Mid-Americana: The Midwest and the Great Plains
We spoke with Brian Campbell, the Executive Director of the Iowa Environmental Council and Josh Dolezal, professor of English at Central College in Iowa. They're the team behind "MidAmericana: Stories from a Changing Midwest" -- a podcast project that explores the history and identity of the Greater Midwest through the lives and stories of individuals. The first season covers those who leave the region and come back and the second covers immigrants to the area. We asked them about the project and how the terms Great Plains and Midwest overlap and interact.
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode. To listen to the podcast version, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures/episodes/Ep--10-Mid-Americana-Podcast-esqvu0
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[00:00:00.330]Welcome to Great Plains Anywhere,
[00:00:01.930]a Paul A. Olson Lecture
[00:00:03.490]from the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:00:05.180]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:07.400]Today, we're speaking with Josh Dolezal,
[00:00:09.440]Professor of English at Central College in Iowa,
[00:00:12.360]and Brian Campbell, the Executive Director
[00:00:14.520]of the Iowa Environmental Council.
[00:00:17.110]They're the team behind "Mid-Americana:
[00:00:19.357]"Stories from a Changing Midwest,"
[00:00:21.900]a podcast project that explores the history
[00:00:24.410]and identity of the Greater Midwest
[00:00:26.870]through the lives and stories of individuals.
[00:00:29.830]The first season covers those
[00:00:31.340]who leave the region and come back.
[00:00:33.490]And the second covers immigrants to the area.
[00:00:36.640]We asked them about the project and how the terms
[00:00:39.100]Great Plains and Midwest overlap and interact.
[00:00:43.810]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:45.970]I would like to begin by acknowledging
[00:00:48.120]that the University of Nebraska is a land-grant institution
[00:00:51.840]with campuses and programs on the past, present
[00:00:54.630]and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponka,
[00:00:56.780]Otoe-Missouria, Omaha, Lakota, Dakota,
[00:01:01.360]Arapaho, Cheyenne and Kaw peoples
[00:01:04.360]as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk Iowa
[00:01:07.070]and Sac and Fox peoples.
[00:01:09.040]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:01:11.270]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:01:15.650]settlement and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:19.080]This acknowledgement and the centering
[00:01:20.900]of indigenous peoples is a start
[00:01:23.110]as we move forward together for the next 150 years.
[00:01:27.240]My name is Katie Nieland and I'm the Assistant Director
[00:01:29.426]for the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:31.740]Hi, I'm Margaret Jacobs.
[00:01:33.125]I'm the Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:37.112]I'm Josh Dolezal, Professor of English at Central College.
[00:01:41.430]And I'm Brian Campbell.
[00:01:43.020]I was until very recently
[00:01:44.950]the Director of Sustainability Education and Partnerships
[00:01:47.750]at Central College.
[00:01:48.840]And I'm now the Executive Director
[00:01:50.930]of the Iowa Environmental Council.
[00:01:53.020]We should just start by asking you to talk a little bit
[00:01:55.920]about your project and why you started it.
[00:01:59.870]Well, Brian and I started this project
[00:02:02.930]first as a class that we taught together.
[00:02:05.410]We are both interested in oral history.
[00:02:08.450]Brian has a much longer, you know,
[00:02:11.310]past with that genre than I do.
[00:02:14.660]He's actually the one who got me onto it.
[00:02:17.390]But we team taught a course:
[00:02:20.530]Oral History of the Family Farm.
[00:02:22.990]Maybe he can correct me on the title but.
[00:02:26.080]So we had some podcasts.
[00:02:28.690]We worked with students, paired them with farmers.
[00:02:32.210]They collected oral histories of farmers in Iowa,
[00:02:36.940]Central Iowa where Central College is located.
[00:02:40.340]And some of them chose to turn those into podcasts.
[00:02:44.230]We were not really up to speed on Audacity
[00:02:47.210]and other sound editing platforms.
[00:02:49.380]So we gave them the option of writing essays
[00:02:51.650]or doing the podcast.
[00:02:53.290]And we had a couple of pioneers there that helped us
[00:02:57.670]feel more confident about moving in that direction.
[00:03:01.360]And then, as I was moving into sabbatical a few years ago,
[00:03:06.700]I thought part of my sabbatical could be
[00:03:09.320]writing a grant proposal
[00:03:10.670]that could fund a project like this.
