Who is a Westerner?

  Dear HCN,


I take exception to HCN's definition of who is and who is not a Westerner. I was born and raised in Arizona and, except for a short exile in the South, I've lived in what I thought was the West all my life. I love the West and have devoted a substantial part of my life to learning about Western lands and Western peoples. Ed Marston, however, informs me that, contrary to my long-held belief, I'm not a Westerner, apparently because I live in a city and because I'm an environmentalist. In his review of Daniel Kemmis' fairy tale, This Sovereign Land (HCN, 2/4/02: The West can govern itself), Marston makes a firm distinction between "urban environmentalists" and "Westerners." I find it ironic that a New Yorker would have the gall to designate who is and who is not a Westerner. If I'm not a Westerner, what am I?


I think HCN's selective definitions of the West and Westerners (not at all limited to Marston's recent review) are directly tied to your ridiculous glorification of ranchers. Maybe I need to remind you that the vast majority of Westerners are not "cowboys" and never have been. In fact, the majority of us live in cities (the West has been one of the most heavily urbanized regions of the nation since the 19th century). In addition, contrary to HCN's opinion, the West does not stop at the eastern slope of the Cascades and the Sierra - it extends all the way to the Pacific Ocean (yes, believe it or not, Californians, Oregonians, Washingtonians and British Columbians are all Westerners). I think Marston's understanding of the West and Westerners is based less on reality and more on Easterners' fantasies about "life on the range" developed from watching too many cowboy movies. I think HCN needs to be reminded that the West is about a lot more than cowboys (thank God!). Can we have a little more reality and a little less myth?


Cain Allen
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada