Monday, April 30, 2012

Bringing Fancy Back: A Prelude

Before I get started, let me preface this post with an explanation that I consider myself a very proud Iron Ranger (although I may currently live out of the area).  I grew up in Hibbing and considered my of my Iron Range identity to be a badge of honor (thanks in part to my father who is a proud Iron Ranger himself).  This understanding deepened in my adult life through returning to the area and working in education at a local history museum. 

There are many labels which I answer to such as librarian, sister, daughter, intellectual, Catholic, rebel, idealist, and particularly for the purposes of this blog post—Iron Ranger.  I specifically bring this label up because I’ve gotten a little feisty in response to recent conversations both in-person and online that seem to limit the Iron Range to a narrow stereotype of itself.  What do I mean?  Please allow me to illustrate:

  1. Conversation with a co-worker here in Iowa who complimented me on an outfit I was wearing the other day:
Co-worker: That’s a great outfit. 
Me: Thanks.  I got it at my sister’s store.  She owns a boutique up in northern Minnesota. 
Co-worker: A boutique?  On the Iron Range?  Are you kidding?! I didn’t know they had those up there. 

  1. Conversation with a friend on vacation in the Twin Cities:
Friend: There are two kinds of people from the Iron Range, Jen: Iron Rangers and People Who are From the Iron Range.  You are not an Iron Ranger.  Trust me. 

  1. Conversation with a customer at my sister’s store:
[Customer comes out of dressing room wearing a beautiful dress.]
Me: Wow.  That looks fabulous on you. 
Customer: Yeah, I love it.  [Twirls around.] Too bad I don’t have anywhere to wear it around here. 

Honestly, all of these conversations remind me a bit of one I had in college over 10 years ago when a classmate from southwestern Minnesota looked at me all wide-eyed once he had discovered my Iron Range status: “Wow, you’re from there? I’ve thought about becoming a missionary there.  Do you have running water?”

Now, admittedly that last conversation was a special one and I have a heavy suspicion that gentleman may have been dropped on his head as a child; yet, all conversations combined paints a rather one-sided and frustrating picture of the Iron Range I love.

What’s so upsetting about these conversations you ask?  Are they completely false or misguided in their characterization of the Iron Range?  Absolutely not, there is a significant amount of truth behind these perceptions (again, with the exception of the last conversation which I am chalking up to brain damage).  Is the Iron Range characterized by the mining industry and a rather rough culture that accompanies it?  Sure. On the Iron Range is there more Carhartt than Cartier? Of course.  However, what is most frustrating to me is that the perceptions to fuel the above conversations serve to limit rather than illuminate what it means to be an Iron Ranger.  It fails to recognize (and even hides in my opinion) the region’s commitment to things like education and the pursuit of beauty. 

Yes, I said it.  Part of the Iron Range and Iron Rangers is the idea of pursuing and preserving beauty.  Look at our high schools, look at our village halls, and even libraries in certain communities.  Much conversation is had about the saloons and bars that populate Range history and modern reality, but often times these conversations take up so much room that people don’t see that this history also includes things like opera houses and the current existence of a growing orchestra program. 

Finally, what frustrates me most about the aforementioned attitudes is the implication that if one does not adhere to this narrow idea of what it means to be an Iron Ranger (or a Hibbingite for that matter), one somehow forfeits the label, which I wear with pride.

I refuse to believe that things like getting dressed up and engaging in activities like going to the ballet or symphony make me any less of an Iron Ranger; and I am willing to bet that there are more people than you might expect that feel the same way. 
Honestly, the idea that something like this is incompatible with my identity as an Iron Ranger is just ridiculous.

So, what to do (besides write a rather passionate blog post)?

Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get organized and in this case “the tough” also wear a dress. 

Intrigued?  Stay tuned for further details.   

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