Past & Present: Demographic Shifts

Dec 12, 2017

A person standing at Broadway and 21st Street can see how immigration has reshaped the urban landscape. 

To the north is Connie’s Mexico Cafe, an icon of the city’s first wave of Latino families who came to Wichita in the early-to-mid-20th century. Looking south stands Super del Centro, the supermarket that represents the next wave of Latino residents, new migrants from Mexico and Latin America. Although often lumped together, these two populations have had very different histories and experiences, legacies that relate to the built environment.

The earlier wave settled in the face of discrimination and pressure to assimilate. Their elders recalled times when they had to sit in the balcony of the Nomar Theater. These families worked to fit in, moving from boxcar homes along the tracks to modest bungalows, with the 1950s suburban ranch house the sign of having “made it.”

The newer wave has faced its own difficulties. Able to maintain cultural ties to Mexico, their challenges centered on citizenship and legality of immigrant status. Their presence in north Wichita has included clubs dedicated to groups from specific parts of Mexico, such as Sinaloa. There are stores that carry clothing for quinceaneras, the coming of age ceremonies for teenage girls that are important rites of passage for Mexican immigrants, but were all but unknown for Mexican-American girls who grew up in the 1950s. Housing, too, reflects different values. Newer families transformed the bungalows into colorful works of art with bright paint schemes and front yards enclosed by elaborate fences.

A visit to Wichita’s North End provides a lesson in how demographic shifts can show up in the built environment. Populations who might seem homogeneous reveal themselves to be more complex and nuanced, if you know how to look for it.

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