Today’s Geography Lesson

We began the day with every intention of writing about illegal immigration, and how it’s suddenly an issue that seems to bolster the Republican party’s electoral prospects rather than portend its doom, but our research on the topic led us to a recent Washington Post story that tried but failed to make presidential contender Gov. Scott Walker look bad after a recent encounter with an illegal immigrant, and off to the side of the article was a suggested link to a story headlined “Which of the 11 American Nations Do You Live In?” The click bait was irresistible, given our longstanding fascination with America’s regional divisions, so we decided to fulminate about that instead.
The Post’s map of the north and western hemisphere of the world makes as little sense to us at its attempt to make Walker look bad for insisting on the enforcement of America’s immigration laws, and reflects the Washington press’s same provincial viewpoint of the country, but at least it doesn’t put us in the “midwest,” as so many people are wont to do. Here in Kansas the country is easily divided into four main parts, those being Up North and Down South and Out West and Back East, with our beloved state being in the very heart of a fifth and most essential region known as the “Heartland,” and no true Kansan can abide being called “midwestern.” We admit that Kansas taxonomy admittedly doesn’t really make much sense in geographic or political or economic or cultural terms, as Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, don’t truly make belong in the same “Up North” category, and that Palm Springs, California, and Palm Beach, Florida, don’t have much in common except that they’re both “Down South,” and “Back East” and “Out West” only make sense in the context of America’s westward-looking history toward its manifest destiny, but at least it doesn’t pretend we’re part of any “midwest.”
By almost any definition the “midwest” includes Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois and Ohio and Indiana and other states that would seem both Up North and Back East to us, and we find that our geography and ethnography and politics and culture and economy and other defining regional traits have little in common with them. We prefer the company of the “prairie states” or “plains states” or “heartland” that stretches up from Oklahoma Ciy or so through the harsh Dakotas into the pugnaciously conservative Prairie Provinces of Canada, and is bordered from west to east by the Rocky Mountains and approximately Kansas City through the western portions of Minnesota. The Washington Post has us in a “midlands” region that somehow stretches clear to the Atlantic Ocean, with western Kansas somehow aligned with a “far west” region that stretches into Trudeaupian parts of Canada, and we have to wonder if the authors have ever visited our very remote part of the country.
We found a more reasonable division of the northern and western hemispheres of the world way back in the ’80s in a book titled “The Nine Nations of North America,” which was recommended to us a city editor at the newspaper we worked at who had come from Back East and was trying to make sense of his baffling new residence, and which dubbed Miami as the capital of the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast as a specific region and Quebec as a distinct nation and the mostly Spanish-speaking southwest and all of Mexico as a distinct political entity, and Kansas as part of a prairie region stretching well into Anglophone Canada as a political and cultural and economic bloc, but we also had our quibbles with that. We think the best definition of the country’s regional divisions used to be defined by the old college athletic conferences, before the days when greed and re-alignment altered the landscape.
The Big Ten used to have have ten teams that quite logically defined the “midwest,” and the Big Twelve, which once had twelve teams, and was once the perfectly appropriate Big Eight, was a fair map of the “heartland,” and the old Southeastern Conference reasonably defined the “deep south” while the Atlantic Coast Conference was a reliable indicator of Duke University and the rest of the respectable south, while the Pac-Ten mean the hippie-dippy West Coast and the Big East represented the pinko East Coast and everything more or less made sense. Now the Big Twelve has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve teams and the Big Eight’s old University Colorado has somehow relocated to the Pacific Coast and the University of Missouri is in the Southeastern Conference and no longer playing the University of Kansas, and Tulsa University was briefly in the Big East, which is now mainly Catholic schools such as former Missouri Valley Conference member Creighton University of Omaha, Nebraska, so we can see why The Washington Post is so easily confused.
The cultural and economic part of it is confusing, as well. Kansas has always been part of the southwest as far as country music is concerned, with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys being the guide, but the rock ‘n’ roll scene has always been connected to the midwest, with Detroit Rock City as the starting point and such Big Ten acts as Head East and John “Cougar” Mellencamp drawing reliable crowds, and the ingrained right-to-work laws are more in line with the southeast until and the oil and agriculture and leave-me-the-hell-alone politics are more in line with the economy Out West, and the abolitionist strain harkens Back East, and the bluegrass that fills the pecan orchards in Winfield every fall coming from the southeast, and a reporter for The Washington Post can easily be forgiven for failing to understand where Kansas fits into the big hemispheric picture.
In any case we’re not the “midwest,” as even The Washington Post has noticed. We’re not the something called “the midlands,” however, and have little in common with the Eastern Seaboard states the paper has lumped us in with. “Prairie states” is a better description, and “heartland” is better yet, and we suggest The Washington Post should keep that in mind when trying to disparage a politician for suggesting that the immigration laws should be strictly enforced.

— Bud Norman


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