregon's summer tourism season is nearly upon us, and with it, the influx of many visitors. Before that happens, we take a look inward, at the local culture and the definition of "local."
Soon, tens of thousands of visitors will begin their summer ramblings in Central Oregon. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of locals will grumble about the traffic, the lines at restaurants and the crowds. They'll grumble, too, that some of these visitors will like Bend so much that they'll decide to move here.
"Newcomers aren't real locals," the "real" locals will say. "They're transplants who bring foreign ideas that shouldn't count, at least not as much."
That popular view comes up every time a Bend resident complains about a Californian's driving or the line at a favorite restaurant. You were born here? You're a local. Lived here through a recession or two? You've earned your local badge. Settled down in just the last couple of years? You're something else.
You're a resident, but you're no local.
"Too often the term 'local' has been put out as an exclusionary term rather than an inclusionary one," said Bend City Councilor Bruce Abernethy, who moved to town in 1993.
Newcomers notice it. Becca Tatum moved to Bend a couple of years ago from the New York City area. She and her husband wanted to move their then one-year-old daughter to the West. When a job aligned, they fell in love with Bend. It wasn't long before they started to sense the pushback from locals.
"I can't name any particular moment of hostility, but it's out there," she said. "It shows up on bumper stickers that say, 'Bend Sucks, Don't Move Here.' "
Like Schrödinger's Cat that is both alive and dead, Tatum is both local and foreign. "I'm really hesitant to say that (I'm a local) around town. It's not necessarily respectful to folks who have lived here much longer," she said. "But if I'm talking to family back east, I'm a local. We live in Bend; this is our home."
Rick Olegario, a candidate for the Bend-La Pine School Board, moved to town in 2014 and his experience has been similar. "You definitely hear about hostility to newcomers, but I've never personally experienced it," he said.
Local is personal
The problem with broad characterizations of the zeitgeist is that they often do not reflect what people think individually. Ask one person what it means to be local, and they're not so harsh. The popular perception is not the personal reality.
Kaylin Landry's family moved to Bend more than 20 years ago.
"When I first moved here as a 10-year-old, people were really mean, like bully mean, because I was from California. Kids had already taken on that aggressive behavior toward Californians that their parents had," she said. Now she's a third-year student at OSU-Cascades. Her experience as a newcomer and as a social observer led her to look more closely at the question of what it means to be a local for a class project.
"People weren't as aggressive about their opinions one-on-one as much as they are on the street," she said. "There was no single definition. I heard date ranges from five to 10 years, to you had to be born here. But other people said that being here and caring about and participating in the community is what defined being a local."
Landry's instructor, Elizabeth Marino of the OSU-Cascades Social Science and Sustainability programs, said that one way to think about what it means to be a local is as a relationship between a person and a place.
"If you feel like the land here and the community here offer you protection, respect and meaning—and you feel committed to give protection, respect and meaning back to the people and landscape around you, maybe you become local that way. Like a friendship that evolves over time. Co-dependency on place, in the best possible way," she explained.
That fit with Landry's perspective after her research. "I've lived here, I've loved here, I've lost here, I've hated it here, but I'm still here. I'm still active in the community and want to see it grow in a way that is accepting of people. That's my definition of being local," she said. "My life is so much better because I live here. Who am I to take that away from other people?
"The thing that scares me is that by defining local in a way that excludes people, we aren't allowing ourselves to grow with the possibilities we have in our own community." She added. "I would like to see us move away from that attitude. It's not a very nice attitude."
The new locals
More people move to Bend and Central Oregon every day, and they don't all come from California.
The Internal Revenue Service tracks people moving from county to county based on tax returns. While it's true that more people come to Deschutes County from out of Oregon than within, it's not by much.
From 2010 to 2015 (the most recent tax years available), about 41,000 people moved to Deschutes County. Forty-three percent of them moved from other counties in Oregon; 54 percent came from another state; and 3 percent came from outside the United States.
With regard to specific counties of origin, however, it's not even close. The top seven are all in Oregon. Multnomah, Lane and Washington counties lead the way, each sending more than 2,000 people to Deschutes County over the five years.
