Cool Things - Connie's Mexico Cafe Items
Wichita's oldest family-run Mexican restaurant is Connie's Mexico Café. These objects were used by its founders, Concepción "Connie" Lopez and her husband Rafael.
"Connie's is a Wichita tradition."
—Bob R., Yahoo Wichita City Guide, 2007
Both Rafael and Concepción Lopez were born in Mexico, he in the state of Nuevo León and she in Jalisco. They grew up during a tumultuous period of Mexican history. Two severe economic depressions followed by the Mexican Revolution (essentially a civil war) hit rural areas especially hard during the first three decades of the 20th century. Prices of food and other necessary items rose sharply while wages stagnated. One economist estimated that the purchasing power of a Mexican laborer was 1,400 percent less than his American counterpart by 1900.
North of the border, the U.S. economy was booming and labor was in demand. Some U.S. industries, particularly railroads, actively recruited in the hardest hit Mexican states. Mexicanos responded, and by 1930 they comprised Kansas' second largest immigrant group (Germans being the largest). Well over half settled in the state's urban areas, including Wichita, where they worked for either the railroads or the meat packing industry.
Concepción and Rafael Lopez were an exception to this rule, coming to Kansas for different reasons. They had met and married in Texas, where their only child was born. Rafael enlisted in the U.S. army in 1943 and served during World War II. After the war the Lopezes accepted an invitation to visit friends in Wichita. The couple fell in love with the city and moved there in 1951.
More than a decade passed as the Lopez family settled into a new life in Wichita. Although discrimination of Mexican immigrants was common in the United States, the family later claimed life was easier in Kansas. Rafael served in the Korean War, then worked as a barber for McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Concepción found work as a domestic, and enjoyed cooking at fund raisers for St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church. Her culinary skills quickly gained notoriety, and she received many compliments on her dishes as well as encouragement to open a restaurant. The seed was planted in Rafael's head; learning of a restaurant for sale in the early 1960s, he bought it for Concepción. The building was located on the city's north side in an industrial area close to meat packing facilities replete with hungry laborers. The Lopezes opened the restaurant in 1963, naming it Connie's to attract an American clientele. The food, though, was always Mexican. Concepción made her own tortillas until the eatery's popularity made this impractical.
Although they found success in the United States, Connie and Rafael never forgot their roots. They traveled frequently to Mexico to visit friends and family, and on these trips purchased objects evocative of their homeland. This included cookware the family used in Wichita. Some of these objects are pictured here. Concepción cooked beans in the decorative crockery pot (center left). She used a special pan to cook homemade tortillas, then kept them warm at the table in this embroidered holder (bottom right). In her restaurant, Connie and the servers (in later years, her own granddaughters) wore lapel pins shaped like flatware (top right).
Rafael passed away in 1994, and Concepción died in 2006, but their descendants continue to operate Connie's Mexico Café in Wichita. These objects were donated to the museum by Connie's daughter, Carmen Rosales, and granddaughter, Delia Garcia. They are important symbols of the contributions made to Kansas culture by Mexican Americans, the state's fastest growing ethnic group.
Entry: Cool Things - Connie's Mexico Cafe Items
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2008
Date Modified: December 2014
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