Last week my boys and I surfed through the Istanbul television channels when suddenly a scene from The Circle in Indianapolis caught our eyes. In addition to the surprise of seeing Indiana on TV here in Turkey, the reporter surprised us by speaking English with people on the street. In a short time we learned that the reporter—who was traveling with the Turkish Basketball team—-wanted to know the meaning of the name “Hoosier.” He said, “Since arriving in Indiana we’ve learned that the people here call themselves Hoosiers. But we still don’t know what a Hoosier is.” He stopped a couple of wary pedestrians and said, “Hi, I’m from Turkey and we’re trying to learn what a Hoosier is. Could you help us? What exactly is a Hoosier?”
First, they gave him a blank stare, then slowly they started smiling and one answered. “I think a Hoosier is someone from Indiana.”
“Yes,” the Turk replied, “but what is a Hoosier? What does it mean?”
The Hoosier smiled and said, “I’m sorry I don’t really know, it’s just someone from Indiana.”
He stopped several more people. One said, “I’m not from here. I’m from South Carolina.” Another person said, “I think it means somebody who’s crazy about sports.” Finally the reporter threw his hands up in despair.
The humorous interaction made me think. What is a Hoosier? Nobody really knows for sure where the name came from. But then, what is a Turk? Clearly it should not be confused with what is a turkey. What is a Canadian, or a German (they call themselves Deutshe, what does that mean?), or what is an Englishman? Everybody is something, but the names we invent may mean little more than what we want them to mean.
But that’s where the power of the community comes in. A Hoosier may be somebody that likes basketball or somebody who either lives on a farm or knows somebody else that does. A Turk may be somebody whose ancestors came from Central Asia. But it’s not just a matter of personal opinion. The community must come to some kind of consensus about its identity. And it’s because everybody belongs to something bigger than themselves (nobody is an island) that there can be such things as Canadians, or Turks, or Hoosiers, whatever that means.