The mythical American heartland; or, What is the Midwest?

When I moved back to Chicago in late 2011, one of my goals was to get published in the Reader within six months. Six months and five years later, I did it! Here’s an excerpt:

Fortunately, Vox is here to explain: “The midwest is . . . the states where agriculture was, historically, the major industry. . . . They’re states where the dominant religion is some branch of Protestant—often Lutheran or Methodist. And they’re states where Scandinavians and other northern Europeans settled in droves.”

Unless you’ve never left Andersonville, this is an odd description to try to apply to Chicago, which VanDerWerff acknowledges as the midwest’s capital. Agriculture is historically important here—in the form of industrial meatpacking and LaSalle Street futures trading—but so are steel, railroads, and corporate headquarters. Only about one in ten people in the Chicago metro area identify as some kind of mainline Protestant, according to the Pew Research Center; about a third are Catholic, and another third belong to evangelical Christian denominations, black Christian denominations, or non-Christian religions. And for the last hundred years at least, the cultural fabric of most of the city has been dominated by people of eastern European descent, African-Americans from the south, and, over the last few generations in particular, Latin American immigrants and their children and grandchildren.

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