“Oh, you’re from Milwaukee? I’m sorry.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the above Bridesmaids quote, then I suppose we already have some issues—c’mon, the film is a comedic masterpiece. But for anyone reading this who is not, I’ll sum it up for you: rich, beautiful Chicagoan insults mid-30s, rock bottom-dweller Milwaukeean upon meeting her for the first time.
If you’re unfamiliar with who, what, or where Milwaukee is—“Wait, is that like, next to Utah?”—then I suppose you comprise this column’s (read: rant’s) target audience, and I apologize in advance for all forthcoming vehemence.
Attending college outside of one’s respective territory—be it city, state, region, country, or continent—inevitably leads to some level of culture shock. Wherever you go, this new place features bros, bids, beer, and biases that are entirely different from your own, and the area from which you’ve come connotes all things alien, and, generally (or, at least in my midwestern case) inferior. Thus begins the prideful war between insider and outsider. And even if you don’t absolutely, 100 percent adore/obsess over/lust after your home, you’re likely to defend your roots, if only half-heartedly.
Whenever I introduce myself to a new group of people—during icebreakers, syllabus week, new club orientations, or what have you—I say I’m from Milwaukee, Wis. No, not that strange, misspelled “Milwaukie” place in Oregon, but the one within the authentic Dairyland, U.S.A (get lost, California), and not “Wiscaaaaaaansin,” but “Wisconsin.” Coasties usually don’t know how to respond to or interpret my birthplace other than with disdain—saying Milwaukee seems to mean very little to those who live here on the east coast, or pretty much anywhere else in the United States aside from the midwest.
There is a difference, however, between general ignorance and genuine apathy—though neither promotes respect. Over the past three years at Boston College, I’ve recurrently encountered derision when discussing my birthplace. Although many individuals expressing this distaste for my home state have never actually been there—or to any area within the midwest, for that matter—they assume they know the gist of it, and they categorize all of its inhabitants as one of the same, laggard stock. I’ve repeatedly received remarks such as, “Oh, really? I didn’t think anyone actually lived there,” and questions like, “Why would anyone want to live there?” Aside from being impertinent, these comments suggest that people living on the east coast are narrow minded, regarding only states of the north eastern seaboard worthy of their consideration—and yeah, perhaps California, too.
Sure, Wisconsin does not have the sex appeal from which California benefits, and it would be entirely erroneous to assert that everyone living on the east coast exhibits this arrogant contempt for the rest of the U.S. that I’ve felt from few, but to assume that the midwest is comprised exclusively of cows and cornfields is similarly flawed. Milwaukee is no NYC, but I live far from the rural landscape commonly associated with Wisconsin—within a bustling, metropolitan area located along the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan that is home to over two million people. While there is definitely validity to the fact that east coast life favors a more fast-paced environment, to say that the Midwest constitutes a wasteland of naïve, folksy simplicity is a sorry misconception.
People here often mistake midwestern warmth and friendliness for credulousness. Making eye contact with and nodding/smiling at someone whom one is passing on the street is considered odd—the east coast is “too busy” for niceties like this, always “going places and doing things.”
It all comes down to one thing: respect, and treating everyone with it. Everyone deserves respect owing simply to his and her inherent human dignity—I don’t care where you’re going, or how fast you need to get there.
The compulsion to stigmatize regions of the globe that differ from one’s own—the impulse to think or act upon prejudice—only divides the world further. And at educational institutions like BC, this instinct to categorize and prejudge does not encourage integration of different backgrounds, genders, cultures, races, ethnicities, religious ideologies, sexual orientations, or gender identities, but rather hinders it. Diversity—of any and every sort— breeds clarity and ingenuity, desired components in a classroom and community.
Anyway, the world loves cheese, and let’s face it, Wisconsin is basically the Mecca of the stuff. Have you ever heard of cheese curds? Don’t trash the midwest until you’ve tasted that inconceivable cheddar, pepper jack, or mozzarella manna from heaven and opened your eyes to a life worth living. Cheese and crackers, beer and Packers, y’all.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic