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Mattie Rhodes honors heroes

The Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery is excited to announce the 2nd Annual CHICANO VOICE exhibition running May 5, 2017 through June 24, 2017. This year’s exhibit focuses on local heroes that have influenced and transformed the vision and voice of our community. The First Friday opening is Friday, May 5, 2017 at 6 p.m. at the Gallery, 919 W. 17th Street, KCMO 64108 and is free and open to the public.

The goal of the show is to educate the larger Kansas City on the impact these six homegrown heroes have made as activists, teachers, arts and individuals, but may sometimes go unnoticed. “The 50th anniversary of the death of Primitivo Garcia, the namesake of our neighborhood school, really lead to the idea of honoring our local Latino heroes,” says Jenny Mendez, Cultural Arts Director. “With the success of last year’s Chicano Voice show, we wanted to capture the idea of the voice of the Chicano hero and what they mean to our families, children and communities today.”

Six artists were chosen to represent the six heroes being honored: Primitivo Garcia, Ruben Garcia, Hector Barreto, Mary Lona, Nellie Lozano, & Ana Riojas. Other participating artists submitted pieces that address the concept of heroes as it relates to community and the greater Kansas City Chicano narrative.

On November 15, 1967, Primitivo Garcia, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant who was enrolled in Citizenship classes at Westport High School, was shot in the stomach while defending his pregnant naturalization teacher from being attacked by a teenage gang. Primitivo died from his wounds 13 days later. Following his death, the Kansas City Federation of teachers, Local 691, adopted a resolution saying: “All teachers of Kansas City owe a monumental debt to Primitivo Garcia. When he went to the aid of teacher Margaret Kindermann, he unknowingly committed himself to a destiny far greater than that available to most mortal men. Now, in a sense, this debt to Primitivo never can be repaid, but we will try.” The school, now named Primitivo Garcia Elementary School, serves students in grades pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

Primitivo Garcia World Language School was dedicated in 1993 and was the first school in the Kansas City area to be named after a person of Hispanic origin.

Ruben Garcia was an illustrator, produced a Latino comic strip and was also an accomplished muralist. Luis Garcia told Hispanic News he was inspired by his uncle’s work in the arts. “As I was growing up he was always drawing and illustrating, he was a published comic artist. I remember as a kid going downstairs in my grandparent’s house, that’s where he lived, he had a beautiful Our Lady of Guadalupe mural on the wall. What was sad when I went back to school at the Art Institute in 2000 he passed away. I inherited a lot of his artwork and all of his information. He went to Westport High School and took top honors in the Cryer, the school newspaper. Luis said, “he won top honors in cartoonist division at the Missouri interscholastic press association. The award was state wide which meant that the judges acknowledged my Uncle Ruben as the best high school newspaper cartoonist in his division in Missouri in 1975, his senior year.”

Luis expressed even though his uncle is gone, “I want to support him because I know what his message was … his work is still revenant.

Hector Barreto Sr. was a successful businessman who founded the local Greater KC Hispanic Chamber and also was a founding member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC.

Hector Barreto was born in Mexico City, Mexico in 1935 and grew up in Guadalajara. His American journey began in 1958 when he moved to west central Missouri. Life is seldom easy for new immigrants and Hector Barreto’s was no exception. After a series of hard and backbreaking jobs, he decided to do what many Americans dream of doing: be his own boss.

With the help of his wife Mary Louise, he started his first enterprise, a restaurant serving Mexican food that grew into another. After that, came an import company, followed by a construction firm. This was a family affair where even the children of the Barreto home shared in the work.

In the 1970s, Hector Barreto would then turn to a new endeavor, joining forces with others to advance the opportunities of Hispanic entrepreneurs. That would lead to the formation by him and a few other pioneers of the Kansas City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1978 and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) in 1979.

Little by little, corporate America and the political establishment would begin to take notice. In the process Hector Barreto would also become a passionate voice for the growing Hispanic community of this nation.

