Wyoming Identity: Who Are We?

Welcome to Episode 1! Lucas Fralick, Chloe Flagg and EmydiGrappa are excited to share their Wyoming identity stories with you in our first episode. We want you to get to know us at Wyoming Humanities. There are so many fascinating, interesting people, history and stories in our state.  So we are going to keep asking our Wyoming people to get in touch by email or phone so that we can connect with you and learn YOUR story!

We started off on our Winds of Change journey talking about "identity." We are exploring the evolving identity of Wyoming. We want to explore Wyoming's identity and YOUR identity living in Wyoming. Our sense of identity and belonging is impacted by various factors, including our experiences, relationships and our environment. Identity intersects with our sense of community, our connection to the land and how we work through change today.

We are exploring the evolving identity of Wyoming. Identity defines who you are. It is a self-representation of your interests, relationships, community, social activity and much more. Our sense of identity and belonging is impacted by various factors, including our experiences, relationships and our environment. The journey to find identity and belonging can often be a struggle. Since we ask ourselves, who am I, where do I belong? Where do I fit in? Identity intersects with our sense of community, our connection to the land and how we work through change today.

Here are two Wyoming narratives that challenge Wyoming identity and the need for change. Shawn Reese and Grace Cannon. Shawn Reese is our executive director at Wyoming Humanities. As our ED, Shawn was very keen on supporting this podcast that is focused on Wyoming's history and stories of the people who make Wyoming home. His career has been marked by public service planning and development. In his narrative he gives us an interesting perspective on culture and change in Wyoming. Grace Cannon from Sheridan talks about community identity and growing up in Wyoming. And she describes herself as a community-based theater artist, but she didn't always live in Sheridan. She left the state, has lived and worked in Chicago, New York City and Berlin, but she came back and speaks about why.

Contact Emy@thinkwy.org or call 307-699-2680

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Emy diGrappa (00:01):

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy diGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land and the Winds of Change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns? Listen to folks from across our state, share their connection to Wyoming and home, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities.
Welcome on episode one of our new podcast, we want you to know a bit about what we think of our Wyoming identity. We are exploring the evolving identity of Wyoming. Identity defines who you are. It is a self representation of your interests, relationships, community, social activity and much more. Our sense of identity and belonging is impacted by various factors, including our experiences, relationships and our environment. The journey to fine identity and belonging can often be a struggle. Since we ask ourselves, who am I, where do I belong? Where do I fit in? Identity intersects with our sense of community, our connection to the land and how we work through change today, Lucas and Chloe and I share our personal stories of our Wyoming identity. I'll start with me. I do consider myself a Wyomingite now. I've lived here for 20 years, since 2002. I moved here from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I was born and raised in Colorado, born in Denver, raised in Fort Collins. Fort Collins was always home base for me where my large Hispanic lived and many of them still do. It was always the place that I referred to as home. But after moving to Wyoming and making Wyoming home, my thoughts about where home is changed, Wyoming became the place that changed me, wide open spaces, outdoors, wildlife and big skies. I feel connected to my community. I always thought I wanted the big city life and metropolitan lifestyle and all the work and career opportunities that big cities have to offer. But after moving here and enjoying the small community of Jackson, the small population, and especially the landscape, Wyoming has become home for me.

Chloe Flagg (02:22):

I love that Emy, thank you for sharing that. I Chloe, hi everyone. I am a Wyomingite through and through born and raised. My parents were born and raised here. My grandparents immigrated here, you know, we, we're Wyomingite and that means so many things to so many different people. Like my family, for instance, we were not hunters, right? We didn't, we don't fish. Like we're not like outdoorsmen in that sort of way, but we do have this appreciation for those wide open spaces, just like you were talking about. And I remember when I was young, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe and- and perform some music there for a couple of weeks and I was like 14.
And I came back to Wyoming and I'd just been in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, right? Like novels have been written about these places, you know, (laughs), and I come back to Wyoming and I think this is so beautiful. This is so unlike anything there, right? It's its own animal. And it's so different than those, you know, I mean, centuries old, urban centers of Europe, right? (laughs) And- and even the ur- urban centers in America, like it's just a, the whole state is remarkable in its own way. And- and- and I think kind of everyone can identify with that inability to like capture or articulate its beauty. But yeah, it really is, the identity I feel of Wyoming is- is very much connected to the landscape for sure, absolutely.

