“So, what brings you to Idaho?”
Oh, if only I could have a dime for every time I get this question! From friends to strangers, church to the DMV, anyone who learns I’m from California will ask me this. I know my answer so why do I always get tongue-tied? Partly because it’s hard to condense a complicated, emotional rollercoaster into a neat one-sentence package for polite small talk with a complete stranger. But the intentions behind the question can get me stuck, too. I can classify these little “interviews” into three scenarios:
- Most times, it’s a sincere and friendly inquiry. They’re just making conversation and want to get to know me. There’s really no motive behind it and they will befriend me no matter what my reasons might be. That’s nice!
- The second most popular reason to ask is to investigate my political viewpoints. What they are really asking is, are you here for the right reasons? Are you going to vote for conservative values and help us to keep Idaho red? Yes, of course, but it’s a bit unnerving to get a pop quiz instead of a warm welcome.
- Lastly, and my least favorite, is really not a question at all. It’s more of a statement that could also be phrased, “So, you’re the reason our beautiful farm life is disappearing, traffic is insane, and my grown children can’t afford a place to live.” There’s no right answer for these people. Fortunately, I’ve very rarely encountered this in real life (but the sentiment is prevalent among internet trolls and an occasional bumper sticker).
I’m not unsympathetic. After escaping a tragic political nightmare in California, I deeply want Idaho to be steadfast in upholding the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. It’s understandable that there’s a concern about all these new people coming in and changing things. And for those who simply want their old way of life back, change is hard. I remember a time when growing up in California made me feel blessed and fortunate. It’s sad how things have changed.
But I also have four things to say back, and I’ll cowardly use this blog to do so now rather than to their faces…
1. Freedom of Movement is a Fundamental Right
Think back to the founding of our country and the expansion west. It is a part of our great heritage to value free movement and migration. The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution states, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” Not only that, but according to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999), travelers have the right to be treated as welcomed visitors, not hostile strangers, and once they become permanent residents, given equal treatment as native-born state citizens. So-called “conservatives” who say they care about conserving constitutional rights while treating all the newcomers with hostility need to seriously chew on this for a minute.
The old American folk song comes to mind: “This land is your land and this land is my land, From California to the New York island, From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, This land was made for you and me…” (NOT: “This land is my land… so leave, I got here first!!”)
2. Who’s really to blame?
If there’s a massive migration out of blue states, it’s quite obvious that the way those states are being run is the problem, not the people leaving. And while it may seem it’s “what the people want” because “that’s what they voted for,” the reality is millions of people absolutely did not vote for it and have had their rights utterly trampled upon. Here’s a great post by Erika that explains what went wrong in California and why so many people are leaving.
Back in December when we made our second trip out to Idaho to purchase a home, I slipped away by myself to enjoy some thrift store shopping in downtown Nampa. I overheard the workers and customers chatting. “All these people moving here from California are making the house market go crazy! It’s impossible to buy a home now!” was the cry. On and on they went, working each other up into a fussy frenzy. I tried to listen for something that I could, in good conscience, agree with a smile and a nod (there wasn’t much). Like an undercover spy about to be blown, I cautiously made my way to the nearest exit. What I wished I would’ve said was, “Hey! Don’t blame me for wanting to escape California! Corrupt politicians are the common enemies for both of us!”
3. Change can also be good.
If I had the fortitude, I might also tell them that population growth has its benefits too. Would you prefer to have your town shrink and decline? More people mean more economic growth, more value to your property, and more grocery stores, restaurants and shopping. The city has more money for infrastructure, parks, and road repairs. Not to mention, the majority of people moving in are patriotic, freedom-loving, family-oriented skilled laborers!
4. It’s none of their business.
As the dust settles, I’m learning that I don’t really need to defend or explain my move to anyone. Unless they are a friend asking sincerely, it’s not really their business. Maybe you are like me and struggle with not wanting to go somewhere you don’t feel welcome (even if it’s just a couple small encounters or a bumper sticker). Meditating on how we have the liberty to live anywhere we see fit helps me tremendously, not only in my own move but also in how I want to welcome others who come after me. And for the Christian, what better way to show Christ’s love than to support and come alongside anyone who’s seeking a better life for their family and assume the best about them before jumping to conclusions.
Next time a complete stranger with sly eyes asks me why I moved to Idaho, I may as well tell them, “Well, I heard the tater tots are amazing!”