I’ve always been proud of where I’m from. To me, Marquette was the ideal place to grow up – just the right size, with beautiful scenery, safe neighborhoods and an incomparable sense of community. I never realized people from outside the Upper Peninsula had a different view of the lives of us so called “Yoopers.” That is, until I came to NMU.
I was shocked to find that while many people from the Lower Peninsula, Illinois, Indiana and other states found Marquette a perfect place to attend college, they were stunned that I had survived growing up here. Questions like, “what did you do for fun?” and, “how come you don’t talk funny?” are often shot my way, along with other stereotypes straight out of “Escanaba in Da Moonlight.” It usually takes a bit of explaining before people comprehend that I’m not a flannel wearing, long underwear loving hunter who has never used indoor plumbing.
No matter how many times I hear these stereotypes, I still find them just as annoying and offensive. In addition, they make me protective of not only this city, but the region as a whole. According to NMU’s Office of Institutional Research, 4,385 U.P. natives were enrolled as undergraduates for the winter 2009 semester. The number of Lower Peninsula residents enrolled was 2,219, while Wisconsin had 573 and Illinois 531. Other various regions had small amounts of enrollment, but the Upper Peninsula still outnumbered any other state by a long shot. It makes me wonder how some people could spend an average of five years in a place surrounded by locals and never break free of their ignorance.
I can admit that there is truth to these stereotypes, and old time Yoopers prove them especially well. But with each stereotype there comes a reasonable explanation we have little control over. According to the Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation, the thick Yooper accent is due to the varied amount of early settlers, most of whom came from the Nordic countries. The strong Finnish undertones are due to the fact that the U.P. is made up of 16 percent Finns, the second largest population next to Europe. The large amount of hunters is due to the highly seasonal climate and short growing season. Agriculture is limited, as anyone who has survived a winter here knows, so early settlers developed the tradition of hunting.
The cold winters also have to do with the clothing many associate with U.P. natives: flannel, blue jeans, long underwear and bright-colored “chooks” are all warm clothing I would not hesitate to wear in order to stay warm. Considering how far north the U.P. is, being referred to as “the middle of nowhere” is quite accurate, although somewhat of an exaggeration. This accounts for the lack of diversity, or what some may refer to as being sheltered. Despite this, there are very few places I have been where locals will smile and wave at strangers passing by on the street.
Stereotypes associated with the U.P. are simply part of the culture of this area. Even though some people you meet may prove to be typecast Yoopers in your mind, many of the people you meet are completely dumbfounded these labels still exist. Therefore, it’s understandable how slamming a culture we have no control over, and usually does not apply to us, can translate into disrespect. So next time you’re home for a visit, think about how much your city means to you and how you’d want to be treated within those city limits.