Lucas Fralick (04:04):

I totally agree with you. It is a beautiful place to live. Uh, I'm a part of a generation that, of offspring. I should, I should say. Yeah. I am the offspring of a generation that came into Wyoming from far away places like South Dakota and Ohio who came here for, uh, work right during that, uh, fossil fuel boom in the mid to late '70s. And so I am the outcome of that and I consider myself totally Wyoming. Uh, I mean, I was raised here, I leave and I always come back and- and yeah, Chloe clearly I totally agree, having traveled around, I mean, I'm not quite as worldly, but having been in several places. Yeah, yeah, Wyoming just seems to have a certain ring to it, a certain call. I don't know if it's a combination of the people, the culture or what it is, but it always so seems to, it's home.
And so this is just it for me. Uh, I enjoy it here. Uh, like I said, I consider myself full pledge Wyoming, I think in my mannerisms and behavior and how I talk to people, I have noticed a significant change, especially when talking to Oregon folks, nothing against Oregon. I love the place, but there's a certain difference there. And it's not a bad one (laughs). I'm not trying to compare them in a negative fashion. I'm just putting that out specifically. But yeah, I mean, it is Wyoming. So I guess when we wanna talk about identity, there's some sort of, uh, power hold that this state has over its people, uh, and for better or worse, that's just how it is. People who come here visit here, It's just- just traps you, (laughs).

Chloe Flagg (06:01):

It is a memorable, like I said, remarkable place. It just-

Lucas Fralick (06:05):

Memorable, that's- that's it, memorable, yeah.

Chloe Flagg (06:09):

Yeah. I mean, just like with you, Emy, I mean, Wyoming left its impression on you so much that you're still here 20 years later.

Emy diGrappa (06:17):

I know that's true. And I always thought I was gonna live in- in, you know, a big city and-

Lucas Fralick (06:21):

Portland's great this time of year, always visit Portland. I always say as an example to make sure people know I- I do like Oregon.

Chloe Flagg (06:21):

(laughs).

Emy diGrappa (06:34):

That's good. That's good information Lucas. So there's this saying, and I know you've all heard it and people say it all the time. People say Wyoming is a small town with very long streets, have you heard that?

Chloe Flagg (06:47):

Oh yeah, for sure.

Lucas Fralick (06:50):

Many of politician have said this to me. It's just like what, it's kinda like the classic tagline, you know, read my lips, long streets, small town, you know, very classic line.

Emy diGrappa (07:07):

Well, why do you think they say that? Why do you think that they, um, describe it that way?

Chloe Flagg (07:13):

I think a lot of it has to do with just our sheer size of population in that it's small. There are not a lot of people that live here. I mean, everyone knows everyone, uh, you know, in some way. And it's kind of, it's kinda why, like the city is, feels alienating I think, because there are all these people around and you don't know any of them and you don't know who, you know, who they know and it's- it's- it's a lot, but when you're in Wyoming, you can go anywhere in the state and you know someone who knows someone, you know, (laughs), you know? Or- or is related to someone, you know, or it, it's just wherever you are you're at home.

Emy diGrappa (08:01):

I think, I think that's true. I think, um, I was looking at, I was looking at our state population and it's 578,759. So we're less than 600,000. We're not even as big as many, you know, suburbs in large cities, you know? And so it kinda has that, um, that small town feel no matter where you go, because it is a lot of small communities that make up our state.

Lucas Fralick (08:33):

Yeah, it's the, uh, uh, that's kind of the idea of Wyoming's traditionalists are very, uh, neighborly. It's like we're, we consider ourselves in the same town because literally you could go anywhere and people might know someone, you know? I mean, I haven't been here relatively that long compared to other families. And yet I feel like the whole state just knows each other. You go from Gillette where I reside to Evanston in the opposite corner, you'd be like, oh yeah, I know those guys. Yeah, how is the, how- how are the kids, you know, how is tricks type conversation? And it's really, really fun that way. And it's just that neighborly feeling, which I think helps reinforce the idea that we should be nicer to each other (laughs) because everyone knows each other. It's kind of tough to be a jerk because, you know, word- word, uh, spreads pretty fast.

