By David Markham
From Spanish explorers, to Mexican traders and laborers, to recent Central and South American immigrants, the Kansas City area has a deep Latino history.
For the fourth year, JCPRD will highlight the long history and diversity of the growing local Latino population during the annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a national observance where the achievements and contributions of Latinos are recognized and celebrated,” explained Johnson County Museum Director Mary McMurray. “The Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center is a cultural hub for the community. Working with community members and groups, we seek to celebrate the long history and diversity of Johnson County’s growing Latino population. Today, the Latino community is one of Johnson County’s fastest-growing populations.”
“We want this event to make the Latino community feel welcome here, but also help members of our community discover something new about this very diverse culture,” added JCPRD Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong. “We want all our guests to celebrate and engage this beautiful culture.”
During this free event, participants can expect an immersive experience with hands-on activities including music, food, representatives of the Lowrider Bike Club, and a ‘Walk and Read’ event on the JCAHC grounds hosted by the Johnson County Library. Admission to the Johnson County Museum, which is also located inside JCAHC, will be free during this event, and also includes admission to a temporary special exhibit called REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation which is about the systematic disinvestment of some neighborhoods or populations, and its legacy, which continues to have an impact on impoverished, immigrant, and minority populations today.
Another goal of this event is to connect the community to resources to enrich their quality of life.
“The Johnson County Library will be on site to assist attendees with new library cards and discover the amazing resources available both in person and online,” Mong said. “The library has had a strong history of engagement and outreach to the Latino community as well, offering language learner classes and developing a robust Spanish speaking collection. El Centro has a new presence in Johnson County with a new office that just opened in Olathe this year. The mission of El Centro is strengthening communities and improving lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities. Guests at this year’s event can expect to see cooking and food prep demonstrations to encourage healthy eating.”
New to the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration this year is a bilingual emcee, a presence from the La Mega radio station, a job fair, and an opportunity for participants to take part in a community art project
“It has been our goal from the beginning to reflect our community and make sure we are reflecting the growing Latino population in a more meaningful way,” Mong said. “An arts and cultural experience during Hispanic Heritage Month felt like the perfect way to amplify and celebrate that."
The Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration also ties into the museum’s ongoing efforts to promote its Latino Collecting Initiative.
“The goal of this is to collect stories and artifacts that reflect the rich Latino history and contributions within Johnson County that are not fully reflected yet in the collection,” Mong explained.
“The Latino Collecting Initiative was started to help the Johnson County Museum address gaps in the collection and tell a fuller and more inclusive history,” McMurray added. “An important step in that process is making time to build trust - trust with not only the items donated, but to interpret their stories for generations to come. In a few short years, that trust is forming. Not only has the Latino Collecting Initiative helped us grow the museum collection, it has also helped us gain a deeper understanding of items already in our collection and improve our interpretation of Johnson County history in the museum.”
JCPRD’s first Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration was an in-person event which took place in 2019, and drew “a couple hundred” attendees. With the onset of the pandemic, this was followed in 2020 by a virtual event which reached thousands of Johnson Countians through recorded videos. The celebration then returned to an in-person format starting in 2021. More than 200 people participated in the 2021 event, and organizers anticipate at least as many will take part this year.
This event is hosted by Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, Johnson County Museum, and the Johnson County Park and Recreation District, in associations with partners including the Hispanic Leadership Lowrider Bike Club, Johnson County Library, and El Centro.