Barreto became an advisor to President Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush. He also accepted appointments to various task forces, councils and advisory boards, including his appointment as president of the National Economic Development Agency.

Never forgetting where he started from, Hector Barreto would also be a tireless advocate for closer commercial ties between the Unites States and Mexico and also with all of Latin America. He understood full well the opportunities between business communities in the United States and those to the south. It was here where he devoted his efforts as he neared the end of his remarkable life.

For his accomplish-ments, Hector Barreto would be honored by many civic and business organizations. Among the most special was being named chairman emeritus of the USHCC as well as his induction into the Hall of Fame by the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Hector V. Barreto, Sr. passed away after a long illness on May 14, 2004.

Mary Gamez Lona was born in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. She came to Kansas City at a very early age and spent most of her life in the metro area. In 1978, Lona graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Kansas at Lawrence. Lona and her husband William “Memo” Lonathen returned to Kansas City where their three sons were born. A biography of Lona describes her in the following way: ”Lona was a bright light for the entire community. Where she saw a need, she was there to find a way to fix the problem. Honesty, caring and compassion were a part of her. However, she had a steel backbone and a certain bluntness that got her to the heart of an issue so she could take action. She was a fierce and resolute fighter for all of us — Latino, black, white, young, old, women, the sick and dying.“ Professionally, she was the publisher of ”La Lista Latina, Hispanic Business Directory;“ the founder of La Lista Latina — Live and the Hispanic Consumer Trade Show; the director of the Westside Cabot Clinic; supervisor of Parents As Teachers; director of the Teen Pregnancy Program at Guadeloupe Center, and an anti-substance abuse counselor at Haskell American Indian College. Lona had foresight and a vision for the community, particularly the Hispanic community. She wanted Latinos to take their rightful role in the Kansas City area, especially in the economic arena. Mary Lona died in 1999.

Nelly Lozano was an avid supporter of the Westside community and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She could always be counted on to participate in all the neighborhood events, such as fiestas and fundraisers. She was well known for her contributions to the local fiestas with the local She was an early advocate for the church, a part of the Guadalupana Society which helps to spread the word of God and also helps families in their time of need, such as praying for the sick or dying.

Carlos Riojas describes April 7, 1997, as a nightmare -- “the worst possible thing that could have happened in my life.” He told the Kansas City Business Journal.

That’s the day his mother, Ana Riojas, died in a south Miami hospital from injuries suffered in a moped accident while vacationing in Mexico. For Ana Riojas’ only son, the grief continues. “The one thing that helps me deal with (the loss) is the fact that we’re carrying on her mission of putting people to work. She lives on through this company.”

The company was Riojas Exnterprises, the firm Ana Riojas created in 1988 as Able Temporary Services. The firm has grown beyond temporary services and now includes records storage and management, and facilities operation. It is one of the area’s leading minority-owned businesses.

That year, Riojas Enterprises jumped to No. 4 on the Kansas City Business Journal’s list of the top 25 minority-owned businesses, with $7.5 million in revenues, up significantly from last year’s ninth-place ranking based on $4.2 million in revenues.

Carlos Riojas attributes the jump in revenues to several large government contracts the company was able to land and growth in the company’s records management and facilities operations business.

The company in late 1996 got a five-year, $18 million contract to provide up to 150 workers for the Social Security Administration’s folder-storage facility in Independence.
But Riojas said the past year’s triumphs have been significantly overshadowed by its tragedy -- the loss of the company’s founder at a time when Riojas Enterprises was at its highest point.

“These exceptional individuals demonstrated selfless commitment over the course of their lifetime,” said John Fierro, President/CEO. “The Chicano Voice Exhibit gives us an opportunity to recognize those who have played a vital role in positive change in our Hispanic community while celebrating the diversity of Kansas City.”

The opening night at the Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery will feature a special program to highlight the impact of the designated community heroes, live music, a specialty drink, food and more.

For more information, please visit www.mattierhodes.org or email artsinfo@mattierhodes.org.

Sources Kansas City Business Journal, Mattie Rhodes and Internet resources