[00:03:12.290]And so, that's when it became a serious podcast.
[00:03:17.800]Yeah, and I would just add, I think
[00:03:19.330]both of us as people who grew up outside the Midwest,
[00:03:24.870]I think we have both had a fascination with sense of place
[00:03:30.000]and kind of regional identity.
[00:03:32.100]And we felt like even just in our own teaching,
[00:03:35.540]we saw things sometimes that our students didn't.
[00:03:38.190]And we wanted to make sure that they were
[00:03:40.670]engaging with the real stories of the people around them
[00:03:44.050]and appreciating all the ways the Midwest is a dynamic place
[00:03:49.470]and more than the kind of caricature, you know,
[00:03:52.070]that often educated people dream of leaving
[00:03:55.930]as the sort of stereotype,
[00:03:57.720]and so, you know, give them a sense of appreciation for that
[00:04:00.910]and to share that fascination with us.
[00:04:03.650]And so yeah, I think we had a kind of personal interest
[00:04:07.950]as well as an academic interest and saw that
[00:04:11.660]initially our students could be a broader audience
[00:04:15.380]to kind of explore that together with.
[00:04:17.100]And that, you know, from there it really just grew
[00:04:19.920]into that sense of there's so many,
[00:04:22.610]so many interesting stories to explore
[00:04:25.280]and lots of people who could benefit from having a way
[00:04:29.150]to hear those stories and engage with those.
[00:04:32.460]I might just add to that,
[00:04:35.920]you know, because as Brian says,
[00:04:37.710]we're both from outside the region,
[00:04:40.240]you know, we're not born and raised Midwesterners,
[00:04:43.990]I think we brought with us some of that, you know,
[00:04:47.140]cultural prejudice against the region
[00:04:50.240]and both transitioned you know, intentionally
[00:04:53.760]to feeling more native to the place
[00:04:57.250]or making the effort to make a home here, to put down roots,
[00:05:01.000]to understand the place on its own terms,
[00:05:03.240]not just as a place that didn't have mountains
[00:05:06.490]in my case coming from Montana.
[00:05:08.960]And once we started that kind of work
[00:05:12.856]of being present to Iowa on Iowa's terms,
[00:05:19.300]we became more aware of this problem,
[00:05:22.820]this cultural problem of short changing the Midwest.
[00:05:27.320]And for my own part, my in-laws are all East Coasters.
[00:05:33.910]So we would go there for the holidays
[00:05:36.050]and I would find myself defending Iowa.
[00:05:39.590]So that was part of the felt need of the project.
[00:05:45.110]And we wanted to then just to build on the other ways
[00:05:48.422]that we had put down roots
[00:05:51.400]by listening to the stories of people
[00:05:53.890]who were native Iowans for that first season.
[00:05:57.760]This term we use, the Great Plains,
[00:06:00.380]and the term you're using right now, the Midwest,
[00:06:04.780]and people don't, we don't have a real clear definition
[00:06:07.970]of what those things are, those places are.
[00:06:11.460]How do you both view the terms Great Plains and Midwest?
[00:06:16.290]Yeah, I mean, I think we went through a process
[00:06:18.147]of trying to decide what the scope of our project would be
[00:06:23.540]geographically on the one hand.
[00:06:25.590]And so, we did start our first season
[00:06:28.340]focused on stories of Iowans.
[00:06:32.010]But I think we had a sense all along
[00:06:35.070]that there was something about,
[00:06:36.940]in some ways Iowa is the sort of exemplar
[00:06:41.160]of a lot of the stereotypes of the Midwest.
[00:06:46.924]And so, yeah, I think to us that represented
[00:06:52.150]a lot of these kinds of caricatures of a place that,
[00:06:55.476]you know, has no accent
[00:06:56.770]or as Josh said, it has no mountains, no oceans.
[00:07:00.260]The geography, the sort of topography is so subtle
[00:07:05.070]as to be, you know, flat and bland.
[00:07:08.810]But also, that's the stereotype of the culture too,
[00:07:11.830]that, you know, there's a kind of blandness to the food
[00:07:14.080]and, you know, the people.
