KANSAS CITY — Visitors to Kansas City museums can easily find exhibits about Anglo, Native American and African-American contributions to the metro region.
But there's been a major gap in documenting the history of Latino residents, even though it stretches back hundreds of years.
Kansas City Museum officials have begun an effort to collect artifacts and documents from Latino history for its collections. The first important step was announced this week, when the museum received the entire 30-year archives of the Dos Mundos bilingual newspaper, according to The Kansas City Star.
"We're incredibly honored to be identified as the repository of this material," said Christopher Leitch, director of the Kansas City Museum. "It's a real obligation. It's really humbling."
Ed Reyes, whose family founded Dos Mundos, said the trove of newspapers includes the only known surviving copy of the paper's first edition in June 1981.
"Right now everything is sitting in our basement in Rubbermaid tubs," Reyes said. "There is a history there that we can't just let disintegrate."
Freda Mendez Smith, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the Kansas City Museum's connection with Union Station, which operates the museum, is appropriate because so many Hispanics worked for the railroads.
Leitch said the museum will work to acquire "shoebox history" — photos, documents and even textiles that Hispanic families or businesses might have stored away in a closet or attic. He said those memories need to be preserved in a professional and accessible way.
Kansas City historian Daniel Serda has researched how Mexican-American children were forced into segregated schools in the 1920s. And fellow historian Gene Chavez has compiled an oral history project with local Hispanic individuals. Both are examples of the kind of material that the Kansas City Museum wants to make more accessible to the public.
"These stories need to be retold in order for people to engage and make sense of them," Serda said. "That is what is so interesting and important about what the museum is proposing. They are contemplating everything from exhibits to programming to educational initiatives, and that's what's really needed."
Chavez and Mendez Smith are part of a committee helping the Kansas City Museum make connections in the Hispanic community.
Chavez said the Hispanic experience in the Kansas City region goes back to the Coronado expedition of 1540, which camped near what is now Lindsborg, Kan. Much later the Kansas City area was part of the Santa Fe Trail, a commercial link to what was then Mexico.
In the 20th century, Mexican immigrants settled in the Rosedale, Argentine and West Bottoms areas. Much of their physical history was destroyed by a 1951 flood.
"Part of the preservation is to really help Americans understand the connectedness of Kansas City to our historical past with the Hispanic community," Chavez said. "These are things we often lose sight of or are not even taught in schools."