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Background Image mural with mexican american cultural images

North Newton: La Vida Buena

La vida buena—the good life.  Is it a destination?  And if so, how do we get there?  

As we learn in the Kauffman Museum’s online exhibit, “Of Land and People: Our Community at the Crossroads of Change,” there are at least as many answers to the last question as there are languages in which to express it.  As part of the Crossroads: Change in Rural America statewide initiative, “Of Land and People” explores how North Newton has attracted people with very different ideas about what makes for a truly good life over the centuries even as its own status as an agricultural center and transportation hub has continued to be in flux. 

Visit the Exhibition

Questions for Discussion:

Take a few minutes to explore the Kauffman Museum’s “Of Land and People” online exhibit, and then answer the following questions:

  1. German Russian Mennonites and Mexican Catholics were both attracted to Newton, Kansas by the development of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad and the promise of employment, affordable farm land, and communities with access to goods shipped in by the railway lines.  Much as the indigenous peoples who settled the land before them, they came to the plains of Newton to find “la vida buena,” the good life.  How do you think each of these groups defined the good life differently?  
  2. Consider La Vida Buena, La Vida Mexicana, a mural painted by Ray and Patrice Olais in 1976, that hangs in Newton’s Sunset School.  What different aspects of life are depicted here?  How would you define the good life today?

    La Vida Buena, La Vida Mexicana mural


  3. Much of this exhibit is focused on routes of transportation—some of which are fading away and some of which have only been recently established.  What is the relationship between the accessibility of a community and the good life?  Is travel key to experiencing la vida buena?  Why or why not?

Go Further:

Now that you’ve explored “Of Land and People,” consider the following activities as ways to enhance your learning:

  1. Read Michelle Mattich’s essay “Chasing the American Dream” about her parents’ immigration to Kansas in search of a better education for their children.  Bethel College, founded by German Mennonite immigrants to provide “a nonsectarian but religious college” for their children, was created from the same “American dream”—the dream that education is the key to a better life.  How do you define the American dream?  What is the relationship between the good life and education?
  2. Dig deeper into the immigrant experience by watching Strangers in Town, a short documentary about immigrant communities adapting to life in Garden City, Kansas.  Then, consider booking a Crossroads Conversation about the film with Amy Longa, the Program and Resource Development Manager at International Rescue Committee in Wichita, Kansas, and Debra Bolton, Director of Intercultural Learning and Academic Success at Kansas State University. Conversations are free and available via phone or zoom.
    Strangers in Town short film

    Strangers in Town Short Film 

  3. Head out. The historical trails of North Newton are a great way to get your exercise and your history fix in at the same time.  

Don’t forget to share what you’ve learned by telling us about it on Facebook or Instagram. Bonus points if you take a healthy selfie on the trail! You can tag us with at @humanitieskansas, using the hashtag, #crossroadsks. We can’t wait to hear what you’ve taken away from these Kansas crossroads!  



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