The Olathe Public Library has 10,000 new reasons to say “gracias.”
It was recently awarded a competitive “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.
The library will receive $10,000 to hold public programming — such as public screenings, discussion groups, oral history initiatives, local history exhibitions and multimedia projects — about Latino history and culture.
“We are grateful for this wonderful opportunity to celebrate our country’s proud Latino heritage,” said Mayor Michael Copeland. “This grant will allow our library to increase awareness of America’s rich Latino history and the important role of Latino Americans in building our great nation. It is our diversity that makes Olathe great, and we are proud of the many Latino citizens whose active involvement in our businesses, schools, civic clubs, and faith community is vital to our success.”
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The funding from the grant primarily will be used for the city’s second annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, which is being held Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The event celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Latino Americans with free activities.
“Latino Americans are the country’s largest minority group, with more than 50 million people, and still many people are unaware of their rich and varied history and culture,” said Ralph Tomlinson, adult services librarian and project director for the grant. “I’m thrilled that Olathe Public Library has this opportunity to explore this topic in our community.”
He said Olathe has a deep connection to Latinos, since there is record of Mexican immigrants arriving to town as early as 1910 to work as railroad laborers.
“Most people aren’t aware of the huge role Latinos played in Olathe’s history,” Tomlinson said. “Latinos helped build our railroads, which we drive past every day. They were out on the Santa Fe Trail along with other families headed out west.”
Today, more than 10 percent of Olathe’s population is Latino.
And the city — particularly the mayor — is embracing the growing community.
Four years ago, the Olathe Latino Coalition was created in response to Copeland’s request for help in addressing the needs and concerns of Latino residents.
The coalition is just one of the local organizations working with the Olathe Public Library to participate in Hispanic Heritage Month. Other partners include Olathe Public Schools, Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm and the Olathe Historical Society, to name a few.
To kick off the event, the Olathe Public Library will screen the first two episodes of the documentary film “Latino Americans,” which was created for PBS in 2013. The award-winning series chronicles the history of Latinos in the United States from the 16th century to present day.
After each viewing, the public will have the chance to sit in on discussions with local Latin American scholars.
Other activities during the month will include a discussion of the city’s historic links to Mexico via the Santa Fe Trail, a presentation on the Latinos who helped build the railroads that crisscross Olathe; a talk about how U.S. economic policies drive immigration; a visit from Sonia Nazario, author of “Enrique’s Journey,” the Pulitzer-winning account of a Honduran boy who travels to the U.S. to find his mother; and music and dance from local Latino artists.
The Olathe Public Library was one of 203 grant recipients selected from across the country.
The Kansas Humanities Council also received a $10,000 grant, which it will share with four organizations, one of them being Johnson County Community College.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City received a $3,000 grant, which it will use to screen episodes of the “Latino Americans” film series and hold discussion forums.