What's A Yooper? The people of Michigan's Upper Peninsula are nicknamed Yoopers. Weekend Edition Host Liane Hansen explores what defines the Yooper identity.

What's A Yooper?

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Unidentified Man #1: One of the things that really I think sets us apart is the work ethic up here.

Unidentified Man #2: We're a proud people.

Unidentified Woman: There's a stubbornness.

Unidentified Man #3: I think it's no matter how hard the times get, you kind of just keeping on going forward and don't let it get down.

Unidentified Man #4: Sometimes I feel the pressure and I'm like, you know, grandpa worked really hard and my dad worked really hard. I better be working really hard too.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Everyone we met on the Upper Peninsula said something similar when asked what defined a Yooper. Although hard work is a common characteristic, it isn't the only one.

(Soundbite of song "Buckless Yooper")

Mr. JEFF DANIELS (Actor, Singer): (Singing) There goes a buckless yooper...

HANSEN: Actor Jeff Daniels, not a Yooper, wrote this affectionate song that sums up some unlucky U.P. hunter.

(Soundbite of song, "Buckless Yooper)

Mr. DANIELS: (Singing): There goes a buckless yooper, hang your head in shame, in the Escanaba moonlight, Reuben Soady was his name. He was the Mother Teresa of deer huntin', Bambi's best friend. He was the U.P.'s answer to the question that never ends. He couldn't hit a house if he was standin' inside and every buck knew Reuben Soady would bring 'em back alive.

HANSEN: Yoopers don't seem to get a lot of respect outside the U.P., but the Yoopers we met can take a joke. Tawni Ferrarini, the economist at Northern Michigan University, explained the attitude.

Ms. TAWNI FERRARINI (Economist, Northern Michigan University): It's easy to ignore 309,000 people who are living across 10.5 million acres of land. It's just sometimes our voice gets lost. It's just not heard. But you know what? We - even when it happens and, you know, the Upper Peninsula is left off the state maps and placed on championship T-Shirts and we win the awards, we just laugh it off. There's a lot of humor, and we believe that people are basically good. But if you can get us on the map, that'd be great.

HANSEN: Yoopers also tell good jokes on themselves. Take Da Yoopers Tourist Trap and Museum. Outside, an old pickup is on display to illustrate roadkill, except a stuffed deer is behind the steering wheel and a dummy of a local is stretched across the hood.

(Soundbite of door screeching)

HANSEN: Inside the shop, a t-shirt declares: Keep on Yoopin'. The image is a set of three wide-stepping outdoorsmen in the style of R. Crumb's underground comic Keep on Truckin'.

Anna Gully manages Da Yoopers Tourist Trap and she says the class-conscious jokes just come with the territory.

Ms. ANNA GULLY (Manager, Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum): People think we're still living, you know, without electricity and flushing toilets, you know? Even people from Lower Michigan, they ask if you have paved roads and power because we're so far north. So, we have to make fun of ourselves somehow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CRYSTAL: They are people who do not give up.

HANSEN: Local TV news anchor Vicki Crystal told us that humor is a glue that keeps Yoopers close.

Ms. CRYSTAL: They would always band together, regardless of how you feel about another person personally, they band together. They're very close-knit in way, but at the same time, very willing to bring other people into their fold. They're incredibly friendly. I'm not a wide traveler, but I've been to a few parts of the country and have never met anybody as friendly as the Yoopers are. You sit down and the next thing you know, you are friends and you've been talking for 10 minutes and all of a sudden you're sharing personal details with each other because they're just so open about everything.

State Representative MICHAEL LAHTI (Democrat, Michigan): Some people tell me there's an accent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAHTI: I don't know if I have one.

HANSEN: Mike Lahti represents the U.P. in the Michigan legislature.

Mr. LAHTI: We go places and people say, where are you folks from? And they say, are you from Canada? I say no. We're from the Upper Peninsula. And they say where is that? And you tell them, and their, kind of, eyes get sort of glassy, and they say I know somebody in Flint or I know somebody in Lansing. I say, well, it's about 500 miles away. So we're used to that. We have a fun time with it. But we're very proud of the Upper Peninsula and we're, hey, we're proud of being part of Michigan.

HANSEN: And Yoopers feel very fortunate to live here. John Spigarelli is a businessman in Marquette, Michigan.

Mr. SPIGARELLI: You know, we really have the best of both worlds here because there is the ability to have the - some metropolitan feel but a 10-minute walk outside of town lends you into the wilderness that is the most peaceful feeling and a testament to the lifestyle here.

The people that come from Wisconsin, from the greater Chicagoland area, from Detroit, I've never heard anyone say, I hate it here, this place is terrible. All I hear from people is it's so beautiful here. You're so fortunate to live here. It's wonderful. We want to retire here. We want to raise kids here. And that also is overlooked by a lot of Yoopers too sometimes. People strive to live here and we're fortunate enough to be here.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Voices from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan explaining what it means to be a Yooper.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

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