Short film to document culture, history of Mexican community in East Lawrence

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A recent University of Kansas graduate is working on a project to capture the history of a community of Mexican families who came to East Lawrence in the 1920s. 

Families came to town to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, and they shared childcare duties and their traditions, according to a news release about the project. The community was called “La Yarda,” which will also be the title of the project Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre will direct. 

Contributed Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre

Though not often recognized in Kansas, Mexican labor was a great asset to the railroad industry from 1900 to 1940, according to the release. 

“Growing up in Kansas, I didn’t get to see many examples of how Latinos like me and my family fit into our state’s history,” Kalusha-Aguirre, a recent alumna of KU’s Film and Media Studies department, said in the release. “I hope this project will help preserve some of that history, and show how younger generations that they belong and their stories are worth telling.” 

A flood wiped away the East Lawrence housing complex in 1951, but La Yarda’s legacy continues through the families’ involvement at St. John’s Catholic Church and their annual Mexican fiesta. 

“This short documentary film project will illuminate the unique traits of La Yarda as an inspiring and important part of Kansas’s culture,” the release says. It will use archival photos from resources including the Watkins Museum of History and oral histories that were captured previously. 

The film’s director, Marlo Angell, began researching neighborhood history in Lawrence for her 2020 short film, “The Wishing Bench,” and delved into the stories of La Yarda.

Contributed Marlo Angell

“It soon became apparent that documenting this history in greater detail was needed and non-fiction filmmaking is the perfect platform for such exploration,” Angell said in the release. “I was thrilled to connect with Lourdes to bring this film to fruition and preserve such an important story for future generations.”

The film “will contextualize and elevate existing material with newly filmed interviews with community members and humanities professionals including architectural historian Brenna Buchannan and Neill Kennedy, a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies” at KU, the release says. 

The film will be made possible by a $3,500 grant from Humanities Kansas to the Percolator Lawrence/Lawrence Corporation for the Advancement of the Visual Arts (LCAVA). 

Bio info from the release:

Kalusha-Aguirre produced “Apertura,” a Spanish-language short which screened at the HBO-sponsored New York Latino Film Festival in 2020. Her short film “This Video is a Timeline” was a 2019 recipient of the Jack and Lavon Brosseau Creativity Award in the Diverse Media category. 

Angell is the founding director of the Free State Festival, a co-founder of the female filmmaking collective, Women of Lawrence Film (WOLF), a member of the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission and the New Media Director of the Lawrence Arts Center. Her short films have been screened in festivals across the country including the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival. 

This will be Angell’s third film produced as part of a Humanities Kansas grant. Her short films “Mariachi Estrella” and “From Football to Futbol” were Humanities Kansas grant recipients in 2008 and 2010. 

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