[00:07:17.171]And so yeah, I think we wanted to kind of explore that
[00:07:22.630]because that didn't ring true to what we were seeing.
[00:07:25.380]I mean, part of what's been remarkable
[00:07:29.550]about my experience here is just the number of
[00:07:33.910]people from all over the world,
[00:07:35.380]the numbers of recent immigrants
[00:07:38.060]who I get to interact with on a very regular basis,
[00:07:40.760]even more so than when I lived in big cities on the coasts
[00:07:45.140]that might have larger numbers of immigrant communities.
[00:07:47.730]But in some ways, there's just more engagement
[00:07:53.740]for me in my everyday life with some of that here.
[00:07:58.713]And so yeah, so when we played with, you know,
[00:08:02.350]kind of the scope of what we wanted to do,
[00:08:06.150]part of what we came to is this idea of the Greater Midwest
[00:08:09.930]that, you know, putting boundaries on that was difficult.
[00:08:13.030]And so, you know, we started where we were
[00:08:17.130]and have kind of explored the neighboring states around us
[00:08:21.350]and the stories of people who shared that sense of
[00:08:25.390]kind of stretching culturally, you know,
[00:08:28.660]kind of what people understood the Midwest to be.
[00:08:34.570]The Great Plains to me is not as familiar of a category.
[00:08:38.790]I mean, I haven't lived anywhere that,
[00:08:40.900]I don't think Iowa people usually use that term
[00:08:44.280]even though there's a lot of similarities
[00:08:45.900]to the kind of grasslands and ecosystems
[00:08:49.660]that might define a little further west.
[00:08:52.850]But I think there's a lot of similarities still,
[00:08:55.830]you know, in terms of lots of rural communities
[00:08:58.610]that are actually more than they might first seem
[00:09:02.900]in terms of the kind of changing diversity
[00:09:06.610]and cultures that exist there.
[00:09:11.570]But yeah, the greater Midwest is a,
[00:09:13.860]and maybe Josh is the one who especially gravitates
[00:09:18.330]with that way of defining our place.
[00:09:23.900]Well, the first episode of the podcast is an interview
[00:09:27.720]with Mike Draper, founder and owner of RAYGUN.
[00:09:30.870]And, you know, he has a book.
[00:09:33.830]He was a history major at U Penn,
[00:09:36.230]and so kind of combines his satire and parody
[00:09:41.230]with some bonafide, you know, historical insight.
[00:09:46.910]So his book about the Midwest kind of started us in
[00:09:52.020]thinking about some of these things.
[00:09:53.490]He explores, for instance,
[00:09:56.118]the great diversity of the Midwest.
[00:09:58.123]It's kind of a catch-all term, you know.
[00:10:00.930]All other regions or directions, you know,
[00:10:02.940]you can drive northeast or southwest
[00:10:04.960]but you can't drive midwest.
[00:10:06.330]What does that mean?
[00:10:09.030]You know, it's the crossroads.
[00:10:11.050]I think Indiana is the crossroads of America,
[00:10:15.270]the definition as you pass through it.
[00:10:18.140]I think he was saying everywhere in the Midwest
[00:10:20.600]is the gateway to the West,
[00:10:22.260]but nowhere in the West is the gateway to the Midwest.
[00:10:25.450]If you keep going through Colorado,
[00:10:27.470]you're gonna end up in Nebraska.
[00:10:29.580]Nobody says that in Colorado.
[00:10:31.660]So it's a kind of meaningless term in a way
[00:10:34.460]because what is the Midwest?
[00:10:38.599]It's agrarian landscape but it's also industry.
[00:10:42.430]You know, it's urban and it's rural.
[00:10:44.900]It's lake country and it's corn fields.
[00:10:50.610]Whereas I think the Great Plains is much more
[00:10:53.130]the description of a particular ecology.
[00:10:56.070]You know, it's a narrow definition.
[00:10:57.377]The Great Plains is part of this expansive catch-all Midwest
[00:11:03.550]but it's a separate,
[00:11:05.870]more regionally aware definition I would say.
[00:11:11.550]The Midwest identity, according to Draper,
[00:11:14.970]is kind of lumped in with everything
[00:11:16.790]we think of as Americana.
[00:11:18.170]Anything that was created in the Midwest
[00:11:20.460]then just becomes American.
