I live in Texas. I grew up in Kansas. I was born in Idaho. I went to college in Nebraska. My sense of self identity has never been tied to a single place. Whenever people ask me where I am from I often say “everywhere, and nowhere at the same time.” I am not just saying I am not from anyplace, but rather the places I am from all constitute nowhere on a map.
I write this with a heavy heart. I write it with all the confusion of my past just ever so slightly clearer. I write this knowing it will confuse some, anger others and alienate more still. Yet here I am pouring out my own situation for the whole world to read, or at least the 12 or so who read this blog.
While I grew up in Kansas there is something you oughta know, Kansas is a state itself with as much of a cultural identity crisis as my own. Technically Midwestern geographically in the West, socio-politically Great Plains, culturally southern. How is that possible you ask? And what do I mean by these statements?
If you’ve never lived in Kansas you’ve never fought with your neighbors over whether or not it qualifies as a southern state. It does however, regardless of geographic locale, qualify as southernish. What I mean by that is complicated.
First southern and Confederate are not equal terms. While much of what we consider Southern Culture today stem from, or have roots in, Confederate Culture, they are not identical. That being said Kansas was an interesting place in regards to the overall slave story. Legally a free state, but technically a slave state too. It’s complicated just look up “Bleeding Kansas” to get an idea. It’s largest city isn’t even in it’s own geographic borders, Kansas City, which does actually spill into Kansas despite being in Missouri.
Why am I talking southern culture if I was a damn Yankee? It’s complicated. Before coming to Texas I never thought of myself as southern. I did, however, know people who tried to convince me Kansas was. Now Kansas as about as Midwestern as it gets while being truly it’s own thing. It shares a lot in common with the Wild West too. Kansas is unequivocally country. Yet I don’t want to equate country with Southern either. I knew in my mind Kansas was in the Midwest but in my heart, it feels very southern when you live there. Having now lived in Kansas and Texas I can tell you they’re more alike than different.
That alone doesn’t make them southern. Again I don’t mean to make this complicated but a quick Google Search “Is Kansas Southern” will turn up countless articles debating the issue. It’s not as cut and dry as the Mason-Dixon line after all. I am not trying to equate Slave state and Free state to mean Southern and Northern either. There were slave states fighting on the side of the Union and Free states fighting on the side of the south. The civil war was absolutely fought over slavery but it wasn’t as cut and dry as North means slaver is bad south means Slavery is good.
SO what makes it feel southern when it ain’t? Culturally speaking Kansas is the Great Plains. It’s farm land. There are some ranchers in the southern and western parts of the state and it’s big cities have industry, hell the state is even an oil producing one. It’s got all the cultural earmarks of a Southern state. It has the southern hospitality down for the most part. People there by and large are deeply into country music. They are largely ultra conservative. I don’t have an answer. This isn’t an essay on is Kansas southern just an expose on the reality it feels quite so if you’ve ever lived there, there are those who claim it is and it has strong ties to the South culturally and economically speaking.
Where do I fit in? I never felt southern but at the same time I kinda did. Then I moved to Texas. I never felt out of place. I am a white country girl after all. I bleed small town. I cry whenever I get on Interstate 635 in Dallas. Cry real tears. I don’t consider myself a southern girl, per se, but my parents sure were hillbilly adjacent growing up. We never really had an identity our own either as a family. If you asked my mom she’d say we were Midwestern. Here is the thing though, the arguments for is Kansas the south are often repeated by Northerners trying to argue it ain’t the Midwest or West either. Geographically it is smack dab in the middle of the country.
I don’t want to equate country with southern either. They’re similar but unique in a lot of ways. It’s more like a feeling you get. I lived all across the Western United States from Kansas to Nebraska, Idaho, Nevada and Texas. I can tell you they each have their own feel. Kansas and Nebraska are culturally more alike than different yet the two states are as different as night and day. Nebraska doesn’t want anything to do with the South, Nebraskans are allergic to the idea of Souhernism. Not Kansas. Depending on what part of the state you are in you could mistake it for being Kentucky, Missouri or even Texas. It has rolling hills. It has desert. It has forest.
I have gotten off track. That was the point. Do I consider myself southern today? I don’t know. I consider myself an American but so do Californians and they very much ain’t southern. It’s not about lines on a map or U.S. Census data. It’s about the people. Kansas ight not think they are southern out right, I can assure you there are many who long to be considered such. I grew up in that camp if we’re being perfectly honest. I longed to move to Texas in my younger days. Never thought I would but a lot of Kansas do desire that for some reason. If you read your history books you will discover the two states have strong ties to one another.
My southern identity is as in flux as any aspect of my identity. I firmly identify as from The West. I can make a claim to that all day long. I was born in Idaho, went to high school in Nevada, drove through California cuz I was bored once. I feel very Western in my blood. Texas is a part of the West. Kansas is a part of the West. I never once doubted my Western heritage in this context Western United States.
I can’t help but wonder if Country/Western just feels Southern in a lot of ways? Again like Southern isn’t automatically Confederate, Western isn’t automatically country. They’re twined in ways I can’t describe, but completely their own thing. You can live in the rural parts of New York and consider yourself country folk. I’d be right okay with that.
I consider myself 75 percent Western, 25 percent Midwestern, 10 percent Southern, 90 percent small town, 25 percent country and 100 percent American. Don’t worry about the math, there’s overlap in some of these it’s not a recipe it’s a weird concoction I made up in my brain. Truth be told I don’t know who I am most days largely because if you look where I came from it’s hard to say I equals X. Consider me a very southern girl from Kansas.