I’m generally a positive person. I try to focus on the genuinely good aspects in life and shake off the bad. I recently spent a year and a half living in Portland, Oregon, and I tried my best to adhere to that positive mentality. However, there was an underlying nature to the city that I could not get on board with.
I heard countless exceptional reviews about Portland before I arrived, from online communities, friends, and acquaintances alike. It’s a place that has been written about by the media a lot in the past five years. It’s known for its creative culinary scene, the TV show Portlandia, craft beer culture, and its quirky nature. It’s rated as having one of the highest standards of living in America. I never heard one bad aspect about the city, besides maybe the dreary weather, before I moved there.
I don’t know if people simply don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room because they’re too uncomfortable about it.
But the aspect I disliked most about living in Portland is what it’s most proud of portraying in the media: it’s progressiveness, or lack thereof as I soon found out.
There were wonderful aspects about Portland and living in the Pacific Northwest as a whole, but I would never do it again. Even with the amount of cities I’ve lived in abroad. Even with how many times I’ve had to start over and create a new life in a foreign place. I’ve never had as hard of a time as I did in Portland. The few friends that I did make were not from Portland originally, and there was always that underlying feeling of you’re not welcome here.
Portland is meant to be progressive. Instead what I found was a place full of fear, disgust, and distrust for the “outsider.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words, “Go back to California.” I once waited in line at the DMV for an hour only to be publicly humiliated by a DMV employee. He decided to loudly make derogatory remarks to me once he saw my California license, because he knew he could get away with it.
I know there’s an ongoing “joke” about Californians and how they’re not wanted in Oregon. I understand that, even if I don’t think it’s all that funny. It’s not just about being politically correct. I think that type of attitude only creates an atmosphere akin to the current political spectacle encouraging hate. And the thing is, it wasn’t just Californians that seemed to be the butt of every off-hand joke from Portlanders.
My partner is from New Zealand and he was met with the same response. Washingtonians and anyone else not from Oregon is met with the same backlash for moving to the state. My first weekend in the city, I was eating lunch and reading letters to the editor in one of the local opinion newspapers. One person wrote that she was wanting to go around to all of the cars with out-of-state plates and attach balloons to them, to see if they would get the hint.
Leave, we don’t want you here.
I went on to the next page and read about how all of the people moving up from San Francisco are creating “yuppie” communities in Portland. I read how they were the reason all of the rent prices were going up in the city. And fair enough, that’s probably partly true. The way in which it was written, though, it was dripping with disgust and a “how dare they” attitude. There was a deep superiority complex that I began to notice around the city from locals. Perhaps it was due to personal insecurities or maybe just a simple misunderstanding of the world and who we are as humans. Regardless of the reasons, it was there.
The thing about hate is that it only creates more hate, no matter what that type of hate is.
I know the types of responses I’ll get from this piece. I’m sure I’ll get a few more, “go back to California” comments or worse. But it’s about time we discuss the negative and dangerous side to this beloved American city. Portland is unfortunately not the only city in America that has a mistrust and fear of outsiders, far from it actually. But isn’t Portland meant to be one of the leaders of progressiveness in this country?
Maybe at one time it was truly a progressive and welcoming place, but that’s not what I found during my time living in the city. And if the current Portland is the standard of progressive thought in this country, then that is a serious problem.
In the current world that we live in, where there is so much hate toward the outsider, we could all use a little more understanding and decency. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
To all Portlanders and anyone else that may have taken offense to this article, this is your call to action. Don’t allow a community of exclusivity to continue in your city. Next time you go to write a pithy remark on Facebook begrudging Californians or talking with disgust about the influx of non-Oregonians into the city, take a moment’s pause. Do you want to add another level of negativity to the world today? I think it already has more than enough on its plate.