[00:11:22.710]So things that would give the region
[00:11:25.520]some kind of defining identity become just subsumed I guess
[00:11:31.770]or transferred to the national identity.
[00:11:35.520]So there are a lot of paradoxes there to wrestle with,
[00:11:37.630]but it's a bigger umbrella, I think, than the Great Plains.
[00:11:42.750]I think a lot of people in the Great Plains
[00:11:44.910]would identify themselves as being from the Midwest
[00:11:48.190]because there's not, like it's like a slow bleed
[00:11:51.390]of like where is everybody and where do we draw these lines?
[00:11:56.000]Actually, in our encyclopedia of the Great Plains,
[00:11:59.420]we have a map that has
[00:12:03.110]like lines overlaid of 50 different maps of the Great Plains
[00:12:07.610]that people have drawn.
[00:12:08.700]And it's just like a squiggly ball
[00:12:10.340]because no one draws these lines the same way.
[00:12:13.590]And I think you could say the same thing about the Midwest.
[00:12:17.110]We have a map in our lobby that shows our definition
[00:12:20.400]of the Great Plains, but it's different for everybody.
[00:12:24.010]I was gonna ask you about this, another term
[00:12:26.710]that people throw out a lot around this region,
[00:12:31.570]And how do you think that relates
[00:12:35.910]to Midwest and Great Plains?
[00:12:38.450]The Heartland term I think
[00:12:40.680]dovetails with what I was saying by way of Draper
[00:12:44.330]about anything that is invented,
[00:12:48.574]like aviation in the Midwest,
[00:12:52.420]the aviation industry is a Midwestern product essentially,
[00:12:57.080]then becomes transferred to American identity.
[00:13:01.950]So Heartland as a term, cradle of American values
[00:13:07.010]is kind of how I perceive that term.
[00:13:10.700]And so, it's not attributing anything unique to the region.
[00:13:14.040]It's just a kind of cradle of mythologies
[00:13:17.320]about what American-ness means.
[00:13:22.220]And so it's another, it's too vague to be meaningful.
[00:13:28.300]It's not attuned to the differences
[00:13:30.720]between Wisconsin and Missouri let's say.
[00:13:35.830]I guess both of those places could be seen
[00:13:37.870]as part of the Heartland.
[00:13:39.430]But if you're talking about rural experience,
[00:13:42.050]that's not unique to the Midwest.
[00:13:44.340]You know, if you're talking about
[00:13:47.150]a kind of traditional family unit, which I think
[00:13:49.580]has come under some deserving scrutiny of late,
[00:13:54.730]that's not unique to the Midwest.
[00:13:56.820]So as soon as you start to probe what does Heartland mean,
[00:14:00.260]I think you'd come up against the contradictions
[00:14:05.196]and the fact that it rests on
[00:14:06.710]this kind of precarious mythology.
[00:14:10.030]Including that that, I mean that idea of the Heartland,
[00:14:13.970]is often like a de-racialized sort of image.
[00:14:21.194]I think one of the things that especially motivated us
[00:14:24.700]to explore this idea of the Midwest was
[00:14:26.820]after the 2016 elections when there was this
[00:14:29.480]sort of punditry around what's happened in the Midwest
[00:14:35.236]that states that had been more purple are now more red
[00:14:40.080]or states that had been more blue are more red
[00:14:42.240]and this sort of, you know, sense
[00:14:47.300]that there's something about sort of White people
[00:14:50.380]in middle America that it was misunderstood
[00:14:53.440]by people on the coasts in particular.
[00:14:58.969]And so yeah, some of that was lumped together with the idea
[00:15:02.400]of there's something about the heart of America,
[00:15:04.850]or the Heartland, that we need to pay more attention
[00:15:09.090]to this certain demographic or this certain region.
[00:15:12.980]And I think, you know, we were interested
[00:15:14.870]in the ways that that line of thinking
[00:15:19.050]both did and did not represent
[00:15:20.500]what we were seeing around us.
[00:15:21.790]You know, there were certain ways for sure that,
[00:15:24.030]you know, we, Central College is in a small community
[00:15:27.290]that is very White, and it has a strong identification
[00:15:31.940]with its European roots.
