My wife and I sat at dinner one night, enjoying a lively conversation when an intriguing questions came up. What does it mean to be from the Midwest? We pondered this awhile, realizing it was much more difficult to put into words than one might think. You see, in the Midwest we are humble. We love where we are from but we have a hard time showing it. We don’t have a million brands declaring our affinity for where we grew up like in the South. We don’t have the tradition that comes with being from the Northeast. But, we love our homeland none the less.
It’s easy to come up with stereotypes for people from the South, New England and the West Coast but try to think of one for the Midwesterner. We aren’t known for being well-dressed, yet at the same time we aren’t known for being poorly dressed either. Our way of life isn’t as slow as in the South nor as hectic as on the East Coast. We’re not as rural as the South nor as urban as the East Coast. We have a good bit of our economy built on agriculture, but we also have a good bit built on manufacturing. Most of us don’t have accents, save for the Minnesotans and the Wisconsinites and the Yoopers. We don’t have mountains and we don’t have oceans. Our land is mostly flat. In these regards we’re average and it’s tough to make a caricature of average.
West Coasters always complain about a perceived East Coast bias. There is no East Coast bias, simply a Coast bias. Due to constant crying and moaning about this bias, the media inflates the attention paid to the West Coast and virtually ignores the heartland. We are perceived as flyover states, lacking culture and discernible destinations. Sure we have Chicago, but it’s always been seen as “The Second City” to New York.
But being from the Midwest is not only what we are not, it is what we are. What we are is resilient. We are hard-working. We are kind. We are hospitable. We are a little country and a little city. We take the best parts of other regions and mix them together into our own little casserole of Midwestern culture. We are blended scotch and other regions are single malt scotch. Sure the single malt is perceived as higher quality because it is pure, but wouldn’t you rather have all the best single malts blended together in order to form a blend greater than the sum of its parts?
Being from the Midwest means a close association with water. We have the Great Lakes, which in most ways are superior to their saltwater brethren located on the coasts. Yes they tend to stay chilly until the middle of summer, but they don’t produce hurricanes or poisonous jellyfish or sharks or a disgusting taste when swallowed. The chilly water is a moot point anyways, as we rely on our abundance of smaller lakes for the majority of our aquatic endeavors. We save the Great Lakes for sailing, fishing and even occasionally surfing. It is on these smaller lakes that we tube and water ski and host cookouts and watch fireworks. Aah, yes, there are few venues as beautiful as a flotilla on a Midwestern lake for watching explosions of color light up our skies in celebration of our independence.
We are resilient. Consider our people. Many of us are the descendants of nineteenth and twentieth century immigrants, men and women who fled their homelands to achieve the American Dream through hard work and backbreaking labor. By building the framework of our country in the steel mills. By tilling the earth to feed the country. By building the automobile and revolutionizing transportation.
Consider the history of many of our cities: Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Pittsburgh, Toledo. You may argue Buffalo and Pittsburgh should not be included but I feel they share as many or more characteristics with the Midwest as they do the Northeast. Regardless, these cities and much of the region were hit especially hard in the mid-twentieth century by the Great Depression and decline in manufacturing. Slowly but surely we have adapted our strategy, adjusted our gameplan and transitioned our economic base. We have not given up. We continue to take back the urban decay and return our cities to their former glory.
Consider our athletic teams. We have some of the longest suffering fans in the country. The Bills and the Vikings have been to four Super Bowls and lost all four. The Browns and the Lions have never been. The Reds haven’t won a World Series since 1990, the Tigers since 1984, the Pirates since 1979, the Indians since 1948 and the Cubs since 1908. Prior to 2005, the White Sox hadn’t won since 1917. It takes a special breed of fan to come back year after year with hope in their hearts. And when our teams do win, they do it humbly and with grace and we do not turn into pompous pricks.
We take our punches and we get back up, stronger for it. We are loyal. We are proud, even if we don’t outwardly show it. We are humble. We pity those who think our only purpose is to be flown over, not knowing the beautiful country and people they are missing. That is what it means to be from the Midwest.