KSU film gives look at Kansas culture





Local residents on Saturday got a look at the diverse, multicultural history of Kansas.

The Kansas State University women's studies department on Saturday shared a film, "She Told Me Stories: A Kansas History Documentary Film," in the Endowment Room of the Beth Tedrow Student Center at Garden City Community College.

The film shed light on the lesser-known history of the state, from the perspectives of several Kansas women of various ethnicities and races.

Michele Janette, the department chair for women's studies at K-State who served as the film project's director, said the two main purposes in producing the film were to showcase the multicultural history of the state and to celebrate the state's unsung historians.

"I think a lot of people have the perception that Kansas is a homogenous culture, and it really isn't. So we really wanted to try to make a film that would show a lot of different types of Kansans," Janette said. "I don't think Garden City is under the illusion that there is only one culture in Kansas, but many people in the world are."

Janette said that the project aimed to bring different community stories together and celebrate the history of the state with the work of "people who maintain the stories of Kansas history," including historical society volunteers, community center volunteers and family historians.

Janette serves as narrator during several intervals in the film, in which she compares the state's history to a quilt.

"The original purpose of the quilt was protection from harsh environments. Our metaphorical quilt of history preserves tales of facing hardship and discrimination, reflecting both the conditions we have experienced and the labor of piecing together a diverse community," she said.

A montage of interviews is weaved together in the film, as women share their family history, cultures and experiences with immigration, building communities, racism and the challenges of maintaining one's cultural traditions and languages while acclimating to a new country's traditions and language.

Lydia Gonzales, the former assistant director of the Educational Talent Search program at GCCC for 24 years, has a poem titled "Leaders" featured in the film.

Gonzales shared an experience with racism she had as a child.

"We went to (Buffalo) Jones school ... and they didn't like the Mexicans at all. They would tell us, 'Go back to where you came from, go back to Mexico.' And I would wonder, 'Where is Mexico? I don't even know where to go back to,'" she said.

Gonzales shares another experience in the film from later in her life, in which she taught her daughter a lesson in perseverance.

"My daughter got an A in geography, and the teacher accused her of cheating because he had never had a Mexican get an A in his class. ... My daughter came home and said, 'I'm not going to go back if that's how they feel,' and I said, 'Yes, you are. You're going to go back and prove to them that you are smart,'" Gonzales said.

Janette said that Gonzales was one of the most amazing people she had ever met.

"I'd love to do a film about her," she said. "Everybody we interviewed, we came back thinking we could make a whole film about each person."

Itzel Rodriguez, transition and activity coordinator at GCCC, also is featured in the film. She said that she especially was affected by Gonzales' recollection of not being allowed to swim in the pool because of her race.

Other participants from Garden City featured in the film, most of whom attended the screening on Saturday, were Consuelo Sandoval, Julie Ngoc Banh, Michelle Van Young and Mitch Young.

The rest of the women featured in the documentary were from Alma, Westmoreland, Manhattan, Topeka, Beloit, Clay Center, Holton, Eskridge and Nicodemus.

In the film, Vicky Jones of Alma said that she began writing a column for a couple of local newspapers, which began as her writing about experiences she and her husband had while motorcycling.

"You can only write about that so much, so I started writing about the community, some of the history of Wabaunsee County, different places and people I've gotten to know ...," she said.

Janette said the film's producers compiled more than 200 hours of interviews, which will be archived at K-State.

"All of the raw footage will be kept at Kansas State University, and we hope that future community historians, future students, people will want to come and use this archive and continue to make more documentary films or make more projects ... with this really rich body of work," she said.

Other contributors to the film were Marilyn Ortega, a senior at KSU, KSU women's studies instructor Gabriela Diaz de Sabates, and KSU history instructor Sue Zschoche. Funding for the project came from the Kansas Historical Society.

The film also is being screened at Topeka, Alma, Westmoreland and Manhattan, and Janette said that they are in the process of potentially putting the documentary online, with a link to be available through the KSU website's women's studies page.

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