[00:15:35.110]But there's lots of ways that that doesn't fit
[00:15:38.160]with so much of the Midwest or the Heartland as well.
[00:15:42.790]And so I think that's partly the motivation
[00:15:45.350]for capturing these stories
[00:15:46.900]is the way that these kind of bigger terms and categories
[00:15:50.450]can hide a lot of the nuance,
[00:15:52.580]and the nuance even within one person's life.
[00:15:58.440]The first season of Iowans who moved away and came back
[00:16:01.490]and many of them were White, you know,
[00:16:05.540]Iowans from rural communities who moved away
[00:16:09.520]and realized things about their own racial identities
[00:16:12.520]or the complexities to how they understood themselves
[00:16:16.890]that was maybe different than that kind of simplistic,
[00:16:20.460]you know, White person from the Heartland kind of mythology.
[00:16:26.790]Well, and we also include in season one a story
[00:16:31.100]from Shelley Buffalo who is the Food Sovereignty Coordinator
[00:16:34.470]with the Meskwaki Settlement.
[00:16:36.620]And the paths that,
[00:16:40.240]you know, our White guests took away from the Midwest,
[00:16:43.560]usually to one of the coasts and back,
[00:16:46.740]was not the path that she took.
[00:16:48.530]You know, she moved around a lot within the Midwest
[00:16:51.530]going from Madison, Wisconsin, back to Tama, Iowa,
[00:16:56.110]but all kinds of other moves in between.
[00:16:58.490]And it was still a homecoming story,
[00:17:02.350]but it wasn't this easy dichotomy between the Midwest
[00:17:06.631]and these, you know, cultural centers on the coast.
[00:17:10.810]It was more, you know, Madison, Wisconsin,
[00:17:13.260]was a place where she worked with a food co-op
[00:17:16.840]and learned a lot about whole foods
[00:17:18.680]and started to think about government commodities
[00:17:22.830]within tribal communities
[00:17:26.220]and reclaiming some of the ancestral food traditions
[00:17:31.050]and then being able to bring that back to the settlement
[00:17:34.530]to revive some things that have been, in her mind, lost
[00:17:40.430]was a different kind of homecoming story.
[00:17:42.560]But really, her story, Shelley's story anticipated
[00:17:48.070]I think what we found in the second season
[00:17:50.340]with our immigration theme is that
[00:17:53.760]for many of our guests, they had nothing at stake
[00:17:57.150]in this idea of flyover country.
[00:17:59.540]They had no chip on their shoulder
[00:18:01.610]you know, about being seen as Midwestern.
[00:18:04.270]That just wasn't the heart of the story at all for them.
[00:18:07.700]And so, I kind of wonder how much of the regional identity
[00:18:11.240]and the satire and the cartoons and all of that
[00:18:16.650]is also a kind of projection of White experience
[00:18:21.041]in the region.
[00:18:22.160]I'd like to ask a little bit more about that first season.
[00:18:24.900]So you guys really talk about why people leave the Midwest
[00:18:29.750]and then come back, the sort of boomerang effect for them.
[00:18:33.350]What did you learn overall?
[00:18:35.640]Were there any similarities between these people's stories?
[00:18:39.388]I think not surprisingly, you know,
[00:18:41.110]a lot of the people we interviewed,
[00:18:43.190]education was part of what took them away.
[00:18:49.244]You know, they went to college or graduate school
[00:18:52.520]somewhere outside the Midwest.
[00:18:54.190]And that that was a time that they
[00:18:56.590]got a whole new perspective on where they came from.
[00:19:03.390]That's something that many of those people
[00:19:05.270]had particular things that drew them away.
[00:19:09.980]So like for instance, I interviewed Brian Bruning
[00:19:13.110]who grew up as a queer kid in a small town
[00:19:16.160]and felt like, you know, there was not a place for him.
[00:19:22.150]Similarly, I interviewed Dawn Martinez Oropeza
[00:19:27.670]who is a story we wanted to include
[00:19:31.440]as somebody who's Latina, whose family had deep deep roots
[00:19:34.850]in the Des Moines Metro area,
[00:19:37.090]but again felt like Latino culture,
[00:19:41.860]as much as she knew there was a history,
[00:19:43.660]it was a small community.
[00:19:44.687]And so she chose to live in California
[00:19:47.990]and connected in lots of new ways
[00:19:50.320]with that part of her identity.
