When I was young, not all that long ago, there were still corn fields inside the city limits of Indianapolis.
Indy sits in the middle of the state, a geographical heart with arteries stretching from Gary to Madison and from Auburn to Evansville. While Indianapolis is the literal middle of everything, historically it was not the center of Hoosier identity. That has always resided in the farms and towns. The capitol borrowed its life’s blood from the rural outskirts, which lent their down-home aura to a wannabe metropolis on the plains.
That heritage is now put to the test. The great urban-versus-rural, progress-versus-tradition, past-versus-future tension that has come to define American politics and culture has come to Indiana. Social issues and resource scarcity force battle lines in a culture war between what modern life demands and how our parents and grandparents lived. City dwellers value the small-town veneer of Indianapolis less and less by the year.
The Next Indiana will be one in which we struggle for a common identity between the country, the suburbs and the city. It’s not a new challenge. No, we don’t have to forge a home out of the wilderness, but the world is still wild and people still need to feel at home. There’s no great Civil War for freedom, but we continue to fight for the rights of all people and for a common national identity. We’ve long since left the farm for factories, but we must decide if our soul is still with the land. There is no more legal segregation, but we keep working to embiggen the name “Hoosier” to incorporate the experiences of every color and creed.
Once more, we are forced to define who we are and what we value. We inherit our identity, but we also decide it. My prayer for our state is that 50 years from now the word Hoosier will still have an emotional resonance and meaning that ties the whole state together beyond just geography.
There are no more corn fields in Indianapolis. But I do hope there are always Hoosiers.
Nate Dunlevy is one of the most popular voices in Indiana sports coverage. He is the author of Blue Blood: Tales of Glory of the Indianapolis Colts and Invincible, Indiana. This post was written as part of a series celebrating the Next Indiana Bookshelf, a program of Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Center for the Book. Check the Indiana Humanities blog throughout 2016 for additional posts by authors detailing their vision for the Next Indiana.