JoCo on the Go Podcast: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in JoCo

On JoCo on the Go, episode #145, it’s Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, a time to celebrate Johnson County’s diversity. Learn about Johnson County Museum’s fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration that includes food, music, exhibits and more. Also, find out how you can learn more about this population by opening a book or checking out online materials from the Johnson County Library. Finally, hear from a local resident who shares her passion for celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by detailing her family’s story of immigration and assimilation in Johnson County.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in JoCo

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Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
02:52 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration
05:30 Ana's family history in Johnson County
07:35 The growth of our Hispanic community
10:33 Hispanic Heritage Month at the library
13:31 The importance of embracing diversity
16:27 Attend the county's celebration event


Theresa Freed 0:00 

From mid-September to mid-October, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. On this episode, find out how Johnson County is observing this annual recognition and hear from a local family.

Announcer 0:11 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:24 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. Every year, our Johnson County Museum and Library share with residents the rich Hispanic heritage in Johnson County. Today, hear about how they're celebrating. We'll also talk to a local resident who is especially passionate about sharing with residents her Hispanic heritage. Well, thank you all for being here today.

Elissa Andre 0:47 

Thanks for having us.

Theresa Freed 0:49 

You're welcome. So let's go ahead and get started just with introductions. So I'm gonna have Andrew kick us off, and then we'll go to Elissa and then Ana.

Andrew Gustafson 0:57 

I'm Andrew Gustafson. I'm the curator of interpretation for the Johnson County Museum, which is a fancy way of saying I help people access their history. And I get to do that through exhibitions and special programs and things. And for the Hispanic Heritage Month event here at the Arts and Heritage Center, I get to secure all the food vendors. So a delicious part of my job.

Theresa Freed 1:20 

Indeed. Alright, Elissa.

Elissa Andre 1:22 

Hi, Elissa Andre. I'm the external communication manager at Johnson County Library. So all of the things that are patron-facing and that can help our community come through my desk.

Theresa Freed 1:31 

Perfect, and Ana.

Ana Valdez 1:33 

Ana Valdez. Excited to share about my family's history with those of you who are curious about Hispanic heritage across Kansas.

Theresa Freed 1:43 

Alright, awesome. And Ana, we came across you in just kind of an interesting way, promoting a social media Hispanic Heritage Month, and we were able to post a local family picture. It was an older picture. And you happen to hop on there and see it and recognize a few familiar faces. Is that right?

Ana Valdez 2:03 

That's correct. The picture you posted was from I believe, 1936 or 1937. And it featured my grandparents Eladio and Luce Valdez, and my father, David Valdez, and his two older sisters, when they were posing for family pictures to send back to their extended family in Mexico.

Theresa Freed 2:26 

Alright, well we are so appreciative that you recognize your family there and also took the time to comment and then today join us for this episode. So we're going to talk about everything Hispanic Heritage Month in Johnson County. And we're going to start with Andrew. You guys have an annual celebration, which is really great. And you mentioned one piece of that is the food which is, you know, obviously a highlight. So do you want to talk a little bit about what's happening this year?

Andrew Gustafson 2:52 

Yeah, sure. So this is the fourth annual event at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, where the Johnson County Museum is located. And it includes this year a bilingual MC. It'll be Edgar Palacios from the Latinx Education Collaborative. We also have food, of course, so El Pulgarcito, Taco Naco and Mom's Empanadas, in addition to paletas from Palacana. And then also we have music and performers. So poetry from Chenef Corazza, Mariachis KC Estrella, Trio Aztlan and Voces Festivus, a chorus, an all Spanish chorus. So, I think that'll be really exciting. And then we have a community art project as well, come in and make some art. So fun for the whole family there.

Theresa Freed 3:35 

Is there an exhibit there at the museum for people to see?

Andrew Gustafson 3:38 

So there's not a special exhibit this year. You know, a couple of years ago, we put together Latinos in the Heartland, which was a digital exhibit, and that's available online now. So a longer history of Latinos in this area. But last year, we introduced a new panel into our exhibit about traqueros, track workers for the railroads. And so we've been working hard to make connections with the Latino community in Johnson County. It's a community that in the past has not seen themselves in our exhibits. And so that takes time to form new relationships, lasting relationships, make that trust, so that donations can come in to help tell those stories that are missing. But we were able to connect with folks in the county. And so new things coming in. But also we had this photograph from the Claire School from the 1920s or 30s. And two students were unidentified in that photograph for all these years, and we found descendants of those two children who were in there, and they themselves were the children of traqueros, people working on the railroad tracks in parts of Johnson County. So just one aspect of this county's history, and we're working to tell a much fuller story of Latinos. But that's one of the first steps, so it's pretty exciting.

