If you’d asked me before about the culture of northern Minnesota, or America even, I’d have suggested it better described as a lack of culture. Growing up, we never had our version of a pow wow or exotic clothing—nothing drawing back to the days of ancient ancestors.
Removed from lederhosen and the German language (though not entirely from polka) my family didn’t identify with the “old country” in any traditional sense. And actually, I saw our lack of strong, cultural identity as an asset.
Fewer divisions between people existed, and with all the ethnic conflicts around the world, attachment to the activities of others in one’s group, I saw the whole idea of “culture” as over-rated. Hence, I was grateful that America gave humanity a chance to “reset”, individuals less defined being in a group.
(I’ve since, however, realized the strength gained from such attachment–the depth and tradition of a practicing Jew, the community of the Chinese, the spirituality of the Native Americans.)
And I neglected something else by not looking right before my eyes: that just because the bright colors of indigenous-wear and exotic moves of cultural dances all over the world makes their history bright and obvious, this doesn’t remove the fact that culture is made everyday, everywhere. It may not be as “romantic” or “other-worldly” as 3,000 year old ceremonies, but movies on a Friday night, the X-box 360, and your church up the road are examples of culture just the same.
What’s more, some of the cultural events of northern Minnesota are unique and as expressive as an Indian’s ornate head-dress. I experienced them when visiting my old stomping groups of Beltrami County, and they exclaimed the social vibe, the emotional release, and the identity with its participants that good culture offers anywhere in the world.
So let’s get to know my old neighborhood by seeing them at their best.
Before I stepped foot back on American soil, my father said I had to drive up to Blackduck the weekend of the 14th of August to see my brother-in-law, Kevin, compete in the contemporary rural version of the gladiators—the demolition derby. I did; and it was cool. And I’ll describe it shortly.
First, I’ll say that it was just one of many events at the annual gathering known as the county fair. Like gatherings worldwide, these fairs are about having fun and camaraderie–some drinking, music, a lot of socializing, and games.
County fairs are great cultural markers because they demonstrate two traits of America–its agriculture and competitive spirit.
Farmers from around the region bring their best crops, livestock, and rodeo skills. That’s right, rows of pigs, poultry, cattle, horses, and more are lined up for the judges to determine the best of the bunch. Cooking Cassanovas and Baking Bigshots also bring their A-game to compete in contests of cuisine: the best pickles, pie, or pumpkin bread.
I reflected on this activity and how uniquely American it is. The idea of a Chinese person taking pride in how well their pig or carrots stand up to others brought a smile to my face as it seemed so out-of-place. Hmm, so America does have a unique culture, after all.
If there’s one fashion ideal of the American that sticks in foreigners’ minds, it’s the image of the cowboy:
Indeed, this is a fashion and lifestyle belonging to America and stretches across all it’s fine, fifty states. (except maybe Hawaii)
I spoke with this women for awhile about her life on the farm:
For many of these folks, it’s a family operation they maintain for hobby. It’s fun to farm.
In the evenings, the fair goes from animals and food to games and rides. Moonlight replaces daylight, and is accompanied by thousands of small light-bulbs that stimulate the rides. My family and I enjoyed some time there, especially my other nephew, Garret:
Now go play and win a prize, Garret!
And here I’ll mention that America’s distant past does have old-school culture living on through the Native Americans. There are many who live in northern Minnesota, and as their ancestry in these lands goes back countless generations, some retain pieces of their old ways.
Here’s one family at the fair:
And here’s me and my little brother, Anthony:
The following day was the big event that Dad told me to come for: the demolition derby. For those of you who don’t know, here’s what it is: take an old car and drive it around other people driving old cars. Crash into each other until the last car is moving.
Well these people thought so:
You get a nice crowd at these things:
Alright, enough jibber-jabber. Time to crunch, smash, destroy, destroy!! Ahhh!!! (sorry, had to get that out of my system.)
Okay here come the cars:
For my readers in China, Americans like to customize their cars to be louder, more powerful, and look cool. This demolition derby is no different.
And they’re off!
Finally one vehicle remained, and the proud owner came out of the wreckage to claim his prize.
After the cars beat themselves silly, it was time for the trucks (themselves an American icon). So this was some super-saturated American culture here!
And they’re off.
When the trucks wound down, Kevin’s displaced driveshaft put him in 5th place. He won a few bucks.
Afterwards, it off to Kevin’s parent’s place to eat, drink, and be merry. Cousins and friends from all over the rural land came to have a good time. Good ‘ole northern Minnesotan fun.
(I’ll also add that in the western part of Minnesota, my friend, Kelsey, tells me that they blend the theme of agriculture the idea of demolition derbies by having combine-tractor demolition derbies!)
A “reset” button was pushed when all the Europeans came to America. It provided a chance to start fresh with some separation from the old ways. There is still a culture, though, and seeing it right after being in China for a year allowed a good look.
I hope you had a good look and can appreciate the culture that you live in and that you create each day: )
to new plateaus,