In 2014, in "Where is Illinois?" I stuck my big nose into the issue of regional identity.
You would think that the one inarguable fact about Illinois is that it is a Midwestern place. Walt Hickey, a writer for Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, commissioned a web poll of self-identified Midwesterners that asked them which states they believed make up that region. He figured they’d know, but 19 percent of the nearly 1,400 people who replied thought Illinois is not in the Midwest. Apparently, most of the respondents believed that the Midwest consisted of their state and the states that abut it.
I didn't say all that might have been said, of course. In a recent Reader piece, Daniel Kay Hertz says a bit more. Hertz notes that people confuse the Midwest with "the hearland," which he sees as
a sort of fictionalized version of the midwest without cities, and especially without black people or immigrants. (Or maybe I should say a certain kind of immigrant, since obviously Swedes are no more native to central North America than Poles or Mexicans.) The heartland is a quasi-mythical home of Protestant virtues. It's an alternate origin story that takes away first claim on American-ness from the more urban coastal colonies (or, God forbid, Native Americans). It's more an idea than a real regional identity, and one that exists at least as much for the benefit of other Americans as for midwesterners.