Theresa Freed 4:54 

Alright. That's terrific. And Ana, hearing that this population is being reflected in museum exhibits, and then we'll talk about the library exhibits, thoughts on that?

Ana Valdez 5:05 

I think that's extremely exciting. And you were talking about the traqueros, and that's exactly how my father... grandfather, apologize...ended up here in Kansas was through that program to help expand the railroad systems in the United States. So, yeah, it's really exciting and I look forward to seeing and hearing all about it.

Theresa Freed 5:26 

Do you want to talk a little bit more about your family's history in this area?

Ana Valdez 5:30 

Sure, absolutely. So as I mentioned, my grandfather, his name was Eladio. He came from a small town in a western part of Mexico, the state is called Michoacán. And it just so happens that a lot of people that settled in Wyandotte County and northern Johnson County, during the 20s and 30s, were from that area. And, you know, just kind of how it happens today, when we see people immigrate to the United States, whether it's through refugee or through actual immigration, they come in clusters. And they, you know, want to find that sense of community that they left behind, and then come to the States and be able to establish that and kind of have a sense of home with either family members or close friends that they knew from before. My grandmother actually came as a small child. Her family came during the Mexican Revolution, which happened in the early 20th century. And her parents and her sibling, came during that time. And I actually found the immigration documentation on Ancestry that showed when they actually crossed the border and came into the United States, and it was in 1912. And her family was actually fleeing the revolution in Mexico. It was actually more of a civil war than anything. And so they came here and started all over, just with the clothes on their back and, you know, planted seeds and expanded from there.

Theresa Freed 7:23 

And when you think of Johnson County, you mentioned home. You know, so are you seeing this population growing, and that sense of community and home growing as well?

Ana Valdez 7:35 

You know, it's interesting, because I think back to my great grandmother, and her name was Petra. And that was a really strong challenge for somebody who didn't know the culture in this area or didn't know the language or anything, but had hope to come to a place that was stable and free of violence. And that's kind of the immigrant story we see today, or the refugee story that we see today, that people are leaving places in this world that are not safe for children, not safe for them to raise a family. And then come here, a lot of them end up in Kansas, and I've had friends from other parts of the country asked me, Well, how did Hispanics end up in Kansas?" You know? And I just chuckle, I'm like, "Well, you know, they jumped on a railroad car right at the border." And at that time, you know, a lot of the rail systems crossed Kansas and Missouri in the Midwest, and people got off in various locations and started to settle, plant seeds and grow from there. And so it's interesting that 110 years later, people are still experiencing that and still having those adventures. Sometimes it's successful, and they're able to make a new home in our state or our area. And sometimes, you know, they have to seek a little bit farther or further and find the right place for them. And so, I think, you know, the more things change, I mean, it's different immigration now 110 years later after my grandmother and her family came, that, you know, it's a little bit different, and the mindset is a little bit different. But the passion that people have is see the United States as a place of opportunity hasn't changed. And I think that's a phenomenal story that any family could relate to and see the point of celebrating, you know, their heritage and their culture and their food and everything in between, to, you know, establish what the new generation or the next generation can experience in a new land, in a new country, in a new home.

Theresa Freed 10:03 

That's great information. Thank you so much for sharing that about your family and your experience. And when I think about the library, there are so many wonderful programs that support individuals who are kind of going through that assimilation process. We think about programs related to citizenship, and you know, teaching the process there, or English as a second language, things like that. So Elissa, do you want to talk a little bit about some of those different programs? And then also what you guys are doing, especially for Hispanic Heritage Month?

