Hear me out: Ohio is actually pretty great

It’s not just ‘one of those states in the middle’

I spend approximately 90 percent of my waking hours defending Ohio.

Born and raised in western Ohio, I grew up knowing nothing but the rural life. Surrounded by cornfields? Check. Cows on every corner? Nearly. Fewer than a thousand residents in my town? You got it.

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We focused on Ohio’s history in fourth grade, and it wasn’t until years later that I learned Ohio’s not known for much but having a name similar to Iowa and being “one of those states in the middle.”

“But we’re the home of the Wright Brothers! Of Neil Armstrong and John Glenn!” I cried. “Thomas Edison was born here! So was Annie Oakley! People should know us!”

Unfortunately, I soon learned, names do not qualify states for popularity. Instead, my dear state achieves relevance as our sports teams top the nation (or, for Cleveland baseball, instigate fury with their mascots). The rest of the year, recognition lives only in statements like, “I have a second-cousin there! Or somewhere similar. Indiana?” People recognize the state name, but not what it has to offer.

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Eight U.S. Presidents have called Ohio home, as have 25 astronauts. Two MLB teams, two NFL teams, an NBA team, and The Ohio State University Buckeyes. We have the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Want to see some of the world’s largest glacial grooves? Check out Kelleys Island. The world’s largest basket? It’s the Longaberger Company’s headquarters in Newark. Need good luck? Toss a buckeye, state tree’s nut, in your pocket. Want to make small talk with a stranger? Go to a Kroger and make eye contact with anyone in order to experience our deep-rooted Midwest Courtesy. The world’s largest pumpkin pie (3,699 pounds) was made in New Bremen. And speaking of food, our ice cream is dope; see almost any list of top ice creams in the U.S. for a feature on Jeni’s or Graeter’s, not to mention more local staples like Honey Hut and Dietsch Brothers. And just to make sure we stick out, our state flag is the only one with a pennant design.

Yet even people who live in Ohio don’t recognize its value. Take students from other states who go to my college as examples. Many barely attempt to integrate into Ohio culture or to understand the people who live in our county — instead, it’s a quick jump to judgements about these “poor rural people who don’t know what’s good for them.” With their limited experience in Gambier, Ohio, and its surrounding area, they feel qualified to bash anything they see faulty in the state.

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In the midst of ideas like this (usually more subtle than the aggressive quotation above), I deal with students who identify as Ohioans only for convenience. When they want to vote in a swing state, for example, they “spend most of their time in Ohio!” but most of the time, they’d rather not be associated.

Consider a recent conversation about the election:

“Can we call Kenyon students Ohioans? Most of them are from out of state. Aren’t they just Ohio voters?”
“I think we can call them Ohioans. People who have lived in New York City for a month call themselves New Yorkers.”
“But would you consider them New Yorkers?”
“No, but that’s different.”
“How?”
“You have to earn the title New Yorker.”

There is nothing, apparently, to be said for earning the title “Ohioan,” or even “Midwesterner.” You can reside in Gambier and occasionally visit Columbus, and you’re automatically part of the Ohio Club!

I should address specifically that I know many people who talk about Ohio without judgement, who see the good alongside the bad, and I appreciate them immensely. I have no problem with students voting in Ohio, and I love when out-of-state students identify Ohio as home. It’s all in the nuances: in the subtle “implicit” understanding that New Yorkers know better and Californians are cooler, the association of Ohioans as people “stuck where they grew up,” without the ability to leave.

This is why my ears burn when Ohio is mentioned, why I’m quick to defend my state fiercely and slow to judge another state or hometown based on stereotype.

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