“You’re not in Kansas anymore!”
In the limited introductions I’ve made since the start of this semester, I’ve elicited this response four times. Mind you, I can’t blame anyone for failing to think of anything better. The most distinctive piece of trivia about my hometown, Kansas City, is that most of it isn’t actually in Kansas. To mention I live in a suburb called “Prairie Village” means I must promptly add that my Friday nights did not consist of mudding and cow-tipping.
Upon arriving in Montreal, I was disappointed that my peers showed so little interest in my roots. It seemed to indicate how comparatively banal my background was. But, in time, I’ve started to appreciate my entirely ordinary upbringing for all that it has given me beneath the surface.
A childhood environment is more than a set of surroundings—it molds one’s personality. Growing up in a quiet suburb leaves me inclined to take the low-key lifestyle to its logical extreme; between my casual, deadpan speech and hesitance to say anything controversial, my formal interactions are decidedly understated, no matter how hard I try to change. Some friends tell me that I display a strangely hilarious blend of sass, folksiness, and blunt stoicism. This is the consequence of growing up in the geographical melting pot of people from the American South, Great Lakes, and agricultural areas in between. Apparently, it sets me apart from the McGill crowd.
What’s better is that these circumstantial influences help to establish fundamental life skills. I’ve learned patience from growing up in a world that, for whatever reason, just moves more slowly. I’ve learned humility and appreciation from a culture that celebrates contributions from big people and little people—the executives and the farmers of the world. I’ve realized that the Midwestern “blue collar work ethic” is more than some fetishized rallying cry; it’s taught me to demand the absolute best from myself.
An upbringing is also special for the memories it offers. In high school, I won a state championship in football, still my favourite memory after 20 years on Earth. Arthur Bryant’s—for my money, the greatest barbecue joint in Kansas City, and thus, the world—hangs a picture of my father, A Guy Who Loved Barbecue, next to its front door. These snippets from my childhood are two of the most cherished pieces of my life.
The thing is, my experience isn’t unique. We all have plenty of memories from our hometowns that give us goosebumps. These places can make us smile simply by driving by—while also shaping our personalities and core values. Rural life teaches independence. Poverty and the struggle to make ends meet breed perseverance.
What makes a place great is if it lends happiness and virtues to its inhabitants, not if it can boast about its tourism and iconic landmarks. One’s home provides both those benefits in almost every case, through one means or another. For that reason, just about anyone’s hometown is worthy of celebration—and requires no further burden of proof to justify its greatness.
Ultimately, I’ve come to terms with the fact that the most defining characteristic of my home state is that a fictional farmgirl from a 79 year-old movie grew up there. That place, in conjunction with my hometown, is worthy of celebration for all it’s given me. That’s why I will demand that Tech N9ne’s “Hood Go Crazy” be played at any party I attend. That’s why I will subsequently yell “KANSAS CITY NATIVES AND WE ALL A LITTLE COOCOO” with Tech at the end of his first verse. Regardless of where you’re from, I encourage everyone to celebrate their hometown all the same, and appreciate the memories, people, and values that come from it—but lay off Tech. He’s ours.