Elissa Andre 10:33 

Yes, absolutely. So obviously, at the library we love learning and discovery and celebration and connecting our community together. No matter where you're from, you know. We offer access freely, and we want you to come be a part of our community here. So we have the English language learner classes that you mentioned. We've got people from all over the world in these. And we have our citizenship classes. I think, as of the summer, we had nine new citizens that have come from the last few years of citizenship classes that we've done. So those are offered on a trimesterly daily basis. So our next set is going to come up in January I believe, so they might have some information about that in our December guide coming out. And so then for Hispanic Heritage Month, we obviously want to celebrate that. We've got bookmarks throughout our 14 branches with Hispanic Hispanic Heritage Month book suggestions for both adults and children, fiction books written by Hispanic American authors celebrating the culture, and then more direct nonfiction books kind of learning about the experience. And then throughout the month, we're posting additional book lists and learning resources on our website and blog and throughout our different channels. Our e-newsletter. Our canopy service offers bilingual films throughout the year, and they have a special Hispanic Heritage Month section on there. Our e-book for e-reading, Libby, has a section of Hispanic Heritage Month books for adults and children. So all sorts of resources at the library. And of course, we'll be participating in the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the Arts and Heritage Center. We'll have a Walk and Read at that event, which is two stories posted on either side of a signboard, and then so you can follow along a path and read one story and stop and turn around and read the other. So this year, we have Pepe at the Parade where Pepe learns about his own heritage and his friend's heritage from different countries. And then Imagine, which is a bilingual story by a Spanish poet. And so we'll also have a table with the event. You can sign up for a library card, check out all that we have to offer, a lot of books to check out there. And we're gonna do a special storytime at the Kidscape, which I'm really excited. It's a last minute addition.

Theresa Freed 12:52 

That is a lot of stuff.

Elissa Andre 12:53 

And there's even more. But I'll let you come in and find out more about it.

Theresa Freed 12:57 

Yes, and of course, people can also go to the library's website to get full details about, you know, time, location, all of that good stuff related to the Hispanic Heritage Month materials there. So as we wrap up, you know, I'm gonna ask Ana, if you could talk to the residents of Johnson County, you know, some people might look at Johnson County and think it's not terribly diverse. And what do you want to tell our listeners about, you know, embracing those who are different from you and welcoming those who may be new to the area, that sort of message?

Ana Valdez 13:31 

I would say that, you know, and challenging people to kind of open their minds and their hearts to learning something different or new about their neighbors. Sure, you know, Johnson County isn't as diverse as, you know, other parts of Kansas. But that's not to say that there's not representation of a variety of cultures. And I love the fact that, you know, the museum and the library system is actually collaborating to kind of share out the population, because there have been people in Johnson County of Hispanic heritage for generations. And so it's learning that new thing about your neighbor, and, you know, it goes something beyond Cinco de Mayo. Right. It's something more than just a celebratory in the sense of, you know, that holiday, which doesn't really exist in Mexico, but it does exist here in the United States. And then I also would challenge people to say, you know, to think about Hispanics as, you know, members of the community as I was sharing with you, Theresa, you know, I have a cousin that actually donated the pictures to the museum that were posted up on the website and on social media that has been with the Sheriff's Office for nearly three decades. And he's proudly represented the Sheriff's Office in his various roles and loves it. And now I have half of my family lives in Johnson County and the other half lives in Wyandotte County. And then we have smatterings in between or outside of the state. And, you know, we're a part of the community. We are in corporate America and county and public services. We're in hospitals, as far as you know, the community as a whole. And we're educators and encouraging people to just appreciate the culture in the sense that we're just like every other American. We become a part of the community and push our young people to do more. And that's how I grew up, you know, faith first, then family, then community, and participating in, whether it's a school event or a church event or a family event, there's always something that we could be doing to learn and to challenge ourselves to grow. And I think these two entities and participating with them is a great way to challenge yourself, as a member of the community, to learn and grow and experience something out of your normal cultural experience.

Theresa Freed 16:16 

That's wonderful. And a terrific message for everybody to hear for sure. And again, as we wrap up, we just want to recap that event. Again, Andrew, if you want to tell us about when, where and how to participate.

Andrew Gustafson 16:27 

Yeah, so it's a free event, family friendly, from 6-8 p.m. on October 12 at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, so about 87th and Metcalf is where you're looking for. Again, it's free for everyone. There's food, desserts, music, dancing, poetry, arts, Walk and Reads. La Mega radio station will be there. El Centro will be there. It's a great opportunity if you're curious about the history and culture of various Latino groups. It is a very diverse group. It's not a monolith in Johnson County or anywhere else. And so it's a great way to learn some more in a fun, easy event. It's also, if you're part of the Latino community, a great way to make connections with these organizations that will be there and others in the community. So it's open to everyone. And I think it's a really easy access event. So I hope folks come check it out. I think it'll be a lot of fun again this year. Again, fourth annual, so we're really proud to be able to continue this event.

Theresa Freed 17:22 

Alright, perfect. Well, again, thank you all for being here. I appreciate the information about the history here in Johnson County and your family, Ana. And then also details from the library and the museum about the events and exhibits that are happening. So everybody go check it out. We will have in the show notes, more details about those events and where you can get that additional information. Thanks for listening.

Announcer 17:43 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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