New Library Exhibit Spotlights KC’s Latino Community and Its Anchor Institution
Kansas City’s Hispanic and Latino community has grown by more than half in the past couple of decades, now accounting for a tenth of the city’s population.
That surge, Sandra Enríquez says, masks the depth of Latinos’ roots in the city. “They’re seen as newcomers, and that’s not the case,” says the University of Missouri-Kansas City assistant history professor.
She points to the westside Guadalupe Centers, a cultural, social and religious anchor for local Hispanics and Latinos since 1919 and the longest continuously operating organization serving those populations in the country. “You’d think it would be somewhere along the U.S.-Mexican border, but it’s here in Kansas City,” Enríquez says. “I think it’s very telling.”
Guadalupe Centers, Inc., marks the 100th anniversary of its founding this year, spotlighting not only the center and the array of services it offers but also the history and culture of a Latino and Hispanic community in Kansas City that dates back a century and a half. A key element of the observance is a new exhibit, Kansas City’s Guadalupe Centers: A Century of Serving the Latino Community, on display for a little more than a year on the fifth floor of the downtown Central Library — just outside the Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections.
See it. Celebrate. Appreciate.
Curated and produced by Enríquez, UMKC teaching colleague Theresa Torres, graduate student Hunter Albright and others at UMKC in partnership with Guadalupe Centers, the exhibit features photos, documents and other archival materials from both Guadalupe Centers and the Library’s special collections.
Enríquez, Torres and their crew plumbed the collections of the Library and MVSC to chronicle the early Guadalupe Center era from the mid-1920s to the 1940s. They fleshed out more recent years by sorting through materials long stored at various Guadalupe Centers locations, including some 20 bankers boxes of photographs, board reports, newsletters, newspaper articles and other items in the basement of its Family Support Center on Truman Road.
Some additional images came from the Kansas Historical Society. The exhibit also draws from oral histories collected in conjunction with a short film documentary produced as part of the Guadalupe Centers’ centennial celebration.
“It’s a multifaceted project,” says Enríquez, a native of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, who oversees UMKC’s public history emphasis and the Latinx KC Oral History Project.
Says Alyx Bartrom, the Guadalupe Centers’ director of fund development and marketing, “It’s a history lesson. It really is. It’s like, wow, all of this happened in a hundred years! To see the path that was taken and where we ended up is pretty incredible.”
Kansas City’s now-thriving Hispanic and Latino community began taking shape in the late 1800s, when railroads hired Mexican laborers for construction in the Southwest and those workers and other immigrants moved north on the rail lines to KC. A second influx came in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, bringing refugees in search of escape from the upheaval and a better life in the U.S.
Many found work in the rail yards, stockyards, and in the city’s meatpacking plants, and settled on the west side. But they were met with discrimination, poverty and a lack of social services. In response, a group of young Catholic women banded as the Agnes Ward Amberg Club to “care for the spiritual, as well as the physical, welfare of those in less fortunate circumstances.”
They purchased a home adjacent to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, called it the Guadalupe Center, and from there provided health care, schooling and other services. Needing more room, in 1936 the center moved into a new Spanish colonial-style building at what is now 1015 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez.
Its offerings today range from early childhood, elementary, high school and adult educational programs to health and social services, cultural events and social activities. The nonprofit’s name was changed from the Guadalupe Center to Guadalupe Centers in 2009 to reflect that expanded menu.
The center and its history already figured prominently in an online exhibit, Latinos in Kansas City: A Westside Scrapbook, mounted by the Library in 2015. The new Century of Serving the Latino Community exhibit was unveiled at the Central Library in mid-May and will remain on display through May 2020.
Enríquez, always seeking hands-on experiences for her UMKC students and ways to connect them to the larger Kansas City community, first raised the idea of an exhibit in late 2017. Eighteen undergraduate and graduate students began research and initial writing the following spring. Over the course of discussions with Jeremy Drouin, the Library’s special collections manager, the fifth-floor space at the Central Library was chosen as the location.
The exhibit ultimately will take up permanent residence in a second-floor gallery in the Guadalupe Centers’ administration building.
“We always talk about national organizations,” Enríquez says, “but we don’t focus on the histories of these local community organizations that are doing phenomenal work in helping advance the lives of the community, especially ethnic, racial and gender minorities. They’re doing a lot of the legwork.
“It’s important that we chronicle these histories.”
“Guadalupe Centers: A Century of Serving the Latino Community” is on display on the fifth floor of the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., through May 31, 2020. The exhibit was designed by Daisy Hernandez and Paul Tosh, a UMKC associate professor of studio art.