Graphic by Andrew Mazariegos-Ovalle
The Midwest represents a hopeless present and a non-existent future in the collective imagination of Americans. Images of crumbling infrastructure, boarded-up houses, and closed factories proliferate through media, especially about former industrial cities with majority Black populations. Growing up, I thought nothing significant happened in Michigan or would ever happen again. After a lifetime in the Upper Midwest, born in Wisconsin, raised in Michigan, and now here in Minnesota, I think this assertion that the Midwest has nothing going on fails the people who called this area home. I believe in Michigan, the Midwest.
Paul Christman’s book “Midwest Futures” radically changed how I view the Midwest. He describes the myth of the Midwest, the idea that the era is separate from history, a place defined by its normality, its distance from any particular stories. That myth perpetuates accounts of places like Detroit and Flint being the future for all of America, a narrative rooted in White Supremacy and a complete lack of accountability to the governmental agencies and corporations that shaped cities in the Rust Belt.
We are supposed to be a place, a people, a region, an idea that exists outside of context, a no man’s land with no future in sight. But Michiganders continue to resist this assignment of fate. The United Auto Workers strike, the persistent efforts of Little Miss Flint for almost a decade, and the long history of Black resistance to police violence all demonstrate that larger historical forces do not divorce us, and there is nothing inevitable about the Midwest turning into a wasteland.
Michian is not a wasteland. Sure, the many strip malls, four-lane roads, and McMansions make for a town needing a sense of style. Yet, there are engineering wonders, like the Sault Ste. Marie Locks and the Mackinac Bridge. There are also some of North America’s most stunning natural features too, like the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. People live in these areas with real futures and a real past.
People are working towards a better future every day despite living in a region set back by a state where corporate greed and corrupt governments tell us that we have no future, no past, nothing worth saving. Our state motto ‘Pure Michigan’ is laughable given the many crimes of our state’s government and the corporation’s housed within its borders. However, I argue that our previous motto embodies the spirit of Michiganders, “Say yes to Michigander!” The resistance of these people makes Michigan the best state. Everyday millions of people continue to live their lives and work to make my home state a safer, more beautiful place. I challenge you, and myself to say yes to Michigan and any other area we are told has nothing to offer.
Caroline Geer is from Northville, Mich.
Her majors are race and ethnic studies and sociology/anthropology.