Dennis has three bumper stickers on the back of his Toyota Tundra. The first one I noticed has the stars and stripes of the American flag and reads: “If you want a country run by religion, move to Iran.” The second screams in block letters: “GO BACK TO CALIFORNIA.” The third is the blue and gold seal of the state of Oregon, and the caption “Native” underneath it. Dennis and his wife Nancy live south of TV Highway, a road which splits up the suburban and rural parts of Hillsboro, though Dennis once resided in the Dalles where he could enjoy the open eastern air and escape the smog-like pall liberals have cast over the western half of the state. Family, construction work, and a naturalist’s love of Oregon have been the mainstays of Dennis’ life.
So when he heard about the estimated 20,000 people moving into South Hillsboro over the next ten years, Dennis felt betrayed. In addition to his belief that California is a missing member of the Axis of Evil,1 Dennis believes Oregon’s true political spirit animal looks something like a libertarian, walk-softly version of Teddy Roosevelt. Real Oregon is actually red, except pesky Portland liberals usurped the throne by encouraging the mass migration of other lefty out-of-state do-nothing freeloaders seeking a radical utopia.
To be fair, without the Democratic bastions of Portland and Eugene, Real Oregon would probably exist. I think the eastern half of the state also has legitimate standing to criticize their coastal kin for the lack of attention paid to their side. But the possibility of an urban conservative revolution ranks about as likely as Alabama going blue, especially given the fact that the most liberal areas of Oregon (read: cities) are the largest and fastest-growing in the state. Both the United States and the Portland Metro area, Hillsboro included, are going to have to figure out what to do with their respective newcomers, in addition to navigating the consequent demographic trends like greater racial diversity2 and rising housing prices.
There is a variety of proposed solutions to the Population Problem. Dennis suggested Portland should secede from the Union and hole up with Seattle and the goddamn Canadians so Real Oregonians could be left alone. State legislators once floated the idea of a special commercial-only highway that would drain some of the big truck and shipping traffic which clogged the main highways. In the enlightened corridors of social media commentary, most people only offer their annoyance and outrage. It feels redundant to say it, but the debates around movement and strangers have more to do with rhetoric (looking at you, fanatics on both sides of the political correctness debate) than policy substance.
The opposite, less-discussed flipside of the Population Problem is that many communities are shrinking, especially rural areas like those around South Hillsboro. Take rural Scholls, where the entire population of Groner Elementary is smaller than my high school graduating class, even with the recent additions of seventh and eighth grade. The school has chipped white paint and a rusted bell tower. Generations-old hopscotch lines fade away on the cracked blacktop. It’s where my mom went to school, and it’s right across the road from my grandparents’ two-acre home. When she was growing up in the 70s, the school was at max capacity. My mom can recall the packed bleachers at basketball games, where rival schools would chant “pig farmers” against the home team.
The problem, as my grandparents describe it, is that none of the kids came back after they left to try out adulthood. They all went to college and found new lives, or moved to the city for work. Scholls was left mono-generational. The clay tile mill behind my grandparents’ plot has been shuttered for years, even before I was born. The surrounding orchards are pretty much exactly the same as they were 40 years ago, a shadow-dappled sanctuary where you can barely feel the forest dirt beneath all the dried leaves, branches, and walnut shells.
The housing construction in South Hillsboro will begin in early 2018. A new elementary school already towers above the plowed dirt piles and orchard off Farmington Road.
Whether it wanted the new generation to come back, or wanted to be left alone by the outlanders moving into the region, Scholls simply had to adapt (or at least stoically endure) the changes. Like the rest of Oregon, and the rest of the country, isolation was never a choice for the people of Scholls.
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1 That is, if we can take bumper stickers to be reliable indicators of a person’s political preferences. I’m not a bumper sticker man myself, so I can only speculate on the reasons people use them. I have a hunch it appeals to some kind of tribal, genetically-encoded group solidarity, so the wannabe hippies with COEXIST plastered on the back of their shitty Geo Metros and the white Protestant moms with the Jesus fish fixed to their vans can affirm their respective places in the never-ending Great American Culture War.
2 I’ve always thought it odd that the Northwest enshrines diversity as one of its core values, but the region is one of the whitest in the country. Northwesterners seem to know what proper diversity-speak sounds like, but since we rarely have the opportunity to test the value of diversity in practice, it will be interesting to see how it holds up over the next couple decades.