I was born and raised about thirty minutes east of Notre Dame University in Elkhart, Indiana. It was my home for 18 years, and it was where I returned when Ferris closed the residence halls in late March. From that point on, I watched from the south as Michigan battled outbreaks and political tensions.
Living in Indiana during the first months of the pandemic was… interesting. I watched as my friends shared videos and posts about Governor Whitmer’s orders and mask policies while hearing my family continuously bash her as a dictator who was going mad with power.
Their stories were corroborated by the hair they heard at hair and nail salons as they opened back up—people were travelling out of state, sometimes as far a Grand Rapids (about 2 hours away) for a haircut or a manicure.
Michigan seemed incredibly strict, but it looked like it turned out alright in the middle of summer. Unfortunately, that’s when our cases began to spike. Elkhart was on the list to be a COVID19 hotspot, but few of us really thought it would really become one. Most of the theories about our outbreak centered on the Amish and Latino populations. Both groups tended to have large gatherings, live with multiple generations, and worked in the RV factories. I never heard whether this was true, but our relatively low number of deaths suggested more young people were contracting the disease and recovering. Elkhart County issued a mask mandate, and Indiana Governor Holcomb did the same weeks later, adding that it would be a Class B Misdemeanor to not wear a mask inside public spaces.
Tensions around masks grew and one day I witnessed an antimask rally outside the Elkhart County Courthouse, where I spent my summer internship. I knew people thought it was their God Given right to not wear a mask, and I even knew those people lived in my hometown.
I even understood why they did it: the protestors felt Governor Holcomb went too far by declaring refusing to wear a mask a Class B misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine. What I hated about that was seeing the children there. Children who likely did not know what their parents were talking about and could become parrots of extremism. What really surprised me were the temporary Trump-Pence signs they carried with them, further politicizing the mask debate.
I’ll be happy to return to campus, but I anticipate a culture shock will follow soon after. In Indiana, it was no big deal to forget a mask or not wear one at all. I know this will be different here. There are some times in my life I am proud to be a Hoosier—this is not one of them. I look at my state and how lax it is and I am reminded of how selfish we are.
We care more about our personal comfort and conspiracy theories than our neighbors. I really hope the culture shock from coming back north will allow me to unlearn these toxic habits and begin truly caring for my neighbors, as God Loving Hoosiers always should have done.