U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey found that the most common type of newcomer is a single male, younger than the average Bend resident by about eight years, and more likely to have a college degree or higher.
Alana Hughson, Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) CEO, believes these qualities are good for Bend. "The people who relocate here are bringing jobs and businesses and adding to the quality of life for everyone in the community," she said.
Meanwhile, Visit Bend, the organization tasked with developing and building Bend's tourism industry, launched a "Like a Local" campaign last year, encouraging visitors and newcomers to "Visit Bend Like a Local," by following "leave no trace" ethics, smiling at strangers and picking up litter on trails, to start.
What it means to be a local
City Councilor Abernethy agrees with the idea of localness as a relationship with the community. "A local is someone who has the long-term interest of the community as a whole, not just their own personal needs, in mind," he said. "It's someone who is both proud of and a cheerleader for their community. That's not to say you can't ever be critical or wish some things were different."
He also differentiates between being "native" and being "local." The former is by accident of birth. The latter is something anyone can become.
Hughson offered a similar view, "Anyone who decides to make this place their home is doing so because they love it, they want to be part of this community. Whether it's 75 years or 75 days, if this is the place someone decides to call home, they're a local."
Preston Callicott, CEO of software company Five Talent, even claimed that some longtime residents are less local than newcomers. "It's not how long you've been here but how invested you are in Bend," he said. "Anyone is local who really cares about Bend. There are plenty of people who have been here a long time but don't care about Bend."
The local relationship is an active one, he says.
"If you hide in your home and no one sees you and you don't get engaged, if all you do is play golf and go to Tower Theatre events, you're a recluse, not a local," Callicott said. "Local is embracing Bend as it is evolving, not setting yourself on the sidelines with the expectations you had 15 or 20 years ago."
Troy Reinhart, candidate for the same school board seat as Olegario, offered a similar assessment, "Being a local is being involved in your community and showing your love for it by working to make it a better place than you found it." (The third candidate for the open school board seat is Bend native Carrie Douglass.)
Olegario suggested that people who move to Bend embrace its culture because that culture is what drew them here in the first place.
The Class of 1980
Reinhart's candidate profile notes not just that he is a Bend High School graduate, but also that he is a member of the class of 1980.
If you talk to people tracking local politics and events, eventually you'll hear about the class of 1980. An unusually high number of graduates from Bend and Mountain View high schools that year are among Bend's movers and shakers today. They're a group that COVA's Hughson, herself a member of the class, lovingly calls "The Circle of Trouble."
"We were a tight, connected class, and I admire every one of them," she said.
The class of 1980 includes Hughson; Reinhart; Charley Miller, president of Miller Lumber; Todd Taylor, CEO of Taylor NW; Peter Carlson, president of Carlson Sign; Scott Wallace, former member of the Bend Park and Recreation District Board; Sean Corrigan, assistant principal at Mountain View; Kyle Frick, candidate for the Central Oregon Community College Board; Scott Steele, president of Steele Associates Architects; and Courtney MacMillan, local philanthropist and nonprofit leader.
The early 1980s were a tough time in Bend, a low point for the local economy. Many members of the class of 1980 left town to go to college, but they didn't stay away. Their returns helped keep Bend from becoming a ghost town.
"We were raised to come back to our community and to be leaders," Reinhart said.
Miller said the recession shaped the class. "Those who understand what the other side looks like are committed to helping Bend grown and thrive. It's in your DNA," he said.
"They're an example of a group that I was skeptical of when I first was elected," Councilor Abernethy says, citing issues of growth and development as places where they differ. "I don't agree with them on everything, but I have come to appreciate the role that they play investing in this community."
The Class of 1980 engages with the community and has a relationship with this place. So do the tens of thousands of people who have moved here in the decades since that group graduated from high school.
"What makes living in Central Oregon so doggone special is that this place attracts wonderful people," Hughson said. "People who are drawn here share a desire to be part of the community, take care of the community and be good stewards of the community."
So who counts as local? That's not something others decide for you.