WSU receives grant from Library of Congress to research LatinX communities in western Kansas

The Library of Congress American Folklife Center recently selected a Wichita State project focusing on the social, cultural and food-based LatinX celebrations in Dodge City, Liberal and Garden City, Kansas.

WSU’s proposal was selected from more than 180 applications and will receive up to $60,000 to fund field research.

The project will require several interviews, videos and photo documentation, which will eventually be included in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center's inaugural cohort of "Of the People: Widening the Path.” The cohort is an initiative to document the cultures and traditions of underrepresented communities in the United States.

Dr. Rocio del Aguila, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate coordinator and associate professor of Spanish, found out about the project a year ago when it was recommended to her by Dr. Coleen Pugh, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School.

Del Aguila worked on the proposal in summer 2021. She had previously worked on a project about cooking traditions in immigrant Hispanic communities in Wichita. She directed and produced a documentary “Cocin(ando) Wichita” about this topic.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, LatinX members constitute 57.5% of the population in Dodge City, 58.7% in Liberal, and 48.6% in Garden City.

She said the reason for the large amount of LatinX immigrants in Western Kansas communities is the concentration of meat packing plants in these areas. These plants advertise jobs on Spanish-speaking television networks. Unlike other workstations, the meatpacking plants remained open during the pandemic to avoid supply chain shortages.

“I hope this project will highlight the traditions, their amazing contributions to Kansas and to the American economy, and the sacrifices these populations have made, not only during the pandemic, but to support the economy of the state and the country,” del Aguila said. “A lot of their children are students at WSU. This project will help to further acknowledge the LatinX presence in different generations in Kansas."

Wichita State is aiming to become a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2025. A Hispanic Serving Institution is an eligible institution that has an enrollment of undergraduate full-time students of at least 25% Hispanic students.

“They come here for the education they can give to their kids and kept working through the pandemic,” del Aguila said. “They did a lot of personal sacrifice during this time and in general Latinos do a lot for their families.”

Dr. Enrique Navarro, Latin American and LatinX Studies certificate coordinator and associate professor of Spanish, is also part of the cohort. He also thinks the program will help highlight the contributions these communities have had, while also continuing to highlight the unique traditions of each population.

Like del Aguila, Navarro had previously worked with LatinX communities and recently published a book titled “Mexican Americans of Wichita’s North End.”

“We want this study to help people go beyond the idea of what they think of Hispanic populations,” Navarro said. “Most people know nuances between a sweet 16 and Quinceañeras, but the project aims to showcase how differently the traditions are celebrated throughout the United States.”

Other WSU contributors to this project include the following

  • Dr. Jay Price, Department of History professor and chair
  • Dr. Hugo Perez Trejo, Community Engagement Institute provider support specialist
  • Travis McCarty, KAKE TV photojournalist and former WSU anthropology and Spanish student
  • Maria Vital and Daisy Hernandez, WSU Modern and Classical Languages and Literature graduate students
  • Raquel Diaz, commununications senior, and Valeria Aranda, elementary education junior 

To contribute photos, stories or other research items to this project, contact Rocio del Aguila at

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