“You’re the first person I’ve ever met from Wyoming.”
Living out of the state throughout my 20s, I heard that sentence again and again, often followed by “Oh, the cheese state?” (Nope, that’s Wisconsin); “That’s in the Midwest, right?” (Mountain West, please); or “Cool, I’ve been to Jackson” (…is that representative of Wyoming, though? Looking at you, Kanye).
During the past two weeks, I was thrown back into explaining my home state while traveling in East Asia.
The first half of the trip was spent exploring South Korea, guided by Kimberly Patton, a Wyoming expat who has been teaching English throughout the peninsula for the last six years. As a foreigner, she is often asked about her home country and state.
“Most people hear ‘Miami’ instead of ‘Wyoming,’” she laughed.
Sure enough, when my husband and I traveled onward to Japan, typically the first question we were asked was, “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” we said.
“Oh, New York? L.A.?”
“Wyoming,” we replied.
“Wyoming — you know, mountains, cowboys?”
As I tried to think of a better way to sum up our state in a 30-second interaction, I thought about why I am so compelled in the first place. Can’t I let people think I live in Wisconsin or Florida? But, as a rare representative of our low-populated state, I want to sing its praises.
Most out-of-state Wyomingites I know share this instinct. They are excited to rep our home, donning Surf Wyoming apparel, sharing rodeo anecdotes and posting longing photos of the mountains.
In-state Wyomingites possess a similar pride; however, it occasionally translates into pride in our own obscurity.
I was especially struck by this shade of state patriotism earlier this year, when The New York Times listed Wyoming among the “52 Places to Go in 2019.”
After we published the news on the Facebook Page for The Sheridan Press, comments trended along the lines of, “Yes, we know our state is amazing, but don’t tell anyone!”
I get it: We love Wyoming’s wide-open spaces. If too many people find out how special it is, could that element disappear?
The opposite, according to Shawn Parker, executive director of Sheridan Travel & Tourism.
“Tourism is the second largest industry in our state,” he told me. “Without people coming out here to enjoy Wyoming, discovering it, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the quality of life that we love about this place.”
The “keep-Wyoming-secret” philosophy also carries a troubling sense of isolationism. What’s the fear? Don’t we want to share our luckiness with others?
“There’s nowhere like this in the entire country,” Shawn concluded. “Bottom line, you’re better off in the long run if you’ve enjoyed Wyoming.”
I agree. We would be better served to share our pride for our state. Driving back from the airport at dawn yesterday, my heart beat a little faster at the sight of the sagebrush seas lapping at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. If I can share even a taste of that feeling, I will be satisfied.