Last week, I took a quiz in the Des Moines Register called, “How Iowa Are You?” or something to that effect, and was surprised to find that my score qualified me as “New to Iowa,” given the fact I’ve lived my entire life here. Of course, taking the quiz basically confirmed what I already knew.
I’ve always been sort of “bad” at being from Iowa. When I went to Girls State before my senior year of high school, the other girls were in shock that I didn’t know what FFA was (it’s Future Farmers of America). I’ve never set foot on a farm, I’m pretty indifferent to the Iowa/Iowa State rivalry, and I’ve been to the state fair a grand total of two times. As far as the regionalisms go, I catch myself saying soda instead of pop these days, less out of an effort to blend in on the east coast and more as a result of it being what my family always did.
It’s hard to admit, but I’ve never really felt any intense pride or love and attachment toward Iowa. There are some cool places, but it was never the end-all, be-all for me. I’ve found myself stuck in the middle in terms of my feelings for Iowa. On the one hand, it’s not nearly as bad as people outside of Iowa seem to think; there’s plenty of stuff to do here, and honestly, I grew up in a larger, more diverse city than a lot of the people who make fun of Iowa did.
But on the other hand, I’ll never relate to the people who act like it’s the only place in the world with friendly and hardworking individuals and that the rolling plains are objectively the most beautiful scenery America has to offer. Admittedly, I’d been hell-bent on getting out of here for years, but I do think people exaggerate how great it is here.
In a way, I regret all the negative things I used to think about this place, because I’m incredibly grateful for the upbringing I received here, but it was always more about my family and friends than the ritualistic traditions of Iowa. It’s always just been a place, interchangeable with any other Midwestern suburb. That’s not to say that there isn’t stuff that makes Des Moines special, because there definitely is. I’m just saying I was always mindful of the fact things probably weren’t much different in the suburbs of Omaha, Minneapolis, and the like.
I was convinced there was something entirely special about the East Coast, though, which I’ve come to realize wasn’t entirely true. I love all of the culture a larger city like Boston has to offer, but it’s still just a place. Changing my geography alone didn’t bring happiness. It wasn’t until I made meaningful relationships that I felt any attachment whatsoever to the East Coast.
I find myself on both sides of the argument these days, though, perhaps a reflection of my own confusion regarding my regional identity. Since coming to BC, people have asked me if I’m from Connecticut and Massachusetts and such, something I tend to find more humorous than gratifying in any way. Perhaps more notably, though, people seem to be disappointed that I don’t conform to their preconceived ideas about this place they’ve never visited.
Although part of me relishes the idea of being unconventional or something, part of me feels guilty for not adequately representing the heartland. It feels like I’m trying to strike a balance between disproving any notions that I’m a farm-raised small town girl (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not me) and staying true to my roots as someone born and raised in the American heartland.
Being from Iowa isn’t something I want to be defensive or apologetic about. Even if I don’t identify with a lot of things associated with being from Iowa, it’s still home to me. Home is just more about the people to me than a trip to Zombie Burger, a Des Moines staple that I’d pick Shake Shack over any day of the week. I’m not embarrassed to be from here, and I’ll rise to defend it quickly if anyone tries to make fun of it out East, but I don’t think I’ll ever love it as much as some people do. I’m coming to terms with the fact I’ve decided not to define myself by where I’m from so much as where I’m going.