With the dedication of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1919, Kansas City’s Latino population had a church of its own and began feeling more identity with the west-side neighborhood around it. When they could, Mexican people started buying homes there. The Guadalupe Center opened in the church rectory. A school was built.
But even as they sought to assimilate in their adopted land, Mexican Americans clung to their cultural heritage. The church initiated a barrio style of community organization, emphasizing strong social and economic ties. When it came time for the growing Guadalupe Center to move from the church in 1936, director Dorothy Gallagher drew up the plans, hired an architect, and paid for a large, Spanish Mission-style building at what is now 1015 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez. The Knights of the Round Table social organization laid out three objectives when started a neighborhood newspaper, The Knight’s Spear, in May 1934: “1. To create a brotherly feeling in the community. 2. Clean sportsmanship. 3. To spread the appreciation of old Mexico.”
Nothing, though, celebrated and preserved Mexican culture like the neighborhood fiestas. Held initially for fellowship and entertainment, then also for fundraising, they typically entailed brightly decorated booths and stands, a street fair, and a stage program of native music and dances. One in September 1926, celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day, featured agua de chia and horchata to drink, enchiladas and tamales to eat, and dancers doing La Jota and El Jarabe Tapatio. “It wasn’t like the Fourth of July,” according to a local newspaper account, “because there weren’t any speeches, and no one slapped you on the back. No one said very much, only their dark eyes glowed warmly. It was a fiesta and a big event in the Mexican section here last night. … And everything, you see, was just as it should be, as it was down in Mexico.”
Two dancers at the Guadalupe Center’s first Gran Fiesta.
A flier publicizing the Guadalupe Center’s 1930 Fiesta de Primavera – Spring Festival – at West Junior High School, a few blocks from the center.
Children in native attire, standing beside the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Date: circa 1935
Participants line up for the parade preceding the Guadalupe Center’s Gran Fiesta in July 1932.
Large crowd at an evening fiesta.
A flier publicizing a midsummer fiesta in 1932, planned both as a celebration of Mexican culture and a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Center.
A musical group, identified as "Joe Vera with first orchestra" in what is believed to be the Guadalupe Center in the rectory of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Children and adults dressed in native costume for an event at the Guadalupe Center.
Date: circa 1940
Children in religious pageant costume.
Date: circa 1940
A young girl at her First Holy Communion at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Women making tortillas.
Date: circa 1939
Guadalupe Center performers who participated in the fifth National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., in May 1938. The festival’s director, Sarah Gertrude, described their presentation later in the magazine Survey Graphic: “Guitars and stringed instruments were heard as the Mexicans from Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, in Kansas City, Mo., in gay serapes, in beautifully embroidered dresses, and carrying lighted candles, began the procession of the ‘Posados,’ a Mexican religious ceremonial the commemorates the nine days’ wandering of Mary and Joseph.”
A child in native costume.