I WAS BORN in Kansas and have lived in the state all of my life. I have visited several other states in different regions of the country, including California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Florida, and South Carolina. I have watched the TV shows and movies depicting the people and behaviors and misconceptions of the place I call home, including that we all seem to know how to shuck corn, ride tractors, and call pigs to the trough.
Kansas is truly a beautiful and diverse state when it comes to geography and vegetation. (I can’t say that about the overall population of over 80% white, though Lawrence demonstrates a superb mix of ethnicity and culture.) We have rolling, grass covered hills; flatlands bare of trees; crop fields of corn, wheat and soybeans; streams and rivers; century old cotton-wood trees that send dancing tufts of white fluff sailing through the air in the summer; limestone outcroppings; and wildlife galore.
At my house, part of a triplex in a small town next to a busy street and three blocks from a state highway, opossums, racoons, coyotes, rabbits, skunks and deer cross our yard. In the snow, we observe evidence of these creatures pursuing survival as they pursue each other. I am able to spot over 50 different bird species within my seven mile commute to work, including the nest of a Swainson’s hawk to which the nest pair returns each year.
1. Kansas is flat. While the western half of Kansas is relatively flat and open, the eastern half, the area called the Flint Hills, is anything but. Mount Oread, for example, has an elevation of 1,037 feet above sea level (compared to the surrounding landscape at 846 feet) and slopes at a steep angle on the eastern side, known as 14th street. I lived at the bottom of 14th street for a year and walked uphill to get to class. I was in the best shape of my life that year, between trekking up that hill and marching in band. Flat is a relative turn.
2. Everyone in Kansas is a farmer. Many Kansans are farmers, but of the 55% of our population of working age (between 18 and 65), 79% of those people work in non-farm occupations. Our most common occupation is Information and record clerks except customer service representatives (29%), while our most common industry is Construction (13%). Kansas Data
3. If you live in Kansas, you’ve seen a tornado. Frankly, if you live in Kansas and you’re smart, when the tornado sirens go off, you go to your basement and wait until the threat is gone. The only tornadoes I’ve seen in 39 years are on television. My mother lived in Kansas for 76 years and never once saw a twister. Unlike earthquakes that shake the ground for miles, tornadoes usually strike small areas for brief periods of time, barring the super cells tornadoes every several years. While I have been within a couple of miles of a tornado touch-down, I missed the show.
4. Kansas is just like in The Wizard of Oz movie. It’s the 21st century, people. Kansas is just like everywhere else in the country. We don’t all name our dogs “Toto” or our daughters “Dorothy.” With today’s media, we’re just as up to date on everything that’s going on. We all have Facebook accounts, watch cable/satellite television, and walk around glued to our smart phones. We live in color, just like everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, The Wizard of Oz is a classic movie and we watch it at least once a year. But times have changed.
5. “Oh, you’re from Kansas. Do you know so-and-so from Kansas?” There are 2.7 million people in the state of Kansas. Not everyone knows everyone else. I don’t even know all the people who live on my street. The average American knows 600 people, according to a study by researchers at Columbia. How many people do you know? See the article
So the next time a newcomer says, “I’m from Kansas,” put aside the cliches and ask us about what we really do and where we really live. Treat us like a neighbor and not a yokel (unless your neighbors are yokels, then treat us a little better than that). Thanks for your consideration.