Should Minnesota leave the Midwest? Locals say the 'North' may be more fitting


What does it mean to be labeled part of the Midwest?

A panel at Minneapolis' Walker Art Center is hoping to answer that question, while also considering how the description fits with Minnesota's identity.

The event – titled "Midwest? The Past, Present, and Future of Minnesota’s Identity," – will feature a panel of professors, designers, marketers and artists that plan to discuss Minnesota's historical identity.

Under consideration: Should Minnesota stay part of the vague Midwest? Or split off to form a different, more aptly named region?

This has many Minnesotans talking about whether the state has an identity crisis.

The Star Tribune previewed the event by speaking with some of the panelists, including co-presenter Eric Dayton (Gov. Mark Dayton's son and owner of the restaurant Bachelor Farmer and the Askov Finlayson clothing store).

Dayton noted the United States lacks a "North" – there's just East, South, West, and a vague area in the middle dubbed the Midwest.

So the panelists said Minnesota should embrace and brand its "North" culture and its cold climate, with the Twin Cities staking claim as the "capital of the North" – letting Chicago "take the Midwest."

What is the Midwest?

Many people think of the Midwest as cornfields (prominent in Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa), but panelists told the Star Tribune that although the crops are part of Minnesota, the state is more diverse – it has its North Woods, thousands of lakes and the Twin Cities.

So what actually makes up the Midwest? That's the million dollar question, and some publications have tried to answer it.

FiveThirtyEight map (at left) surveyed people to find what states they thought were in the Midwest – only 60 percent of those surveyed said Minnesota is in the Midwest; more than 80 percent said Illinois is.

In September, Vox published 41 maps and charts that explain the Midwest, noting that even the U.S. Census Bureau didn't really have a name for the northern middle of the country until 1984, when it began calling the area the Midwest. Minnesota falls under the "west north central" portion of the Midwest.

Another map, by Radical Cartography (at right), found something similar to FiveThirtyEight. It looked at 100 organizations and what they defined as the Midwest. (The darker the color, the more organizations named it part of the Midwest.) Minnesota falls into the darker shades, but Illinois is the darkest.

What is Minnesota's identity?

So if Minnesota isn't really in the Midwest, what should it be a part of?

MPR News asked its listeners and Twitter followers what Minnesota's identity is. Answers ranged from "nice-ish," to comments about enduring the cold.

Midwestival, a blog, also addressed Minnesota's identity. The author, Annie D'Souza, wrote that Minnesota is defined partly by hikes in the Northwoods, "lakes that look like oceans," "fresh air and stupidly cold winters that keep out the riff-raff," vibrant cities, small towns, nostalgia ("A Prairie Home Companion") and modern culture.

In a Reddit thread, users also discussed Minnesota's identity, many saying Minnesota and the Twin Cities are underrated and agreeing the state should shy away from its Midwestern roots – and instead embrace its "North."

One Reddit user wrote the following on the thread:

"I've been in Minnesota for about ten years now, but before that I lived in an around Chicago and southern Wisconsin. There's definitely a distinct regional difference between there and here. Even in Wisconsin we thought of Minnesota as a different part of the country, far to the north – I think if someone said "it's not in the Midwest, it's in the North" I'd have been like Ohhhhh. That makes sense."

Catch the theme? Minnesota is cold (as if we didn't know that based on the last 10 days of sub-freezing, colder-than-average temperatures) and it's north.

What do you think – should Minnesota shy away from its Midwest ways and brand itself as the "North" – or claim another regional identity?

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