Nancy Napier: How deep-rooted Idahoans might alienate newcomers

Executive director of Boise State's Centre for Creativity and InnovationJune 18, 2014 

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Nancy Napier

CARRIE QUINNEY — Boise State University

"I'm a fifth-generation Idahoan."

When did you last hear that? Usually a politician, maybe a business person, and now and then a Boomerang (someone who grew up in Idaho, left for a while, and then returned to settle down) will throw it out, almost as a badge of honor. It speaks to pride in the land, in a family that has been loyal to a state for years, and in a sense of groundedness.

I get that. I've worked in Europe and have met people who live on their families' estates or farms that go back 600 or more years. I know Vietnamese who claim their roots go back more than 1,000 years, and they are proud of holding the land together, even as others tried to colonize it.

So I appreciate that sense of belonging to something big, of being from someplace, of calling it home for the long haul - maybe partly because I didn't have it growing up.

I was an Army brat and moved a lot. Even though I moved to Idaho almost 30 years ago, I'll never be a "real Idahoan." Even though I built a family, career and life in Idaho, I'll never be a fifth-generation anything.

I'm not bothered by that, not for myself. I'm used to being an outsider.

But it does worry me for another reason. Could a phrase such as "I'm a fifth-generation Idahoan" send an unintentionally negative message to others who may want to build productive lives here? Could it be misinterpreted as smacking of elitism or exclusiveness? Could that then hurt us economically - the last thing we need as a community and state?

I raise this question in part because I'm beginning to hear it from some of the most talented and creative younger people I work with or teach. Several professionals in their 30s who want to build careers and lives in the area and are in the process of considering options or starting firms, have said that they immediately feel left out when they hear the fifth-generation comment. Reactions vary, but here's the gist:

• Does a "fifth-generation" person's opinion hold more sway than a third-generation person's? Or a first-generation "immigrant" (like me)?

• I'm a 35-year-old professional who wants to move my family to Idaho, set up a business (or join an ongoing one) and build a life here. Do I have a chance against people who make me feel I don't count?

We are in the throes of some touchy economic conditions in the state, but I worry that we may lose more business and more talent if the word gets out that there's an attitude of "unless you can prove you're from here, don't bother coming here."

I'm sure I wanted to "close the doors" after discovering Boise and Idaho, but now I know that to thrive, we need new blood, ideas and money. And that means encouraging people from the new generation to join those of the fifth.

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