America’s Heartland is also called the Midwest. It is not in the south, or on the Atlantic coast, or on the Pacific coast. It is not known for mountains. It has five great lakes and thousands of very good lakes, as well as rivers, prairies, forests, and vast acres of farmland. The Heartland has several large cities and a great many small towns. It is crossed by many roads, including Interstates 55, 80, 90, and 94.
Different observers have given the Heartland different boundaries, many of them defined by state borders. In my opinion, the Heartland runs from the Canadian border south to the Missouri and Ohio Rivers; it begins in the hills of western Pennsylvania and extends to eastern Nebraska. Chicago is the largest city in the Heartland, but it also includes Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Des Moines, Omaha, and Lincoln. Kansas City and St. Louis are on the southern boundary of the Heartland, as is Cincinnati.
Great Britain acquired half of the Heartland by treaty from France at the end of the Seven Years War. After the Revolutionary War, that region was given to the United States by treaty and was called the Northwest Territory. The other half of the Heartland was included in the Louisiana Purchase.
The Heartland is politically diverse. Many of the states in the Heartland remain “too close to call” during presidential elections, unlike states in other regions that are solidly red or solidly blue. Ronald Reagan was born and raised in the Heartland. Barack Obama began his political career in the Heartland.
The Heartland is home to ten major league baseball teams, ten professional football teams, six professional basketball teams, and six professional hockey teams. The Heartland is knit together by college football and basketball. The Big Ten Conference, aside from Maryland and Rutgers, is at home in the Heartland. In many parts of the Heartland, college football games matter more to people than any professional competitions.
The Heartland feeds America and the world. More than half of America’s corn, soybeans, and hogs are raised in the Heartland, as well as a large percentage of dairy cattle and beef cattle. Many other fruits, vegetables, and grains are raised in the Heartland. Moreover, the Heartland processes all of these foods before shipping them to the rest of the world. Carl Sandburg called Chicago “Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” Coal and natural gas are also found in abundance in the Heartland.
Weather in the Heartland reaches all extremes. Summers on the prairie are hotter than summers in south Florida, but winter temperatures regularly drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The Heartland has endured floods and droughts, tornadoes, hailstorms, and blizzards. The people of the Heartland endure weather with little complaining; one of the most common expressions about weather in the Heartland is, “Be patient; it will change soon.”
People of the Heartland often seem less expressive than people from other regions of the United States. In the Heartland, people are less likely to question visitors about whether they like the city or state they are visiting. People living in the Heartland seem to laugh less, cry less, shout less, hug less, and even talk less than people from other parts of the country. The humor of the Heartland is sometimes characterized as “dry.” Johnny Carson was from the Heartland. Bob Newhart is from the Heartland. Garrison Keillor is, of course, from the Heartland.
Other Americans sometimes characterize the Heartland as “Fly-over states.” But the cities of the Heartland have some of the world’s best symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies, art museums, natural and historical museums, comedy clubs, botanical gardens, and zoos. Colleges and universities in the Heartland have produced some of the world’s leading scientists, mathematicians, engineers, writers, artists, musicians, and leaders in many other fields.
The Heartland holds the loyalty of its children, even when they wander far from home. Jobs and retirement have brought Heartlanders into the south, the southeast, and the southwest, but for many of these people the Heartland remains “home.” They still cheer for the same teams, they still yearn for news of their old neighborhoods, and when two of them meet they have an instant bond.
Fast transportation and instant communication have homogenized the world in some ways. McDonalds and WalMart look the same wherever they are found. Everyone in the country can watch the same shows, go to the same movies, and listen to the same music. Yet most people of the world continue to hold to a sense of their roots. With more time for leisure, many people have turned to cultural events to celebrate their family history-with food, with dance, with clothing, with music, and with artwork. The Heartland is home to people of many backgrounds-European, African, Asian, or Native American. Many languages are spoken in the households of the Heartland, and many different kinds of food are prepared in homes and in restaurants. Yet the Heartland itself is also a culture worth celebrating. The Heartland is an essential part of the American tapestry; without the Heartland, the remaining states would be far poorer.
You can take a person out of the Heartland, but you cannot remove the Heartland from that person’s heart.