[00:19:52.520]And so, I think that was the one thing for sure is people,
[00:19:55.880]whether it was in formal education or informal ways,
[00:19:58.960]that they were exploring pieces of their identity
[00:20:01.950]that they didn't see in the kind of dominant narratives
[00:20:04.480]of the Midwest.
[00:20:06.150]But that also motivated them to
[00:20:10.700]come back and sort of represent that
[00:20:12.660]in new ways that, you know,
[00:20:14.830]that there are other queer kids who need to see that
[00:20:21.070]you don't have to leave
[00:20:22.180]and you don't have to leave permanently.
[00:20:24.160]And so I think that's something that we saw again and again.
[00:20:29.090]As people who discovered
[00:20:32.680]the kind of pride they had in the Midwest,
[00:20:36.060]as much as they had things they wanted to challenge
[00:20:38.870]and change about it, that they also did identify
[00:20:43.370]with their roots in some pretty strong ways
[00:20:47.420]and learned to appreciate even the things
[00:20:50.560]that maybe they didn't see as clearly,
[00:20:53.110]you know, the kind of beauty and diversity
[00:20:57.500]and openness that maybe they didn't appreciate as much
[00:21:02.688]at an earlier phase in their lives.
[00:21:05.950]I wanted to ask you two about your newest season.
[00:21:09.010]You said it focuses on immigration.
[00:21:11.320]And can you tell us a little bit more about that?
[00:21:16.130]Well, it's kind of the reverse of the first season.
[00:21:18.380]So first season, native Iowans who left
[00:21:21.450]and then came back to stay.
[00:21:23.240]And then second season as people who left their homeland
[00:21:28.540]and made a new home in the Heartland.
[00:21:30.650]And yes, we're unapologetically using that term
[00:21:33.980]for alliterative purpose in the season.
[00:21:36.780]But, you know, we think of our stories
[00:21:41.610]as having different chapters.
[00:21:42.930]And so, it began with someone's childhood origins
[00:21:46.910]to their point of departure.
[00:21:48.090]What was it that pushed them away from their homeland?
[00:21:50.810]What was the journey like?
[00:21:53.030]For some, it's a fairly rapid journey.
[00:21:55.770]For others, it's a prolonged series of relocations.
[00:22:02.472]And then, what was the struggle
[00:22:04.250]of making a home in the Heartland?
[00:22:07.700]And finally, what are you personally
[00:22:11.980]or in some cases your cultural community
[00:22:15.870]contributing to what we think of as a changing Midwest?
[00:22:18.950]You know, that this is not a static place
[00:22:21.640]but a dynamic place.
[00:22:23.720]So in that case, I suppose we were explicitly
[00:22:26.790]trying to expand into the Greater Midwest,
[00:22:28.890]but then also push beyond this easy dichotomy
[00:22:33.070]of Midwest-East Coast, you know, leaving-coming back.
[00:22:39.030]Immigration stories I think offer a much more nuanced view.
[00:22:43.380]We have stories from Iowa.
[00:22:44.557]But we also have folks we've interviewed in Minnesota
[00:22:47.840]and Illinois and Indiana and other places.
[00:22:51.380]So yeah, I think part of what we were interested in
[00:22:58.487]is some of the communities that are small
[00:23:03.770]but, you know, groups of people that have gathered
[00:23:07.710]in particular places in the Midwest.
[00:23:12.760]I interviewed somebody who's
[00:23:15.440]part of a Somali-American community
[00:23:19.750]in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota.
[00:23:23.220]And Josh interviewed an immigrant from Bhutan
[00:23:27.040]who lives in Des Moines.
[00:23:28.510]And note, there are groups like that that gravitate together
[00:23:32.940]in lots of places around the Midwest
[00:23:35.000]and make for these really interesting dynamics
[00:23:38.100]of new, new immigrants
[00:23:41.874]and some of those who are second and third generation
[00:23:45.690]and able to find each other and create
[00:23:50.950]business communities and cultural groups
[00:23:54.500]and all sorts of ways that those people
[00:23:59.367]are making a home in particular places.
[00:24:03.350]So the story from Bhutan.
