Culture

The 6 Biggest Misconceptions About the Midwest

(Anja Barte Telin via AP)

6. Food is meat-and-potato style.

As I discussed in last month’s “10 Reasons Why Indianapolis Is the Best City in the Midwest,” you can enjoy food from around the world in any U.S. city these days. I’ve had, for example, spectacular Thai in St. Louis; Colombian in Minneapolis; Indian in Indianapolis; Lebanese-style in Lansing; Ethiopian feasts in Omaha; and more. People may know Chicago has those options, but clearly so do other locales. “Globalization” has rendered authentic international food once found only in places like New York, San Francisco and assorted college towns commonplace.

5. Scenery is flat and boring.

The Midwest isn’t the Rockies or Hawaii, but it’s hillier, and far more geographically diverse than the Atlantic coastal plain, by comparison. Beautiful bluffs sit along the majestic Mississippi and Missouri Rivers; rustic mountains transcend valleys in Michigan and Wisconsin; rolling green hills traverse Iowa farmland; pristine mounds scatter all corners of Missouri; and dense forests appear throughout southern Indiana. Large, clear lakes are found throughout Minnesota, which apparently has more shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined.

4. People are the same.

They’re just not all middle-class, white, Christian or corpulent, as stereotypes submit.  Many are poor, some are wealthy. The major cities (particularly Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis) have higher percentages of blacks than anywhere in the U.S. Hispanic populations are rising rapidly in Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and elsewhere. Sizable Vietnamese enclaves are found throughout Illinois, eastern Nebraska and southern Kansas. Minnesota has more Somalis — some unfortunately with terror ties — than any state. Numerous Asian and Indians call the Cedar Rapids/Des Moines/Iowa City corridor home. And, needless to add, there’s plenty of religious diversity in the America’s central region.

Urban folks also work out in the same gyms, yoga studios and ride the same city bike paths as Denver, Seattle and Washington, D.C. residents. I’ve personally never lived in a state as active as Minnesota, no matter the season. People ski, ice fish and snowmobile throughout the long winter; in other seasons, we canoe, kayak, hunt and hike. I actually sat on my couch reading or watching sports far more weekends residing in Los Angeles than the past decade in four Midwest states, where I constantly explore.

3. Football is king.

While Big Ten Conference football is very popular, basketball has been the conference’s top sport for many years. The best baseball fans on earth are in St. Louis, and despite rough economies and inconsistent performance, Major League Baseball attendance and/or interest remains huge in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and elsewhere across the fruited plain. Hockey, of course, is king in Minnesota and much of Wisconsin, while basketball reigns supreme in Indiana. During the past 10-15 years, in fact, pro football performance has been subpar in most Midwestern locales, leading to decreased attendance, outside Green Bay and Indianapolis. 

2. Cities are downtrodden with people fleeing.

While true that parts of the industrial rust belt, especially northern Ohio and southern Michigan, have shed population for years due to union graft and moribund economies, that’s only one region. Indianapolis, Minneapolis and other vibrant cities continue to grow, while shiny new downtown high rises spring up from Kansas City to Cincinnati. America’s top economies sit along the western edges of the heartland in Des Moines, Fargo, Grand Forks, Lincoln, Omaha, Sioux Falls and, if you consider the Southern Great Plains part of the region, Oklahoma.

1. Everyone marries young.

Considering our declining marriage and fertility rates, this isn’t a bad thing, but while it may be true in small towns, the same is true of my friends in eastern Washington, central Florida and upstate New York. In America’s breadbasket, you’ll find the same New York or L.A.-style single yuppies, urban hipsters, wannabe musicians and starving artists in trendy parts of Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and even Omaha or Des Moines.