Sunday, March 29, 2009

What is midwestern?

I've been struggling with this question. Do you live in a midwestern state? Do you consider it midwestern? What is the Midwest or Midwestern?

Let's see if we can figure this out together.

I've said before, I've grown up in Iowa. I would consider myself VERY midwestern. I believe Iowa is probably as midwestern as they come. But I guess that's my belief.

What makes Midwestern? Is it a lifestyle? Is it the food you eat? How about the location? How far east or west does the midwest reach? Is it a capital M or a lower case m?

Wikipedia has some interesting points: the region holds both the geographic and population centers of the contiguous United States, the states run as far east as Ohio and as far west as Nebraska and Kansas, since the book Middletown appeared in the 1920s, the region has been consider a barometer of what is "typical" for the nation.

The Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Missouri feature large in these states.

I think more than geography there is a feeling. I cannot imagine moving outside of the midwest. I feel I wouldn't understand the people or where they were coming from, because I would feel they wouldn't have the same common background. Not consciously, but it would be at the back of my head.

I hear in places like ski resorts in Colorado they only hire Midwesterners because they know they are reliable and hard workers. I think I could vouch for that. We have variations on the theme, but I'm betting most people I grew up with are hard workers.

There's the Midwestern food, some of the older stuff that we recognize, like Jello salads. Maybe that's not entirely midwestern. We have interesting ethnic variations that change from state to state, or even within the state. Lutefisk from the Minnesotan Norwegians, fish fry in Wisconsin (fish boil in Door County), Iowa sweet corn and the Butter Cow, Kansas City barbeque, Michigan Mackinac Island fudge (oh, yum!), Cincinnati chili, German kuchens and sauerbraten everywhere.

There's the immigrants that came here and made us who and what we are, Yankees from the northeastern United States, German, Irish, Dutch, Scandinavians in our northern reaches, a smattering of English, Polish, Czech and others.

We are polite, very friendly, maybe a little prudish, maybe not. A little self-deprecating, perhaps. We have a genuine concern for neighbors and friends. Who doesn't? But I think people would recognize a Midwesterner for those qualities. Religious faith may be stronger in our areas. We might be considered stubborn, stuck in our ways, maybe a bit backwards. Maybe a little less formal, not quite as concerned about class. Genuine and honest. We love our families. Family life and holidays are important. So is bringing outsiders into a family-like circle. So everyone has someone to turn to.

I cannot imagine living anywhere that is not in the Midwest. I enjoy visiting Arizona, looking forward to Hawaii, enjoy warm weather in other places. New York is exciting, D.C. is patriotic feeling, but I feel at home in the states that are near the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. I would miss the season's changes. Sure shoveling snow is hard (especially in late March, augh), but the smell of spring in the wet earth, or the crisp coolness of the breeze as you crunch through vivid blazing autumn colors. Looking forward to swimming in the pool, or making snowmen. We get all seasons, shapes and sizes.

The only place that might draw me from the Midwest would be England. But that is a story for another day.

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