‘A Story Worth Telling’: Local Filmmakers Document First Mexican-American Community in East Lawrence | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: contributed photo

Pictured left to right in the back row are former La Yarda residents Pedro “Peter” Romero, Alberta Romero Gutierrez, Valentina Romero Guerrero and Teresa Romero Martinez. In the first row, from left to right, the filmmakers Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre and Marlo Angell.

Kids growing up in Lawrence are almost sure to learn the Free States and the Quantrill Raid in school, but Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre hopes to add another facet of local history to the agenda: the American community. Mexican from La Yarda which had existed for over 30 years in East Lawrence.

Kalusha-Aguirre and fellow local filmmaker Marlo Angell created a 15-minute documentary, “In Search of La Yarda,” about the housing complex built for Mexican railway workers that existed along the tracks in East Lawrence from 1920 to 1951. Kalusha-Aguirre, who grew up in Lawrence, said the lack of Latino communities in his Kansas history lessons made him feel like they didn’t exist until recently.

“It was really cool to find out that there was this Mexican-American community here in Lawrence in the early 1900s, and they had been in the community for a long time,” Kalusha-Aguirre said. “And so I thought it was a story worth telling.”

Kalusha-Aguirre, whose mother is a Spanish teacher at Lawrence High School, said she first discovered La Yarda when she went with her mother to the Watkins Museum of History, while her mother was looking for a unit on Latinos in Kansas. Kalusha-Aguirre said that while the museum had good information, there was no such resource as a documentary that teachers could easily share with their classes, and she believed such a resource should exist.

Ultimately, Kalusha-Aguirre teamed up on the project with Angell, who is the director of digital media at the Lawrence Arts Center and director of the Free State Festival. Angell’s short “The Wishing Bench,” about a public art installation of the same name in East Lawrence, featured memorabilia from neighborhood residents and included stories about The Yarda. But Angell said there was a lot more information than she could put into this movie. Angell also has personal reasons for wanting to make the film, as her husband’s family has Mexican roots working on the railroad in Newton, and she said the story is one she shared with her friends. own children.

Angell said La Yarda was one of many such housing units in Kansas and the Midwest that the railroads created for Mexican workers. She said La Yarda, like other similar accommodations, was initially just boxcars, but was later replaced by a U-shaped brick complex that housed several families. The resort was not on a neighborhood street, but rather across the train tracks from the homes of East Lawrence, near Eighth Street, tucked away in the woods that grow near the banks of the Kansas River.

The film includes newly filmed interviews with four surviving residents of La Yarda as well as some of their descendants. The interviews are interspersed with photos of the neighborhood and its residents from archival resources such as the Watkins Museum. Also featured are interviews with professionals in the humanities, including architectural historian Brenna Buchanan Young and Neill Esquibel-Kennedy, a PhD. candidate in the Department of American Studies at the University of Kansas.

Angell said what struck her during interviews with former La Yarda residents was the feeling of happiness and beauty they created. She said they embellished everything with flowers, fed other people who came on the covered wagons, and shared meals and childcare among those who lived there.

“There was this generosity of spirit and this magnanimity, a sense of giving and caring for one another,” Angell said. “There were several families who lived in La Yarda at one time, and they all took care of each other. ”

Kalusha-Aguirre said the sense of community was especially important given the prejudice and discrimination faced by residents of La Yarda. For example, she said that a resident of La Yarda recalled being one of only two students not allowed to participate in the school’s Christmas program, the other excluded child being also Mexican, and that one called them English versions of their names at school. Some of Lawrence’s establishments were separate, and Kalusha-Aguirre said residents of La Yarda also spoke of inferior service or access.

“They spoke about discrimination and hardship,” Kalusha-Aguirre said. “This community was needed and celebrations were needed to get through it all. “

Ultimately, the 1951 flood that swelled the Kansas River far beyond its banks filled the brick complex with mud and debris, rendering the units uninhabitable. All that remains in the woods today are parts of the building’s concrete foundation. Although some families moved after the Flood, others stayed in Lawrence and still remain there today. Angell and Kalusha-Aguirre said that as part of the documentary they went with members of one of these families, the Romero family, to visit what remains of La Yarda, and even though it is covered in vegetation. , they could always point out where the structures, well and other items were.

Angell said the tour has become a big part of the film, and researching both the physical structure and the stories of its residents is the source of the film’s title.

“It was really inspiring to take this trip with them, to have them talk to each other about their memories,” said Angell.

The film will premiere to the public on Saturday at the Center for the Arts, and the date falls in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed from September 15 to October 15. Screening is free but registration is required to adhere to capacity limits, and masks will be required. Angell said the film’s first showing at 7 p.m. on Saturday had already reached capacity, so they opened a second showing at 8:30 p.m. More information and a link to register are available on the Arts Center website, lawrenceartscenter.org.

Humanities Kansas provided $ 3,500 to the Percolator Lawrence / Lawrence Corporation for the Advancement of the Visual Arts to support the film. Angell said after the screening the plan is to list the film at festivals and hopefully make it available to the Lawrence School District as well.

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