(HOST) Commentator Deborah Luskin is proud to be Vermonter by choice.
(LUSKIN) Most of the year, we Vermonters – we citizens who live, work and pay taxes here – get along just fine, and a Vermont driver’s license is proof enough of residency. But it seems all bets are off when it comes to Town Meeting. A candidate for town office can gain real advantage by claiming to be a native – but what does it really mean – to be a native? That your mom just happened to be in-state when you were born? Mostly, I find it amusing, but sometimes I worry that it’s really a code-word for something darker: Xenophobia -perhaps – or fear of the foreign.
Honestly, pulling rank by calling oneself a Native does sometimes smack of xenophobia. Especially when people start their comments with, "I’m a Native Vermonter," or "I was born here," or "My family’s been here for six generations," and end with, "and we never did it this way before."
Oh, I’ll grant you that some of the resentment against newcomers is warranted, and I don’t have patience with people who move here and then complain that there’s no Starbucks nearby. Nor do I have patience with flatlanders who don’t understand – and accept – that in addition to winter, summer and foliage, we have also have seasons for mud, black flies, and hunting.
Okay, so I’m not a native. I was born in mid-state New York, raised in northern New Jersey, lived in Connecticut as a teen, attended college in Ohio, and spent six years in New York City before I moved to Vermont. I wasn’t born here, and I’ll never be a native Vermonter, but I’ve now lived in Vermont for over twenty-five years, nearly half of my life.
So I’m a Vermonter by choice. My being here is no mere accident of birth. I had to overcome some obstacles to make the move. I had to buy a car, for one, and I had to put up with my family’s disbelief for another. "You’re moving to Vermont?" they asked. I come from an urban race, and the thought of living without pavement or home delivery of the New York Times confounded their order of the universe.
For me, moving to Vermont felt like coming home. And I’ve learned to split kindling and survive when the power goes out.
And I have lots of company. Many Vermonters weren’t born here. Of our delegation to Washington, only Senator Leahy was born in Vermont; not even our governor, Jim Douglas, was born in this state. In fact, Deane Davis was our last native born governor – and he served thirty years ago.
Only the Abenaki are true natives of the region, and they predate Vermont. Even Vermont’s folk hero, that Connecticut farmer Ethan Allen, was from away.