19 Jul Cielito Lindo
People don’t come to Kansas for the land—they come for the sky. Kansas is flat. Very flat. Consequently you can see the end of storms approaching even when its pouring in Topeka. I was thinking about the expansive sky the other day when I was writing about the migration of Latinos to Topeka, because the living conditions were horrible and the work wasn’t always consistent so it seemed like something else kept Latino immigrants in Topeka. Something invisible but powerful.
This is a big week for the Latino community in Topeka. The Fiesta Mexicana has been going on this week since July 12th and will conclude Saturday, July 16th. The Fiesta Mexicana is the local church’s biggest fundraiser for the Catholic private school. But the event’s history extends beyond the colorful carnival rides and sweet horchata—it’s a story of resilience. The Fiesta has existed for 83 years and holds many of the traditions it had from it’s inception. Promoting culture, food, and community, the Fiesta is a living phenomenon of resistance that survived years of Americanization in Topeka. The private school that the Fiesta supports is a story of resistance as well. When the Branner Annex school (the segregated “Mexican school”) began functioning in 1914 many students were forced to attend that school under the promise that it would help them learn English. But years later when Our Lady of Guadalupe opened its own private school, the attendance at the Branner Annex school plummeted. The private school at Our Lady of Guadalupe was the only alternative for students that did not want to attend segregated schools and, although it may not have been their intention, the school was a form of protest against the segregation of Latinos.
The conditions in Topeka for recent Latino immigrants were terrible: they lived in boxcars, measles and tuberculosis ran rampant in their communities, and they faced discrimination. But they immigrated to the United States because they were seeking something better for themselves and their families. They chose to deal with everything because something better was approaching. Ultimately, they didn’t come to Topeka for the land—they came for the sky.