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A carpetbagger comes home-and gets a set of blue plates

by Christy Chalmers

Ever since I learned how important native Nevadan status is, I’ve been asserting mine.

My father tried to tell me before I moved back to Nevada in 1994. I was a senior in college and had secured a job interview.

My father, wanting to encourage that opportunity, gave me all sorts of interviewing tips. One was that I should disclose my native status.

“That’s very important,” said my father. “You should tell them you were born in Reno -“

“In a snowstorm at St. Mary’s, yeah, yeah, yeah,” I snorted derisively. Like they’ll care, I thought to myself.

During the interview, the subject of familiarity with Nevada came up. It was my first interview and I was nervous and sure it was going awfully, so I grasped at the first straw I saw:

“Actually, I was born in Reno,” I told the interviewers, hoping to exude familiarity even though I had lived in Nevada for all of about three months before being whisked off to California, where I grew up.

I guess it worked. I got the job and have been cultivating contempt for non-natives since.

I was initially reluctant to invoke my native status. I was only born in Nevada because my parents happened to be here. I know that sounds stupid, but my parents both grew up in California and would still have been there had my father not come to Reno for his first job. While he was working, my mother continued her coursework at the University of Nevada. A few months after I was born, my dad got another job in California. I grew up in the Sacramento Valley.

I scoffed at the idea of myself as a native Nevadan. I knew nothing about the state and figured I would be exposed as a carpetbagger – and rightfully so – if I tried to class myself among the natives.

Then I began to notice the simmering resentment old-time Nevadans seemed to have for the newcomers, especially the ones from California. The issue was epitomized by Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen’s effort to replace the old blue license plates with homogenous silver ones a few years back.

The natives and old-timers didn’t like that. Original blue license plates mean you’ve been here a long time, and low numbers following one or two letters corresponding to a county name mean you’ve been here a really long time. I developed a healthy respect for drivers of cars bearing such plates.

I even began defending the holders of the blue plates from carpetbagger attacks, mostly when my husband suggested picking up a few sets of blue plates from the collectible shops he frequents and putting them on our cars.

“You can’t do that,” I informed him. “You’re not a native. That would be cheating.”

I let my guard down after discovering anyone can now get blue plates. They are replicas of the originals, but no one really has to know that.

We got our blue plates recently. As we were affixing the decals, my husband chuckled.

“I feel like we’re cheaters,” he admitted.

“Well, you are,” I answered. “But I’m a native Nevadan, you know.”