Who is Michael Launer?
Michael Launer was born into a young low-income family in Cheyenne, as a child he lived in both a trailer park and the Sands motel where his maternal grandmother and mother worked as maids. His grandmother would later inherit both the Sands Motel and the Guest Ranch from the wealthy female owner. His parents (mixed heritage, mother is Latina, father white) were born, met and married in Cheyenne. All of his family- siblings, grand and great grandparents on both sides – live in Cheyenne. Mike moved to Denver for school and returned to Cheyenne, where he now owns a home and works in marketing and digital design.
Excerpt from interview of Michael Launer by Whitney Dow, 2018
Launer: [01:16:36] One of the things that’s very unique about the way I grew up is I grew up very poor. My mom was a maid at a motel and so was my grandma. She was a maid at the same hotel. But it gave us access to a lot of the people who were, kind of, the movers and shakers in town. The owner of the motel—her name was Mildred Arp—she has books written about her, and so you can find she has a biography. She was hugely influential in Wyoming in maybe the 1930s through the 1980s as a business investor. Because of that I feel like I, kind of, had an inside knowledge of a lot of the ongoings in Cheyenne, and so I learned about the history of a lot of the buildings, a lot of the influential people in town from a perspective that wasn’t of an equal—I don’t know how to put that.
We weren’t swimming in the same social circles. We were definitely near poverty when I was young, but I have transitioned out of that. I would say that I am upper middle class for sure now. So, I think, now that I know the mayor on a first-name basis, I’ve known the last two governors on a first-name basis, and I’ve been to parties with the senators, yet my mom was the person cleaning their toilets. So, I always think that that’s an interesting transition in a small town because stories don’t go very far here, so you tend to learn a lot of unique information in the community.
Q1: That’s really interesting. Do you feel that those, sort of, institutions of power that you move through now, buildings, institutions, organizations, that do you feel entitled to be there or—? Because when you were younger that you must have seen these like big, out-of-reach things, do you feel fully—full ownership in your present, in the space that you travel now? Or is there anything left over from the poor kid who was raised by the maids of these people?
Launer: [01:19:01] I feel sometimes with the people I interact with on a day to day that people have used the term impostor syndrome. And I think I identify with impostor syndrome a lot of the times. Sometimes, I do feel like I shouldn’t be where I am, and I’ve tricked people. Luckily, I know that I’m pretty well respected in my career, but in the back of my head, there’s always this nagging suspicion that someday they’ll find out that I’m a fraud. And so that’s why I really like that impostor syndrome when I learned about it because it’s something that I empathize with a lot. I feel like there’s a good chance that impostor syndrome comes from being raised in a Hispanic household, and transitioning to this upper-middle-class kind of white identity. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but I do feel that plays a role.
Q1: Now just for the record, we all suffer from impostor syndrome. [Laughter] We all [unclear] who’s this guy behind the camera?
Q1: But no, that’s—that’s really interesting. It’s funny, so you—it’s like you don’t—do you make any effort to cue people that you are—that you are culturally Latino or you have this big piece of you? I know that certain people when they pronounce their last name, they give it a Spanish pronunciation [unclear]. Do you make any effort, or do you feel you, kind of, hide, that that’s your private thing and you just want to move through the world this particular way? Are you hiding it? Are you pushing it out there? I’m just, sort of, wondering how you’re navigating it then?
Launer: I don’t think I hide or embrace the Hispanic part of my upbringing, but I do get excited when I find opportunities to share it. So, I don’t feel like I force anything in my day- to-day life to say, “Hey, I’m half Mexican” other than when I have the opportunity to introduce people to my family. I always, kind of, enjoy the shock when they meet my grandma and grandpa, and that they have such thick accents. And they are very much what you would think of like happy little Hispanic, Catholic people. And, I think, a lot of people are surprised when they get to meet my family, and I always find a lot of joy in that.
My grandparents definitely worked for everything that they have, and I think there’s some quality that you can almost see when you met them of that. My grandpa was a laborer his whole life. He’s done a lot of things in his life, but he was a sheepherder for a long time with a covered wagon and everything. He’s laid a lot of carpet in Cheyenne, Wyoming, so I feel like when people find out that I’m related to Pedro Pacheco [phonetic], they get really excited because what they think of when they hear about him is that really happy, funny, hard worker who was always willing to lend a hand. So there’s an excitement, I find, when I get to reveal that part of myself.
In my day-to-day life though, I’m almost a little afraid to try to share it in that I think I’m going to mess it up. Because I don’t speak Spanish and because I don’t have an accent, I don’t want to tell someone, “Hey, I’m half Mexican,” and have them speak Spanish to me and then have me struggle to respond. But that’s maybe an insecurity of mine, the fact that I’m not as fluent in Spanish as I really should be.
Excerpt from interview of Michael Launer by Kristin Murphy , 2017
Launer: [00:37:37] Yes. I think Cheyenne is good for that because it lets you—I feel like I can be a gossip, and I like the inside baseball portion of it. And it’s so easy to see the inner workings here, and it’s not hard to get pulled into them, I guess. It does have—and you’ll hear this a lot—that good old boy’s club mentality, but once you crack some of that it’s so easy. And then, you get to know all the weird—there are just weird stories. I feel like if—I grew up—I went to high school with the governor’s daughter, and she was just another kid. And that was never weird to me until it came up in a conversation casually with Denver friends, and they were like, “And she didn’t have a bodyguard or something?” And it was like, “No, why would she have a body—” and then, the more I thought about it, I was like, “There are only probably four or five states where that’s not abnormal.” The rest of them, that’s—
Q: You know, it feels like there are a lot of opportunities to get into things here. Even just going to the school board meeting, I was like, “I could actually learn a lot here,” you know, whereas often school board meetings are these big bureaucratic things.
Launer: [00:38:48] Well, it’s the kind of thing, like, where I probably go to an event—in the last five years, there have probably been three times a year that I find myself in the same room as the senators.
Launer: [00:45:36] I haven’t answered because I don’t think I understand the problem to a certain degree, mostly because I think it is such a monoculture around here. And me specifically, growing up, I’ve always thought—my family is super conservative, and I am not. And I don’t know how that happened, and I think it’s because we never talked about politics or anything like that. So I didn’t realize things like the homophobic nature of my family. Some of the racist stories I’ve now heard as an adult I never interacted with as a kid, so I think if I had heard those stories maybe I would have turned out—I don’t know, nature, nurture, all that kind of stuff, but those conversations just weren’t part of it. But I think as I get older and look back, you can see why that was and what the origins and stuff of it were. I went to the north high school. We had— I’m sure there was maybe an African American student or some that I didn’t know, but I know of two girls, and they were the black girls. But they were also, from what I could understand, part of the in crowd or whatever you would call it, so I don’t feel like they were shunned. But then, I’m like, “Or is that because I didn’t notice the people that were?” One of the guys I was closest with in high school was, like, a sixteenth black or an eighth black, something like that, but you know how that basically makes you black in society. But he was the only one I ever knew, so he was the one that told all the jokes about race.