One of the organizations in the Kennett area that residents may know little about is Casa Guanajuato. This non-profit is behind the many colorful events that celebrate the Latino culture throughout the year. The current President, Kathleen Snyder was willing to be interviewed and share information as well as her hopes and dreams for this organization.
Kathleen was born in Mexico City, Mexico and lived there until she was 23 years old. She has made Southern Chester County her home for many years and was around when residents from Guanajuato, Mexico arrived in the early 1980s. She describes herself as a “helper” and quickly got involved by finding new residents jobs, enrolling children in school, securing medical care and resources.
She is called Kathy by friends, or Doña Kata, which she explains is a term used when speaking to an “older woman to show respect.” Doña Kata fondly remembers Doña Margarita Quiñones at La Comunidad Hispana, who drew on her as a volunteer to help with some of the foot work that was needed to help Mexicans settle into Kennett Square. She explains that this was her love and she continues to find joy in helping the community with her understanding of the culture and Spanish language.
Casa Guanajuato is a model that was developed by the State of Guanajuato to keep migrants connected with their Mexican community. Sergio Carmona, Juan Carlos Navarro, Dora Navarro, and Kathleen, along with others decided to explore the model.
They developed their own non-profit in 2003 and operate independently from the State of Guanajuato. Their mission is to promote and preserve the Mexican and Latino culture’s traditions and customs. With this, they develop activities, events and festivals that promote the artistic creation of the community.
Kathleen tells about the State of Guanajuato officials visit to Kennett Square in 2016, establishing them as a “Sister City” to Kennett, and their visit this past May for Cinco de Mayo. These visits help our Mexican residents stay close to their roots.
The organization, Casa Guanajuato has 15 official members and together they are a mighty force. Kathleen feels they are like “family” and they often get together socially to celebrate Latino traditions and holidays, as well as each others’ birthdays, quinceañeras and graduations. As for the events in the broader community, Kathleen quickly adds that they draw on many volunteers and have an active partnership with La Comunidad Hispana (LCH), The Garage, KACS and Historic Kennett Square along with other non-profits.
Their members meet monthly and all are busy people, who find time to organize the major events that celebrate the Mexican culture, which all of our area residents can enjoy.
Cinco de Mayo is one of their major events, held on the first Sunday of May for the past 18 years. The attendance continues to grow and has been named in the top 5 de mayo festivals in the country, in a list with cities like LA, Chicago, Houston and New York.
In spite of the rain this past year, they still had thousands attend. In April, a contest is held for high school girls from four chester county schools to determine this year’s “Señorita Cinco de Mayo” with the winner announced on the day of the festival. The Festival is a family-oriented street festival with two stages, one a performance stage with brightly costumed dancers, entertainers who sing with gusto, and activities for children.
The second stage is for the bands and disc jockeys for a street dance which draws young and old. There is plenty of authentic Mexican delicious food and the streets are filled with vendors, an art tent which showcases local artists and non-profit booths to visit.
Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead has become another signature cultural event held at the American Legion Hall on the Friday before All Souls Day. This involves family and friends (any Kennett resident) building “altars” with items that remind them of their deceased loved ones. They are remembering friends and family members who have died, and are helping support their spiritual journey.
In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awake and celebrate with them.
September 16th is identified as Mexican Independence Day along with other Latino Independence Days which are several for the month of September. This event is held at the Anson B Nixon Park and a re-enactment of the cry for Independence ( “El Grito” ) is held along with a picnic and social event.
Kathleen was especially excited about the World Cup Soccer Tournament that they are organizing with Philadelphia Union. They will have several Latin American countries, as well as USA teams represented and the date is being set for later this summer. The love of soccer is shared by many, so this will be a significant event for drawing in the larger community.
The dream for Casa Guanajuato is to have their own “Casa” in town. Kathleen envisions the Casa being a place where many unique Mexican/Latino art crafts could be taught and showcased. These classes would be inter-generational and involve families. It could be a place for the larger community to gather and take classes on the Mexican/Latino arts (paper maché and other crafts, cooking,painting, typical dances, talks on history and culture and traditions).
It could be a place that brings together cross-cultures for better understanding and relationships. The Casa would bring an established cultural presence to the Kennett community and fulfill their mission of keeping their traditions alive for future generations.
Cultural traditions are important because they transmit shared values, stories and goals from one generation to the next. Engaging one’s own cultural traditions and customs, along with other cultures help strengthen a sense of community. I support Casa Guanajuato; it is time to have an established Casa in town. What do other’s say?