By. Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez, Director of Communications & Outreach
Black and white framed photos waited on the table at Guadalupe Centers for Cynthia McGee and her late ex-husband’s 15-year-old daughter llisabeth (Isi) Garcia.
McGee, a retired Vice Principal from Foreign Language Academy, saw the similarities in Isi’s face and couldn’t help but share with Isi’s mother. They all reacted the same, Isi’s face features were just as similar as her grandma Harriet Vera Garcia, the only thing was, she didn’t know much about her.
Ilisabeth was raised in southern Missouri where she didn’t know much about her family history and Mexican heritage, often feeling she needed to hide her latinidad because of the unwelcoming environment she lived in. As she moved to Kansas City it was important for her to learn about her own history, especially now with the free time she would have with McGee.
“It means a lot to me because it is from my dad’s side of the family and he’s gone now so it’s part of all I have left.” Ilisabeth said.
McGee understood her sentiment and with vast amounts of knowledge about Ilisabeth’s Grandma she stated “it is important for kids to learn about their history,” and that was what Isi was about to do.
So just like any other Wednesdays Ilisabeth gets out of school early, McGee picks her up from school allowing them to grow their bond together through one-on-one time, this particular through the historical reflection of abuelita Vera Garcia and her time at Guadalupe Centers.
Alan Olson, Manager of Facilities and Grounds looked for the pictures around Guadalupe Centers just in enough time so McGee could share with Isi about her own family history and legacy.
They both looked through the picture handpicking the ones with Isi’s grandma who looked just like her.
Isi watched McGee begin to share an oratorical history of Harriet Vera Garcia and her connection to Guadalupe Centers, right off the top of her head as if she were a curator of a museum.
Who was Ilisabeth’s Grandma?
Harriet Vera Garcia, a first generation Mexican-American, born in 1920 from her Mexican parents who migrated from Zacatecas, Mexico in 1915 during the Mexican Revolution. Her father worked in the railroad just like over sixteen thousand Mexican and Mexican-American men in the United States in the early 1900’s. Landing in the westside because of the housing opportunities just like many other Hispanics in the area.
The Garcia family prided themselves in education, music, and cultural impact which was something many found at Guadalupe Centers. Harriet went on to receive her education attending the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, which is now the UMKC Conservatory of Music.
Vera Garcia eventually came back to the Guadalupe Centers to teach music, English and household skills and was front desk secretary at Guadalupe Center in the early 1970s
Many Latino people from the westside gathered at Guadalupe Centers in the community because “It was safe, nurturing, and at the time connected to the church which was important to the community,” McGee said when asked about why Guadalupe Centers was important to the Vera family.
At the time there was a big push for Mexican and Mexican-Americans to assimilate into the culture of white norms and expectations, almost like the Isi’s experience in western Missouri. But to not stray far away from their roots Vera Garcia started one of the first Folkloric dance groups in Kansas City, at Guadalupe Centers and actually went to the National Folk Fair in 1938 in Washington DC.
Isi was able to come back to the very place where her grandmother, her father, and even Cynthia McGee have memories of. It was clear that the pictures, the stories, and the setting of Guadalupe Centers made for a closer connection to Ilisabeths Mexican-American heritage.
When Ilisabeth was asked about why other younger people should take the time to learn about their history she responded, “It is part of who you are, even if you aren’t really engaged. It is part of how you came to be.”
For many the connection to Guadalupe Centers is through the fiestas, food, culture, community, and service, which Guadalupe Centers prides itself in those very things, but in all honesty it’s the moments like these that continue to push the vision and mission forward.