[00:24:07.800]Hem Rizal was born in Bhutan,
[00:24:11.340]and I think at the age of one fled with his family
[00:24:15.430]the genocide that was happening, ethnic cleansing,
[00:24:18.670]and grew up for the next 15 or 16 years
[00:24:21.120]in a refugee camp in Nepal.
[00:24:24.250]But he was one of our guests who had no investment
[00:24:28.040]and didn't even think he could define what Iowa is.
[00:24:31.740]You know, his family lives in Des Moines,
[00:24:34.310]but he thinks of Des Moines largely
[00:24:36.670]in terms of the Nepali community and Black Lives Matter
[00:24:40.320]which he's been deeply involved with.
[00:24:43.080]And much of our interview covered his time
[00:24:47.710]with Teach for America on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
[00:24:50.930]in South Dakota.
[00:24:52.610]And in that context, he didn't ever associate the Midwest
[00:24:56.630]with farmers or corn fields or White people.
[00:24:59.210]It was Native Americans and Nepali
[00:25:02.580]and Black Lives Matter communities in Des Moines.
[00:25:06.570]So following his life story just gives a very different
[00:25:11.480]view, I think, of the region and sources of meaning,
[00:25:16.960]locuses or loci of culture and identity.
[00:25:22.900]That's one thing we were after in the second season.
[00:25:25.760]One thing that was notable to me about the first season
[00:25:30.440]was that many, as Brian said,
[00:25:33.620]for some leaving initially was, you know,
[00:25:37.320]the result of harassment
[00:25:39.870]or, you know, experiencing hatred in some form.
[00:25:44.600]For others, it was triggered in part by opportunity
[00:25:49.020]but also by a kind of internalized
[00:25:54.100]prejudice of the region,
[00:25:55.160]right, the national stories of the Midwest
[00:25:57.710]as not a destination, as a cultural backwater.
[00:26:01.740]If you grew up in the Midwest,
[00:26:03.930]you might be encouraged to think with pride
[00:26:06.390]of where you come from.
[00:26:07.270]But if you don't really hear other stories,
[00:26:09.490]that becomes part of how you think of the world.
[00:26:12.540]One of my guests, Bob Leonard, who was born and raised
[00:26:17.710]in Johnston just north of Des Moines,
[00:26:20.870]wanted his walkabout as he called it.
[00:26:23.630]He was an anthropologist for many years
[00:26:25.850]in the Southwest and, you know,
[00:26:28.440]just embodied I think the principle
[00:26:31.560]I think it was Sarah Orne Jewett who told Willa Cather,
[00:26:34.547]"You have to know the world to know the parish."
[00:26:37.980]For some folks, I think growing up in a place
[00:26:40.140]that was not given deep meaning
[00:26:42.300]meant they had to go seek that somewhere else,
[00:26:46.550]and then couldn't really see the nuances and depths
[00:26:50.170]in their home community
[00:26:51.510]until they'd had that other experience.
[00:26:54.956]I just was gonna make a comment
[00:26:56.620]that I was just reading yesterday,
[00:26:58.200]that there's been kind of a counter movement
[00:27:02.720]than we usually talk about.
[00:27:03.960]We usually talk about how, you know,
[00:27:05.260]rural communities in the Midwest are losing people.
[00:27:07.860]But I was just reading that California and New York
[00:27:11.580]huge numbers of people are leaving those states right now.
[00:27:14.660]And I thought: That's really interesting.
[00:27:16.170]And you know, they're going to places like Boise, Idaho,
[00:27:19.900]and New Mexico.
[00:27:22.280]But again, it's sort of we have this idea that everybody's,
[00:27:26.600]you know, migrating to the big cities on the coast.
[00:27:29.490]But in reality, there's a lot more dynamism going on.
[00:27:32.650]And it's really neat to hear about what you're doing
[00:27:35.710]and I'm gonna start listening to your podcast.
[00:27:38.197]I'm really excited (chuckles) to discover a new one.
[00:27:44.110]Yeah, I think, you know, one of the stories
[00:27:46.340]that has stuck with me.
[00:27:49.110]I interviewed, like I said, a Somali-American,
[00:27:55.499]He lives in Minnesota.
