Monday, January 26, 2009

Identity Crisis

This picture was taken in Hawaii, a few years ago. It makes me feel better to look at this instead of ice and snow. It’s a pleasant change for my eyes, although my head is still thinking about the Great Lakes.

Growing up in Buffalo, New York I never thought of myself as a Midwesterner, but I wasn’t an Easterner either. When I was a student at the University of Buffalo, the school was filled with New Yorkers who had chosen UB because it was the furthest university away from their homes in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx where they still qualified for in-state tuition. It was always clear to those of us who were commuter students that we were not New Yorkers in the same way they were. After college, when Michael and I traveled outside the United States, when we were asked where we were from, we would always say Buffalo, NY as opposed to from “New York”.

When I came to Wisconsin in 1973, I realized that in many ways Buffalo is a Midwestern city. Buffalonians have much in common with people from Chicago and the Midwest, including those flat nasal a’s. It is not so much geography as culture and attitude that connect us.

Yet, identifying as a Midwesterners doesn’t seem right either. To many, the Midwest means Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, cornfields and farms. Yes, Wisconsin is farm country, but not right here on the shores of Lake Michigan. However, yesterday I read something that made me think I might have finally have found my identity.

There are those who think that we, who live in this area bounded by HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior), should think of ourselves at being from the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes region is a combination of water, coastline, prairie, forest, and lots of rocks, sand, and grass. Farms, too. There is much diversity in this unique region.

I like the idea of being from the Great Lakes, but what would I call myself – a Great Laker? The title seem to indicate an outstanding member of a basketball team, a team I might add that is nowhere near a lake. I asked Michael where the Los Angles Lakers got their name and he said it was from the time before LA, when they were in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I checked and before Minnesota the team was from Detroit, so they were Great Lakers, even before they were great Lakers.

I don’t play basketball but I am a Great Laker by birth, residency, and certainly by what I care about. I suppose I could shift the playing field from the basketball court to the baseball field and call myself a HOMESperson, but somehow that doesn't have the same ring to it.

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