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The Wichita Eagle

Wichita's Hispanic Heritage

Thousands Of Latinos Are Now Living In Wichita, And Their Stories Speak Eloquently Of The Affection They Feel For Their Adopted Hometown.


14 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Wichita Eagle. All rights reserved. 

They came to Wichita for different reasons.

They walked or drove or flew across the border, bringing their language, family values, religion and culture with them.

Last names like Lopez, Tejeda and Gutierrez began appearing on Wichita's census rolls in the early 1900s. Their modest homes in north Wichita became thriving neighborhoods known as "La Seccion" or "the section."

Today, this Hispanic influence is recognizable throughout Wichita.

According to the census, nearly 27,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans live in Wichita, making them the largest group of Hispanics in the area. But people from nearly 20 other countries in Central and South America are also making Wichita their home.

As we celebrate the area's Hispanic heritage this month, here are a few of their stories.

Charlie Duron, who operates El Mariachi clothing store, was 10 when his family came to Wichita by truck in 1989 to escape the poverty surrounding them in Jalisco, Mexico.

They chose Wichita because a grandmother and several aunts were prospering in the city, he said.

"We come here to make money," said Duron, 24.

For five years, the family sold corn, mangoes and T-shirts on the street. From 4 to 6 p.m. every weeknight, Duron said, he would sell corn ears with cream, cheese, chili powder, lemon and salt. At 6 p.m., he said, the family would go home, wash the truck and be back on the streets selling T-shirts by 6:30.

"We make our profit," said Duron, whose family applied for permanent residency in 1993.

Duron left school after attending Cloud Elementary and Pleasant Valley Middle School to help his family's business grow. When he was 15, the family opened a small storefront after its street vendor's permit expired and was not renewed.

Now the family owns three businesses along 21st Street, selling clothing, accessories and baby furniture.

"This place used to be dead," Duron said of 21st Street just west of Broadway. "Now look at it."

From the bed of a truck to three family-owned businesses, Duron said his experience in Wichita has been good.

"We like it here," he said

Ralph Teran was just 8 years old when he first set foot on U.S. soil, escaping the communism of Castro's Cuba. He lived with an older cousin in Miami while waiting for his parents to join him.

More than a year later, his parents joined Teran in Miami; soon thereafter, Wichita's First Presbyterian Church offered to help the family resettle in Wichita.

"My dad did not know much about Wichita," Teran said, "but (he) knew that airplanes were made in Wichita. He always had a deep affinity for airplanes."

Teran said Wichita had hundreds of Cuban refugees during the 1960s. They kept their customs alive by celebrating holidays, especially Christmas, with their traditional roast pork, black beans, yucca and turron, a sweet candy.

Despite the Cuban influences around him, Teran said, "I was an only child, and I got Americanized fairly early."

Census figures show about 800 Cubans currently living in Wichita. The city's mayor, Carlos Mayans, is from Cuba.

Teran said that in his position as assistant superintendent of Wichita's public schools, he encourages children to value their culture.

When he became a U.S. citizen at age 18, Teran said he had an opportunity to declare his name on citizenship documents.

"I could have changed my name to anything, and I said, 'Oh, Ralph is fine,' " said Teran, now 51. "Can you believe it? What an idiot. Of all the names in the world, I choose Ralph? I should have said 'Rafael.' "

Teran said he hopes to visit a free Cuba one day.

"I am proud to be Hispanic/Latino, a Cuban-American," Teran said. "It's a great heritage, even though my homeland has suffered so much."

Angel Medina is a former pro wrestler.

Growing up, Medina would leave the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and head to his parents' birthplace -- Puerto Rico. As U.S. citizens, many Puerto Ricans divide time between the island and New York, where they have been a steady presence since the early 1900s.

Medina would spend time with his grandmother in the mountainous hills of Puerto Rico, surrounded by the people whose heritage includes Taino, African, Caucasian and Spanish cultures.

As a child, Puerto Rico's beaches and wrestling fascinated him. Medina said he spent countless Saturday mornings watching professional wrestlers on television.

At 17, a well-known wrestling trainer started instructing Medina in the sport. That launched a nine-year career as the Spanish Angel, Kingpin Angel and Angel. He traveled to Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

"It was awesome," Medina said.

But contract problems caused Medina to think about life outside the ring. So he decided to fulfill another childhood dream: becoming a police officer.

In 2002, the 32-year-old started his law enforcement career in Wichita. He likes patrolling the city's streets and keeping them safe, he said. Because he speaks Spanish, he has a good rapport with the Hispanic community.

Medina said he is growing accustomed to being one of the few Puerto Ricans in town. Census figures show fewer than 850 Puerto Ricans in Wichita, as opposed to the nearly 790,000 who live in New York.

"Back home," Medina said of New York, "there are Mexicans, Colombians. Everything is so diverse.

"Here, it's different."

Judith Eguino Procter came from the tropical valleys of Cochabamba, Bolivia, to Wichita in 1979.

"I didn't know where Wichita, Kansas, was," Procter said.

Three years later, Procter found herself separated from her husband and raising her son, Mirko D'Angelo, alone.

Surviving would have been harder had she not learned English as a child in Bolivia, she said.

Procter said she took her son and traveled by airplane back to Bolivia to regroup. Once there, she realized that Mirko missed his friends and she also missed Wichita.

"I liked the city," she said. "It's quiet. People say, 'Thank you' and 'Come back again.' "

Here, she said, she didn't have to deal with the social stigma of separation and divorce. In Bolivia, she said, "divorce is almost like a sin."

Procter returned to Wichita and found sales work and an apartment with the help of a friend. Soon after, she found a higher-paying job where she could use her bilingual skills.

By 1982, she had her first car. By 1995, she paid off her house.

Life got better, she said.

Procter has been active in the community, translating for families and educating Hispanics about AIDS, among other jobs.

She also visits jails and works with the homeless, she said.

Her family asks when she will return to Bolivia for good, or move to Miami, where she has some family and the Hispanic population is larger. Though there are fewer than 30 Bolivians in the city, Procter said Wichita is home.

"It's here where I matured," she said. "It's here where I found physical freedom and freedom for my soul."

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