For the first time in a year, I’m hit with the familiar sting of the Minnesota air.
Despite the unpleasant surprise of subzero temperatures greeting me faster than my parents can, I’ve actually never been so happy to have my face exposed to such intense cold. I just got off of my flight home from a long semester at UC Berkeley, but for a minute I forget that I woke up this morning in another city worrying about another side of my life. For a minute the shocking cold air enveloping me and the puffs of breath condensing before me simply make me feel alive.
My parents’ routine questions in the car ride home comfort me. The scattered industries, surrounding prairies and suburban neighborhoods comfort me. The glow of the fireplace at home comforts me. The proximity to my family and relics of my youth remind me that I have people here who love me, a history here that defines me and memories here that sustain me when I’m away.
If you had asked me in my senior year of high school where I saw myself in the future, the answer would have easily been “not here.” I can attribute so much of my motivation to attend a UC school to the appeal of the West Coast, where every aspect of life seemed objectively better to me. The weather, the food, the culture, the opportunities, the open-mindedness — it was everything I thought I was missing in my life.
I never felt ashamed of living half of my life in the Midwest, but from the conversations with the many West Coast natives I’ve met while attending UC Berkeley, I often get the sense that maybe I’m supposed to.
According to some common stereotypes, the Midwest is cold, dead, ignorant and homogeneous. I am constantly pressured to feel a sense of superiority to my own friends and family back home simply because I’m spending my undergraduate years in California. Because who doesn’t want to live in this coastal utopia where diversity is the norm, political correctness is innate and everyone seems to live impressive and fulfilling lives?
I’ve loved every minute of my experience out here on the West Coast and have gained more appreciation for the culture than I thought possible. But I’ve also gained appreciation for other regions that some people may subconsciously consider irrelevant or inferior.
In contrast to the assumptions of my peers, every academic break that I spend in Minnesota strengthens my affinity for it. There’s a simple charm about it that deserves recognition and appreciation, yet it’s often undervalued — both by those who have lived there their whole lives and by those who can’t locate Minnesota on a U.S. map.
Minnesota isn’t just a provincial, whitewashed flyover state that people often reduce the Midwest to. There are so many aspects of the Minneapolis area that continue to surprise me, disproving my long-held generalizations about the Midwest and the people here.
I’ve found fulfillment getting lost in the walkways connecting downtown Minneapolis buildings, exploring the frozen work of art that is Minnehaha Falls and indulging in the ridiculous consumer paradise of the nearby Mall of America.
I’ve found culture in the contemporary art exhibits of the Walker Art Center, the shows at the Guthrie Theater and performances of both local and top music artists at First Avenue.
I’ve found that there is diversity in immigrant populations, including the well-established Somali, Hmong and Vietnamese communities whose influence spans from local restaurants to my closest friendships.
I’ve found that there is progressiveness in the attitudes of many people who welcome difference and defend the communities here and in a state government that prioritizes healthcare access, sustainability, and equal rights and representation.
There may not be celebrities, Asian night markets, coastal beaches, tech hubs, prestigious universities or minority majorities here. But there is no shortage of impressive lakes and forests, arts and cultural festivals, expanding industries, growing minorities, political protests and ambitious people determined to change the world.
I am so proud of this state and happy to call it my home. Despite whatever truth there is to the stereotypes about the Midwest in some areas, I will always have overwhelming love and respect for it. To me, it is not inferior to other regions in terms of its substance, its history or its people.
After years of traveling between states, I finally appreciate that there is not much of a difference in the life I can choose to lead or the person I can choose to be based on the space I’m in. I am the same person when I’m in Minnesota as I am when I’m in Berkeley. And I’m never more aware of that than when I’ve had the relieving and humbling experience of actually being here, at home.
For whatever reason, I’ve grown to love Minnesota just as much as California and every other state I’ve lived in and visited. I look forward to going home every stupidly cold winter, even if the air hurts my face whenever I step out the door.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.