On Sept. 1, Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland proclaimed September 15 to October 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month. Copeland, serving his fourth term as mayor, has taken a keen interest in creating a city that welcomes Latinos. Olathe has welcomed Latinos for a long, long time.
The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, built in 1865, sits next to the Santa Fe Trail. For 60 years, starting in 1821, the trail served as the nation’s first international highway, connecting Santa Fe, then part of Mexico, with Franklin, MO. Olathe became an important stop on the trail. Today, I-35, part of the NAFTA highway, connects Olathe and Mexico.
This year, for the second year in a row, we’re celebrating that connection here in Olathe. The Olathe Public Library was one of 55 institutions nationwide to receive a $10,000 competitive grant from the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Nearly 150 organization received a $3,000 grant from ALA/NEH. The grants are tied to the PBS documentary series, Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.
The library, and nearly 20 other organizations from across the Metro area, have joined together and planned almost a dozen activities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. “We’ve scheduled an event nearly every other day throughout the month,” said Ralph Tomlinson, an adult services librarian at the Olathe Public Library and project director for the grant.
Planned activities include an art exhibit at various locations throughout the city, including the library and HealthRidge Fitness Center; a Story Walk – in Spanish and English – at the new Olathe Community Center; an open house at the Olathe YMCA featuring healthy, family-oriented activities; Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Academy Training in Spanish by the Olathe Fire Department; and a Hispanic Family College Fair.
Of particular interest to history buffs are two programs built around episodes of the PBS series. The first takes place Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., at the Heritage Center at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, 1200 E. Kansas City Road, Olathe. Hosted by the Olathe Historical Society, Trade Along the Santa Fe Trail, includes a showing of Foreigners in Their Own Land, from the PBS series Latino Americans. Afterward, Gene Chavez, Ed.D., will discuss vendors who traveled the trail and lodged at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop. Chavez recently curated the exhibit Mexican American Fast Pitch Softball Leagues: Connecting Communities Across State Lines at the Kansas City Museum through Sept. 5.
On Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m., at the Heritage Center, after a showing of Empire of Dreams, Antonio Delgado, Ph.D., will discuss his recent research regarding Mexicans who came north to Kansas and worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, living in boxcars parked along the tracks. The 1925 Kansas State Census includes the names of some immigrants who fled the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and came to Olathe, where they worked for the railroads.
A week later, Sept. 29, Judy Ancel, director, Workers Education and Labor Studies Program, UMKC, and Peter Haney, assistant director, Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, University of Kansas, will discuss how U.S. economic policies, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, have impacted Latin American and, at times, fueled immigration.
For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month in Olathe, please visit olatheks.org/HispanicHeritageMonth. Check back to learn about October’s events, including a visit by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother.
-Ralph Tomlinson, Olathe Public Library