Going Local

In the latest issue of Door County Living magazine (the sister publication of the Peninsula Pulse) I set out to define a Door County local. On a peninsula of so many transients and disparate communities I ended up finding the task nearly impossible.

I had to narrow the scope, focusing my efforts on Northern Door, though I might have been wiser to choose a single town or village. We all tend to identify ourselves as “from Door County” but what that means varies greatly depending on what part of the peninsula you live or grew up. When I travel beyond Green Bay and someone asks me where I’m from, I’ve always said “Door County,” not Egg Harbor, where I grew up (if I’m in Green Bay, I’ll say, “Egg Harbor, up in Door County”).

Since the article came out I’ve run into at least one person every day who takes issue with the definitions offered by the folks quoted in the piece. Each of those interviewed offered a different interpretation of the term; some said it simply takes making it through a couple winters, while others said you had to at least attend high school here, and another went as far as to say you have to trace yourself back at least one generation. After reading the article, many who considered themselves local now seem to be doubting their identity, and not without a hint of sadness, bitterness, or even anger.

I wasn’t able to settle the debate after talking to dozens of people for the article, nor have I achieved clarity after hearing from dozens more since it hit the stands. But I will offer this: no matter how long you’ve lived here, or how many generations deep you can trace your lineage here, I don’t think you can call yourself local without immersing yourself in local life, history and lore. If you don’t appreciate the color, then all you know is an old, silent, black and white version of the peninsula. That color, complete with some alarming faults and endearing quirks, is what makes us who we are.

I think you can be a “transplant” and become a local, which others would debate. But I also think you can be a transplant, live here for 50 years, and never become a local if you always keep the generational locals at arm’s length. If you aren’t willing to respect the work and perspective of a waitress, a teacher, a farmer, a cook, or a tradesman and what they do to squeeze out a complete life on the peninsula, I don’t think I could call you a local even if you were born here.

Being local is about being part of the community, appreciating it, even complaining about it. It may, in fact, be less about birthplace and time put in, and more about feel.

Maybe you can’t spot a local by birth certificate or dress, but you can by conversation. That’s about the best I can come up with for “What makes a local a local.”

Check out the local quiz from the magazine here. To read the full “What Makes A Local A Local” article, grab a copy of the spring issue of Door County Living magazine at newsstands all over Door County.