[00:27:57.030]And, you know, his sense is the Midwest
[00:28:01.010]has a lot to teach the rest of America
[00:28:03.230]about how to live with that kind of dynamism and, you know,
[00:28:10.330]how to deal with changing diversity,
[00:28:12.930]of people living together,
[00:28:14.890]the challenges and changes we face in our economies
[00:28:19.600]in Midwest and Great Plains states.
[00:28:21.920]And that we should see the Midwest not just as a destination
[00:28:27.710]or non-destination but, you know, as a place where
[00:28:32.440]we can explore some of these changes
[00:28:34.673]and help to teach the rest of the country
[00:28:37.410]and really the rest of the world, you know,
[00:28:40.810]again like what it means to be America.
[00:28:44.720]That the Midwest can and should be
[00:28:47.320]a place that helps to define that,
[00:28:48.920]not in the kind of narrow sense
[00:28:52.620]of what the stereotype often is
[00:28:54.470]but in this more expansive way that his story,
[00:28:59.470]you know, that he sees from his perspective
[00:29:02.990]of all these different people learning to live together
[00:29:05.680]who've been through all different kinds
[00:29:08.040]of experiences in their past and can be a model
[00:29:12.270]for living together as a new kind of America.
[00:29:16.180]Well, and also, I think the second season
[00:29:20.710]challenges the idea of Midwest identity as a singular thing,
[00:29:27.080]that it's many Midwests
[00:29:30.300]and that it's not contained by the region.
[00:29:34.020]But it's indelibly linked to the rest of the world.
[00:29:36.350]So my first guest was Kao Kalia Yang,
[00:29:40.780]a Hmong writer, a Hmong-American writer based in St. Paul.
[00:29:46.790]And she came with her family
[00:29:48.090]when she was quite young from Thailand.
[00:29:52.080]But a bunch of her story is rooted in the Vietnam War
[00:29:55.640]and, you know, the American government's recruitment
[00:29:58.590]of Hmong people and then abandonment of them,
[00:30:02.070]and that for many of them, you know,
[00:30:03.560]the Vietnam War is not really over.
[00:30:06.410]And that's part of our national history.
[00:30:09.713]It's not just a Hmong story, it's an American story.
[00:30:13.370]And now it's part of what I think of as Midwest history
[00:30:18.050]after reading her book "The Latehomecomer."
[00:30:20.400]I just can't think of Minnesota
[00:30:22.420]or the Midwest the same way again.
[00:30:24.850]Is there anything I didn't ask about
[00:30:26.580]that you wanted to let people know?
[00:30:29.970]I would just throw out our website, midamericana.com.
[00:30:35.580]You can find us wherever you listen on Apple podcasts.
[00:30:38.790]Or we're on Stitcher and Spotify and Google Play as well.
[00:30:42.840]And even if we don't have a third season,
[00:30:45.424]we're still working through, as Brian said, the funding.
[00:30:48.330]And, you know, there are themes from energy to education
[00:30:51.310]that we could spin off any number of directions.
[00:30:54.390]But even if we don't have a third season immediately,
[00:30:59.020]the first two seasons are archived there on the website
[00:31:02.514]and on the podcast platforms.
[00:31:05.670]And we've enjoyed talking with classes.
[00:31:07.490]For instance, a first-year seminar here in the fall
[00:31:10.870]was all about Iowa history and culture.
[00:31:13.810]And so, the first season was useful for that class.
[00:31:18.340]So high school educators, college classes,
[00:31:21.880]we have transcripts for each episode of the raw interview
[00:31:25.170]which is usually two hours,
[00:31:27.090]and then the podcast episode
[00:31:29.520]which is usually under 60 minutes.
[00:31:33.460]So our goal I guess was to have an archive
[00:31:36.470]that would be useful to educators
[00:31:38.810]who maybe are teaching courses about identity
[00:31:42.450]or history or ecology in the region.
[00:31:45.950]And so, we'd point you to our website.
[00:31:48.850]We'd like to thank Josh and Brian
[00:31:50.350]for speaking with us today, and credit Mathew Kelly,
[00:31:53.220]the artist for the podcast, for the images we shared.
[00:31:56.670]Find out more about the project at www.midamericana.com.
[00:32:02.740]Find all of our short Great Plains talks and interviews
[00:32:05.800]as videos and podcasts at go.unl.edu/GPlectures.
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