Chloe Flagg (09:29):

And I think that neighborly feeling really translates into- into action a lot of time. Um, even if you don't know someone directly, like if you're from Wyoming and you see someone on the side of the road, like you're gonna stop, (laughs)-

Lucas Fralick (09:45):

Or I think-

Chloe Flagg (09:47):

... and they're gonna stop for you. And you know that. It's just like a given, right. We all have to take care of each other. You know, my cousin who's, you know, (laughs), it doesn't matter how you know each other, you'll always know each other.

Lucas Fralick (09:59):

Prec- precisely. Absolutely. It's-

Chloe Flagg (09:59):

And, yeah

Lucas Fralick (10:02):

... it's like the need to wave on a road all the time with the two fingers or the whole wave.

Chloe Flagg (10:07):

Yep.

Lucas Fralick (10:07):

I've tried them all and they all get a response. And it's amazing.

Chloe Flagg (10:13):

Yeah.

Emy diGrappa (10:18):

Now you've gotten to know a bit about your host for this podcast and our Wyoming identities, as you heard from me, Lucas and Chloe is wide open spaces and not so many people, our official motto is the equality state. Sometimes we call ourselves the cowboy state, but how do those self proclaim descriptions match up to reality? As you stay on this podcast journey with us, we'll hear from many Wyomingites on what they like and dislike about the state. And look forward to hearing Wyoming history conversations that will invigorate your learning and thinking about current issues and interesting historical facts that have shaped and continue to shape our state.
Here are two Wyoming narratives that challenge Wyoming identity and the need for change. Shawn Reese and Grace Cannon. Shawn Reese is our executive director at Wyoming Humanities. As our ED, Shawn was very keen on supporting this podcast that is focused on Wyoming's history and stories of the people who make Wyoming home. His career has been marked by public service planning and development. In his narrative he gives us an interesting perspective on culture and change in Wyoming. Grace Cannon from Sheridan talks about community identity and growing up in Wyoming. And she describes herself as a community-based theater artist, but she didn't always live in Sheridan. She left the state, she's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City and Berlin, but she came back and talks about why.

Shawn Reese (12:00):

