The Kansas City metropolitan area is almost equally divided geographically and population-wise between two states —Missouri and Kansas.
But how does this state-divide define us as individuals within the community?
The house I grew up in is a block and a half away from State Line Road on the Missouri side, about a five-minute walk. And I’ll admit, I have strong "KCMO" pride (even though I’m a big University of Kansas fan). And when I’m in other cities I’m quick to correct people who misidentify me as a Kansan.
“No, no, I’m from Kansas City, Missouri,” I say.
But what’s that about? I mean, it seems so complicated. And I’m not trying to get into the history of the Civil War. I’m just trying to look at this question as it is today. It seems like a lot of people around here all have their own ways of identifying within this unique local dichotomy — a city straddling two states.
We put out an inquiry through our source network, TellKC, to address this question. We asked people how the state line impacts their identity.
Here’s what we heard back.
Terry Blastenbrei is from St. Louis Mo., originally. He’s a big University of Missouri fan, and a proud Missourian. He moved to south Kansas City, and then to Olathe, Kan., when he got married. Now he works for the University of Kansas, he wears his MU shirt at least once a week to work.
“People just get really over the top,” he says about the MU-KU sports rivalry. “Like when I first moved here I was like, 'Woah! You guys are a little too intense for me.'”
Blastenbrei admits that a lot of the sports conflict in the metro is all in good fun. And he’s proud of Kansas City, but sometimes people stereotype him if he tells people he lives in Olathe.
“People are like 'Oh, suburbia cookie cutter homes,' that sort of thing,” Blastenbrei says. And he thinks this stereotype isn’t fair.
“I think there is a lot of really great stuff in the metro. Not just in the city of Kansas City but of course Independence, and Olathe, Shawnee and Mission.”
Tim Kramps is a Kansan who grew up in Johnson County, Kan., in a family of farmers. Now, he lives in Missouri. He says he’s proud to be a Kansan, but that there’s a perception in the metro that if you’re from Johnson County, you’re a spoiled rich kid.
“I definitely did not come from money,” says Kramps. “Since I moved to Missouri, I’m more concerned about not feeding the state line divide. I tell people constantly, 'we’re one city,'” he says.
Robert Marin’s apartment is in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Mo., with a perfect view of the skyline. But his roots are in the Argentine neighborhood in Wyandotte County.
“I’ve got friends who since 16 years old have W’s on their arms tattooed — Wyandotte county, you know, Argentine, Armourdale, Central, Northside, Southside,” says Marin.
The Argentine was an area that attracted Mexican silver workers, mostly from the same state in Mexico, one hundred years ago.
“So basically what you have in my neighborhood is third, fourth, fifth generation people, so everybody knows everybody,” says Marin.
He’s proud of his family’s history in Wyandotte County, and of Kansas, but he also sees this all as one city. And right now he prefers to live in downtown Jackson County.
The psychology of it all
I get where Robert Marin’s coming from. Honestly, I don’t want to live in Kansas, and there are a lot of people in Kansas who would never live in Missouri. We heard that a lot in response to the inquiry. We also heard complaints about taxes, schools, politics and praise for their agricultural roots, the abundance of culture and the sense of community. And, these are all things that could really be said about both states.
Psychologist Kym Bennett says to try and look at the state line situation how an alien in outer space might look down at us. We have a lot more in common as a region than people might be willing to admit.
“You know if you were looking down from above, Metcalf doesn’t look any different. Nor does Wornall on the Missouri side- so it’s interesting that we have this dividing line that’s really artificial,” she says.
Bennett says we’re all trying to create an identity, and the sources from which you draw to create that identity are going to differ by person.
“Some people will draw heavily from their geographic origins, others may look at cultural origins or ethnic origins more so,” says Bennett.
She says we create ‘in-groups’ and ‘out groups’ all the time. Most often without even being conscious of it. We tend to draw upon things that are salient to us — like where we’re from — to feel good about ourselves and feel connections with others.
“You have an in-group for your political identity, your school, your neighborhood, your race,” says Bennett.
This is normal behavior, she says, and you can reside in more than one ‘in group’ at any given time, which can be good for your mental and physical health. But it does have its negative aspects too. Like when you assume everybody in the outgroup is the same and create stereotypes. It’s also hard because things change — places, perceptions and ourselves.
“I really consider myself a Midwesterner now. Much more than I think I thought I would have,” says Bennett who is originally from Southern California. She’s been living in Overland Park, Kan., the past six years.
“If you see your kids living in an area, or born in an area, it maybe transforms how you see that area,” she says. “I’m going through that now. I have two kids, and you know, they’re from Kansas.”
Bennett says it’s fascinating how quickly a group of people identify their various in and out groups. And an example she gave, and one a lot of other people brought up in our inquiry, is how the region responded during the Royals post-season.
“That was something that unified us, as opposed to the state line that divides us,” says Bennett. “But isn’t it interesting how the out group shifted. It shifted from I’m a Kansan, and I’m a Missourian to, I’m a Royals Fan and not a San Francisco Giants fan.”
Here’s the thing: About two million people live in the Kansas City metro. The area encompasses two states, nine counties, about 120 different smaller cities, tons of historic and new neighborhoods. There are so many different ethnic groups, cultures, sub-cultures, languages and even some Giants fans.
And the thing is, everybody has their own story and identity. It’ just so personal.
And those diverse facets and complexities are actually a part of what connects us all in some way as Kansas Citians.
This story is part of KCUR's examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences on the state line with KCUR.