We came across an interesting article a few months back that has been knockin’ around our skull ever since. It ruminates on the regional identity of Minnesotans and whether they appropriately still belong under the general umbrella of the “Midwest” moniker. Through his arguments the author concludes that Minnesota just doesn't have all that in common with the “Midwest” group at large, and instead desires a grouping of more “like-minded states.”
Regional identity…these are the things we think about. Ad nauseam. So we respect the exercise and wish more of us did it more frequently, but take umbrage at the approach and wanted to weigh in on the matter and pick a side, as the author suggests. Our response was inspired by a moving letter Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio penned to the East Coast back in 2011.
So…this is it? This is what it’s come to? I hear you’re thinking of leaving us; no word, no warning, no nothing. You’re even gathering the troops for a discussion on the matter.
Look, we get it. We understand what it’s like to play the victim, to be bullied by the bigger kids on the coasts. We understand inferiority; it’s in our DNA too. The names, the barbs…fly-over country this, no culture that. It gets old. It grates.
We’re here to beg you not to go; to plead with you to see reason. You say you want to start your own group, to be referred to as a coast….North or Top or Northtop or some such…because you think coasts are “tolerant, polyglot, and curious about the world.” Sexier than we are. But here’s the thing Minnesota…the coasts can also be elitist, parochial, obsessed with pedigree, and worse yet, without a damn of you or your aspirations. So your condemnation of the Midwest smacks of the very regional elitism from our coastal counterparts at which us Midwesterners so chafe. Hey, if you think you’re too good for the Midwest then you have good company in California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York…among others. But don’t be fooled Minnesota, their idea of ‘Midwest’ also includes you, so in my mind you’re missing the point. Clichéd as it is, it’s the ‘sensibility’ that we hold so dear that signals inclusion to our club. The coasts – East, West, and North too if you continue on this course – have no such word in their discourse. If it’s elitism you want, well that word’s not in our discourse so I suppose you’re heading in the right direction.
I like to think I know a thing or two of these matters Minnesota. I myself am a proud and self-avowed Midwesterner, with a life C.V. that includes lives lived in Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Manitoba (Midwest-North Branch), and yes, Minnesota. Twice. (At birth and later on in early adulthood.) That’s a heavy dose of Midwest, with dashes of West (Colorado), South (Kentucky), Great North (Manitoba), and thanks to my latest move, the East, where I currently reside in Boston Massachusetts. So yes, forgive me if I think I have the bona fides to stand by my words.
I loved Minnesota, hated to leave it, and would jump at the chance to move back for a third tour should the forces of time and family allow it. I know it to be as extremely progressive and tolerant as you claim, on par in my mind with known progressive outposts like Seattle or Vermont. But as I consider this claim from my current perch in Blue Blood Central, most people don’t share my esteemed opinion of Minnesota, including New Englanders who look at me askance when I tell them I moved here from there. They know nothing of it, couldn’t find it on a map, and assume it to be a backwater, right along with the rest of flyover-country. And therein lies the rub Minnesota, the rich irony that the status to which you aspire considers you largely insignificant, which is usually the case when the bullied try to join ranks with their tormentors. I take no joy in these declarations Minnesota, nor do I condone the systemic parochialism that thrives on the Coasts.
Yeah, ‘Midwest’ is big and surely there’s no straight line connecting all the regional-identity dots. But so too is ‘West Coast,’ which has inconsistencies of its own with its larger regional narrative. You think the good folks of the California Central Valley share the same ethos and identity system as their state-mates in the Bay Area?
So yes, the practice of generalizing regional identities is fraught with complication and nuance, but I - who grew up in St. Louis - am pretty sure I’m cut from the same cloth as you Minnesota. And look…I’m pleading because we need you for the very reasons I stated earlier when declaring my love for the North Start State. You’re one of our model members and can be a leader in crafting the larger regional narrative we deserve and know to be true. And if you detect some snark in our tone, please forgive us…it’s a defensive posture; all fight at the expense of flight. (We know you feel it too, which is why we’re here in the first place, isn’t it?) And we know you’ll forgive us this because empathy, along with inferiority, is also in your Midwestern DNA (it’s a cruel affliction).
Look Minnesota, lest you misunderstand us completely, we laud your effort and wish more people gave the proper consideration to what makes them them. Too many of us take for granted the structural and civic environments that are crucial to our development as people and citizens. Our beef isn’t with you trying to codify and socialize the Minnesota identity. No…what grinds our gears is that your initial reaction was to turn your back on your neighbors, your people, your family.
And we’re not here to hate on the Coasts either. We like where we’re stationed in the East, it’s just that - like the Midwest - it is with its faults, which is kind of what I’m getting at here: you don’t choose your family and you don’t choose where you’re from, but you love both anyway, no matter how long it takes you to get there. That other family you see that you think is better looking, more successful, more fun, more functional, and more normal than yours? Well that’s just the sanitized Facebook version, so don’t be fooled…it’s not real.
So identify away…build on what makes Minnesota the amazing place that it is. Codify it and socialize it. We’ll just suggest that we think your ‘coastal’ premise is a flawed approach. After all, we can’t really fashion ourselves a South Coast on the same theory, unless you consider Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama ‘tolerant, polyglot, and curious about the world,’ can we?
Us? Well we humbly propose that you start with your flag; because if you guys are in the identity business, we think your state logo could use a facelift. Look to Colorado, South Carolina, and Texas (yes, Texas) to see the power of a simple flag in creating and unifying geographic identity. And we think your sponsors at Askov Finlayson might not only agree, but also have the right connections to make it happen…don’t let that opportunity pass you by. We just wish you’d drop the pretense and snobbery you’ve thusly exhibited to justify this effort, it doesn’t become you as a Midwesterner. Instead, we hope you’d spend your time constructively…helping us define and shape the Midwest for what you and I know it to be; a place with breathtaking horizons, honest souls, and yes, sensibility to spare.
Yours with Humility,