I grew up in Cheyenne. And actually I've only lived in two places in my life, Cheyenne and Laramie. I'm now in Laramie, um, but for a long time and that i- actually until recently I thought I was going to die within a mile of where I was born, which was at the county hospital in Cheyenne. And, you know, I'm- I'm turning 50 this year. And so that's a good time to reflect on things. So yeah, I'm getting close to being over the hill, literally and figuratively. Recently, I've been thinking about change, not only in terms of- of Wyoming, but also about myself. I've been out of the closet for a year now. I've got family roots to go back several generations and have been involved in a number of, you know, uh, Wyoming state government. Um, just, I feel like I've got a pretty good sense of- of Wyoming, both from my per- my family's history, from the jobs that I've had.
But now, uh, I feel like I'm a little bit of an outsider trying to get reacquainted with, you know, what is this state that I'm now part of? I, you know, now associate with a different tribe than I did before. So it's- it's interesting that I'm in many ways seeing Wyoming in a, in a different way than I did in the past, but I'd also say I've always kind of, um, embraced the- the outsiders. I notice a lot of people when they introduce themselves, they talk about what generation they are of Wyoming [inaudible 00:13:41], I'm a fourth generation Wyomingite, fifth generation Wyomingite, I can say that too, but I don't, I feel like that this state, because of our low population and that the challenges that we have feel like we need to be more welcoming of- of the stranger and embracing newcomers.
And, you know, besides our native American friends, we're all basically newcomers, you know, this was, we, whites settled this land, not that long ago, if you think about it. So we're, we've built a community around newcomers, but it doesn't always feel to me like we're that welcoming of- of newcomers. And so I've always been interested in- in new ideas and fresh perspectives. Um, and I also love it when you, when you do talk to an old timer Wyoming person, and they also are interested in new ideas and are open to, um, different topics. So, you know, my- my relationship with Wyoming has been, I love it, but I also like that there's opportunities for- for new ideas. I think it is innately tough living in Wyoming. You know, we can't control the weather, we have a preponderance of federal land, so we can't always control the land.
That's all being controlled by, you know, bureaucrats in- in DC, our economy is based on commodities and we can't control those markets. So there's a lot that we can't control in our lives here in Wyoming. And I think the result of that is we often fight back when there are glimmers that there are things that maybe we can control we'll fight. You know, we talk all the time about federal overreach and things like that. And I think a lot of that comes from the- the fact that we can't control a lot. So we try, we fight hard for what we think we can't control. Where I would like for us to be as a state though, instead of fighting to- to, you know, find that sense of control that we don't have otherwise is to imagine what the future is that we want. I think that takes a cultural change.
You know, I've been involved in economic development for a long time in good economic times and bad economic times put a lot of money into great projects around the state, but it's, the infrastructure is not gonna change things. It's gonna be our collective mindset where we think we are, where we harness what does make us have a s- unique identity and a strong sense of community, our connection to the land and our persistence and ability to manage change. I think we need to harness those strengths and create Wyoming around those values rather than always being in this defensive fight mode.
That cultural- cultural component is foundational for us to be able to change our economy and address the challenges in our communities. But if we start thinking about the landscape and the natural world differently than just as a, uh, as something that we extract from rather something that we- we appreciate, and we want to spend more time in it in our, in our own, you know, for our own recreational pursuits or our own interests, that the landscape then changes from something that drives our economy to something that makes us complete people, that makes us feel a connection to something bigger than us.
And I think that as you know, as we see more and more automation in the world and computers will be doing more and more, there is a human need to have the, uh, connection to things that have kind of been lost. And I think Wyoming gives us a wonderful opportunity for that human connection to a place. So how we connect to the land and how it relates to our view of- of outsiders I think is really important. But I think that it is the landscape here is incredible and it- it just can't be all about extraction. It's gotta be about how does that landscape, not what do we take from it, but what do we, what does it give us as- as humans and living in a place that's as cool as Wyoming is

Grace Cannon (18:49):

