‘Mexican Village’ reunion
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
The good feelings were palpable -- the joy of recognition, the celebration of memories shared, the feeling of unity created by a common experience.
Just days after the bicentennial of the start of the war of independence between Mexico and Spain, former residents of what became known as the “Mexican Village” in Dodge City, their descendants and friends, gathered for a reunion in the social hall of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The celebration also happened to fall on approximately the 100-year anniversary of the formation of the village.
Surrounding the crowd of more than 200 people were tables filled with photos and memorabilia, each table representing a different family and one more volume in a multitude of stories and memories. “That’s me!” Dolores Torrez said, pointing to a photo of her, her sister Josephine, and Freddy Martinez, who was unable to attend. “We used to sing on [Dodge City radio station] KGNO. We would travel to Garden City to sing on Saturdays. We used to sing at weddings. We sang all over the place!”
Their table was by far the most crowded, filled with dozens of photos and memorabilia, and it’s no wonder: Dolores and Josephine were two in a family of 15 children raised in the village.
Josephine pointed to an article that detailed her father’s death several years ago at age 81. José, Josephine’s father, like many who worked in the village (which, at its height, included 90 families) had emigrated from Mexico and worked for the Santa Fe Railway. Their mother, Sara, died of cancer in 1946.
“One day me and my friend went to a new burger place in town,” another sister, Carol Torrez said, explaining that many restaurants did not serve African Americans or “Mexicans” back then.
“My friend, who was black, decided to see what would happen,” she said, recalling the anxiety she felt at her friend’s decision.
“So he walked up to the window and asked, ‘Do you serve [African Americans] and Mexicans?’ The man answered, ‘No, we serve hamburgers and hotdogs.’
“That broke the ice,” Carol said with a proud grin. “We were still afraid to go in, but at least we knew we could go to the window.”
The Mexican Village was formed around 1910 and housed Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans who worked for the Santa Fe Railway, and their families. The village had its own grocery store and a Catholic church which doubled as a school. The area was “condemned” in 1955, and many of the houses and families were moved north of the railroad tracks.
The village was a family of many; weddings and other celebrations brought with them an unstated invitation for every other resident to attend, and attend they did.
The oldest of those at the reunion was Nellie Esquibel, 96, who nearly 10 years ago was preparing to attend the dedication of the new “Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the third Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Dodge City she would belong to in her lifetime. The first was the small, wood-framed church in the village, and the second was the brick structure built in 1949, to which she and other village women carried bricks when it was constructed.
“I will attend the dedication, God willing,” the then 87-year-old told the SKR in 2001. “I prayed, ‘Please Lady, give me the strength to attend.’”
A decade later, there Nellie sat at the reunion, smiling, offering warm hugs and sharing memories with a wealth of family and friends. Nellie still lives in the house that once served as a grocery store owned by her grandparents in the Mexican Village. The small house next door, barely larger than a two-car garage, was the home in which she lived in the Mexican Village. Both structures were moved north when the village was razed.
The celebration was organized by the “Mexican Village Committee,” consisting of Gloria Calderon, Patty Renteria, Alex Ramirez, and Sister Angela Erevia, MCDP. Ramirez served as the master of ceremonies. Father Ted Skalsky provided an opening prayer:
“God our Father, this is a moment to remember the struggles, the triumph, the suffering, the joys, of the people who went before us, the people who by their faith, by their labors, by their trust in you, have been able to enrich this community, and make a place for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live…”
Louis Sanchez, former Dodge City mayor, gave a brief history of the Mexican Village. “The reason we are here is because of our parents,” Sanchez told those gathered. “Just put yourself in their place. You come to a different country, you don’t know one word of the language, and you try to make the most of it.”
Sanchez’s father came to the United States in 1901. When he came to Dodge City -- young and unmarried – he, like others at the time, lived in a tent.
“Can you imagine living in a tent in the middle of winter and having to walk two blocks to get a drink? … They really sacrificed, and that’s why we are here today: to remember their lives, their sacrifice, so that we could have a better life.”
Victor Amaro, Jr. took a moment to remember all those from the village who served their country in the armed forces and paid the ultimate price.
Referring to Frank Sanchez, an elderly man who sat in the front row, he said, “I saw a picture of his son when they were laying the cornerstone of Our Lady of Guadalupe; his son is holding the cross. He was one of the first ones to die in Vietnam -- Frankie Sanchez, Jr. I’ll never forget that. You see all the people who contributed to this country, this city, and how they keep contributing, the guys who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan. So when they ask what have you done for your country, it’s all right there.”
Certificates were given to each family as a sign of gratitude for their presence and hard work in the early days of the Dodge City community.
“Their contributions to the faith community are countless and without measure,” said Sister Erevia. “The Diocese of Dodge City has been blessed by these families who sacrificed so much all these years, then and now.”
As cake and punch were served following the presentations, suddenly the murmur of dozens of voices was silenced. From near the Torrez table stood 24-year-old Sabrina Banuelos – granddaughter of Dolores Torrez -- whose singing voice sounded as if she had just stepped off “American Idol.” People listened in admiration at Banuelos, who sang with a band in Texas before entering the health care field.
Soon after the applause died down, the Torrez sisters took to the microphone and their voices once again rose in song just as they did half a century ago in Dodge City, the surrounding area, and a little village south of the tracks where a people were united in faith, in struggle, and in their labor to make a better “place for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live.”
Editor’s Note: See a video of the Torrez sisters’ performance at dcdiocese.org/register.