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Background Image Kima Mora

The Power of Women

Mexican Americans have a long history in Wichita’s North End dating back to the turn of the 20th century. In the 1920s and 30s, many were employed by the railroad, meatpacking plants, and refineries in the region. When Anita Mendoza discovered previously unknown documents and photographs from her family’s early life in Kansas, she knew she had to do something to honor and preserve that history along with those of other Mexican American families of the North End. In 2019, Mendoza established the North End Historical Society and began preserving and telling the stories of Wichita’s early Mexican American history.

Queen

Clara Macias, Mexican Independence Queen, 1928. Courtesy of North End Historical Society.

But where to begin? One of the oldest photos in the North End Historical Society’s collection is of Clara Macias who was crowned Mexican Independence Queen in September 1928 and so the seed of an idea began. With the help of an HK Culture Preservation grant, the North End Historical Society created an oral history project and short film exploring the historical and cultural contributions of Mexican American women. Las Nuevas Adelitas: The Power of Women shares the stories and experiences of eight women who were Queen candidates for the annual local Mexican Independence Day celebration or the annual American GI Forum contest, two important community organizations.

 

The American GI Forum was founded in 1948 to address issues of discrimination and inequities experienced by Mexican American veterans after World War II. The Wichita chapter’s women’s auxiliary group planned the annual event at the Broadview Hotel and raised money to support legal costs in discrimination cases and scholarships for the Queen candidates. Young women competed to serve as GI Forum Queen for each chapter. The Queen would then compete at state and national events. It was a major event for the Mexican American community each year, and garnered significant support from North End residents. In addition to Wichita, the Kansas communities of Newton, Arkansas City, Dodge City, and Garden City supported American GI Forum chapters.   

GI Forum

GI Forum event, c. 1950s. Courtesy of North End Historical Society.

The North End Historical Society hopes that the oral histories collected for Las Nuevas Adelitas project will shape current perspectives of the Queen contests and their impact on the Mexican heritage, culture, and history in Wichita. Kima Mora represented the Wichita chapter at the national American GI Forum event in 1977 and she recalled that the pageant required a speech in Spanish, but she was not a Spanish speaker. It was an emotional experience for Mora that likely resonates with many first-generation Americans who were discouraged from speaking their parents and grandparents’ language as children, resulting in a loss of language and traditions.

 

Today, many new immigrant families are once again finding a home in the North End. Mendoza shared that communicating this history is “going to bridge the children of the new immigrants with the children from the first wave of immigrants. There is a gap for these kids, for one, because of language barriers. Many who grew up in America and aren’t Spanish speakers. We are different to the ones coming to this country today.” She’s hopeful work like this oral history project will help to inspire families to keep and share their language and culture with their children.

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Watch the trailer for Las Nuevas Adelitas: The Power of Women. Courtesy of North End Historical Society.

The short film for Las Nuevas Adelitas: The Power of Women will have its premiere during Hispanic Heritage Month at the Latin Fest on Saturday, September 17 inside City Arts. The film educates viewers of the often-overlooked contributions women have made in Mexican and Mexican American history. As the mission of the North End Wichita Historical Society states, this project is “bringing the invisible, visible.”

 

HK Culture Preservation grants for oral history projects that preserve and share community culture are available. Contact Leslie VonHolten, director of grants and outreach, for more information.

 

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