My name's Grace Cannon. I live up in Sheridan, Wyoming, and I was born and raised here, but I spent, um, many years, uh, off and away in different places like Chicago and New York and Berlin, and found my way back here. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my Wyoming identity and I especially started thinking a lot about it when I left the state. I am deeply rooted here. And I've actually more recently realized that I'm- I'm deeply rooted specifically in Northern Wyoming. You know, Wyoming as a square state has a lot of different aspects to it. And when I went away to school, when I graduated high school, I went to a Vassar College in upstate New York. And even though I had been quite anxious to leave suddenly outside of the square state of Wyoming, I- I- I was like longing for it and looking back on it.
So I- I got into American studies and I made my focus, uh, the American west and the identity of the American westerner and the ways in which myth and history are intertwined really, and how that impacts the way that people identify. But once I left Wyoming that, you know, I became the girl from Wyoming. And so suddenly, uh, those tropes or- or whatever you wanna call them, uh, were easy for me to grab as a way to sort of stand out and be sort of a novelty in a place like Poughkeepsie, New York to be from the least populated state. You know, I- I sort of, uh, found myself playing with those a little bit more. Whereas previously I had tried to get away from them, I guess, 'cause what I discovered as I moved throughout the world a little bit and felt myself pulled back to Wyoming was, uh, that I was deeply connected to Wyoming and, uh, in large part, through things in particular, like my relationship to the land, the landscape, the natural world, and also, and also the community (laughs).
So- so there- there have also been a lot, plenty of times in my life where- where thinking about Wyoming has meant thinking about a lack of certain things that I longed for or yearned for, that might be a human experience in some ways, but, you know, and through my adult life sort of like, uh, development of thought has been that, you know, there's no way to really exist in the world in terms of defining a person, a group of people, a place by- by what they lack really, you know, coming around to asset based approaches to understanding what, what does exist in a place and how you can celebrate that, bring joy to that, bring a spotlight to that has been a- a- a way in which I- I feel I've evolved myself over time and it's intoxicating, you know, truly the ideal, right?
The- the wide open places, the thought of pioneering in a, in a place that's difficult to live, persevering through generations of hardship, uh, absolutely the- the freedom that comes with sort of being, let loose on in a place like that, I think is, uh, absolutely inspiring in many ways. I mean, and you know, so in this way, right, the American west, the, in the figure of the cowboy, you have the manifestation of like the American dream. If you think about westward expansion and, you know, the movement westward, you- you- you have a lot of the development of these, you know, the life Liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the- the independence, uh, really find their, i- idol (laughs), in the cowboy. I mean, especially, you know, that especially develops through things like adventure tales of the, you know, late 1800s into the 1900s and then, and then movies, but then yeah, you- you go further- further around the world.
You go to, you know, Europe or Asia. I mean, I think that idea definitely transcends many, um, cultural barriers in some ways, it- it runs really deep in terms of who we are in the value that we find in ourselves, our identities and our lives and our connection to, um, our world around us. And I wanna just also say, I mean, the- the flip side of it too, is that, you know, a lot of what I think is so intoxicating about it is that it is an ideal, it's an idea it's an ideal. And so, you know, the, and in that way, much of it is mythic, you know? So- so there is this other side to it, right? Like you think about the trope of the cowboy with the cowboy hat that exists, sure. But what's more common, right? Like the- the guy with the, with the baseball cap on the four wheeler, right?
So these things actually exist in different ways than, you know, these like two dimensional images that we sometimes hold up. The tension between sort of what is, what is gr- what is great about something that gets exaggerated into an ideal versus the other side of it, which is the reality, which is the challenges, which, you know, can either be, um, like I- I suppose, negative, but, you know, I mean, there can be beauty too, in some of the- the- the harshness of- of the reality of things as well. But I think it's really important, um, to have a well rounded understanding of, uh, the ways in which some of these ideals that we hold up are just that, right? They aren't fully the full picture. And I think that's important because you can think about like, you know, take the ideal of the cowboy in our world now, right?
Um, if you wanna think about that in terms of gender and, um, how- how that plays out in that old story, (laughs), of the American west, um, you know, there's- there's, there are ways in which we need to break apart these things to- to let the humanity in for everybody, you know, whether that's, uh, folks whose identity really exists outside of say the trope of the cowboy, or even inside of it, I think that they can become really rigid even in their, like I intoxific- intoxicating, uh, you know, glory. Um, and we have to, we have to sort of like break some of these things apart so that people can see themselves, people of all different backgrounds and identities can really see themselves, uh, in a place as part of a community on a land, you know? That's the important flip side of, uh, what is so exciting about about something like, you know, cowboy life or- or something like that.
It's true. And I think, you know, I- I wanna say two things, I wanna say one, um, you know, there, there's theories around myths and stories, right? And the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and the way our worlds works, I mean, stories live on because they're serving a purpose, right? I also wanna say, I would argue, you know, the way in which these, uh, ideas become really mythic and pervasive is that they're, I don't know if they are ever fully true, right? You know, what has become, um, an idea of what a cowboy is, uh, develops out of a million different tellings of a story that, you know, angled towards one sort of like cohesive through line, but forever there's been a million different ways to be that type of a person, right? Um, but I would just argue like, you know, w- what it means to live in Wyoming, what it means to be a cowboy.
These things have always meant many different things. It's never been one monolithic thing. So, you know, if- if I find, you know, from my perspective that if there are folks that are like, well, it just isn't that way anymore and I wish it could be, you know, like I wish it could be like, it was, I, you know, my argument would really be that, like, it's never been simple. It's never been simply, you know, this wonderful, great thing that we just need to get back to, right? So there is no getting back to it because it's always been complicated to be a westerner, you know? We've al- we've always been living through change. Um, so I think that there's like, even that is sort of a, either a misconception or a myth in itself that like, there wa- there was a time when things were either better or simpler or, (laughs), you know, easier to make money, or I don't know, right? But it, I think it's always been hard, right? Isn't that sort of what it means to come from pioneers who were headed west and stopped on the arid landscape of, (laughs), the Rocky mountains. And I think it's always been challenging.

Emy diGrappa (28:09):

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy diGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, our co-hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkwhy.org subscribe and never miss a show.