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Acceptance is hard to gain when you're not from 'here'

During the regional planning meeting in Medford this past week, an otherwise normal-looking fellow sitting next to me freely admitted he wasn't a native of the Rogue Valley.

Like a sinner in a confessional, he was apologetic when he allowed he had only lived in the area about two decades. It was well he should have been full of remorse, what with having committed the major faux pas of being born in the wrong place.

A confessed murderer couldn't have been more contrite.

Moreover, he was — God forbid! — apparently from a state to our south.

Make that a born-again mass murderer.

If there had been a yardarm nearby — and I knew what the heck one looked like — I would have helped string him up on the spot.

The gall of some people.

Hold it right there. Put down the phone. And keep those bony fingers of indignation away from the keyboard.

I'm kidding about hanging. Knee capping with a baseball bat, now there is a punishment with panache.

Seriously, no one should ever feel bad about living anywhere for less time than what others arbitrarily deem acceptable. It is time we drive a stake through the heart of our we-got-here-first priggishness.

It's just a thought, but maybe we ought to quit focusing on where individuals come from and consider where we are going as a people.

We are all guilty of this narrow provincial outlook, of course. Nor is it unique to our region. During travels from the Arctic to Vietnam, I've found similar parochial attitudes about "newcomers."

Yet ever since our distant ancestors invented the wheel, we have lived in a mobile world. It is in our genes to hop into our jeans to explore the horizon.

We encourage our young to go out into the world. Yet we tend to sniff suspiciously at any outsiders who would presume they can live amongst us.

All of us are from somewhere else. I submit that the lion's share of people living in Oregon are probably from California, and that their ancestors were from all points of the globe.

Indeed, I will even admit to having done time — so to speak — in the Golden State.

But that's OK, because I was here before I was there, to paraphrase a couple of well-known politicians.

Don't get me wrong. I am proud that I am a third-generation Southern Oregonian whose paternal grandparents homesteaded in the Applegate Valley. I am thankful my father was born in Ashland in 1906; that I arrived kicking and fussing in the Rogue Valley in 1951.

Furthermore, I appreciate the fact my maternal ancestors came to the Oregon Territory by way of the Oregon Trail in the early 1850s. In fact, E.N. Cooke, my maternal great-great uncle, was Oregon's second state treasurer. He was elected in 1862 and re-elected in 1866, serving until 1870.

I bring that up simply to burnish my credentials as a priggish practitioner of provincialism.

Obviously, how long someone's family has lived in an area is relative, pun intended.

My family may have settled here back in the day, but I don't consider myself a native son. I would give that honor to folks like my friends John Decker of Central Point and Steve Bobb of Grande Ronde. John is a Modoc Indian whose family roots go back thousands of years. Steve, a buddy from the Marine Corps, is a direct descendant of the Indians' forced marched from the Rogue Valley in the 1850s to Grande Ronde.

While we Oregonians are veteran practitioners of the art of territorial parochialism, New England states and Texas leave us in the dust.

But the king of them all is Alaska, where you are considered an ignorant cheechako — a greenhorn of the first order — during the first year you are in the Last Frontier.

While spending a week in the village of Wainwright in the Alaskan Arctic in June of 1984, I recall discovering the Inupiat people weren't too keen about talking to a journalist. I was doing some features on the changing culture in the Arctic.

But I was definitely an outsider in this remote hamlet some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. To put it into perspective, the Eskimo village sits on the edge of the Chukchi Sea about 70 miles southwest of Barrow.

No, you cannot see Russia from there. Something about the curvature of the Earth.

In any case, it took several days — make that two 24-hour periods during the continuous sunlight — before I finally found anyone willing to talk to a writer from a distant Anchorage newspaper.

But the Eskimo, a friendly minister in a village church, cautioned that he was not from the village and was still working on being accepted.

Turns out he was born in Point Lay, a hamlet about 100 miles farther southwest.

"I've only been here 27 years," explained the outsider.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.