Lena Mose eagerly continues searching for mentions of Chicana activist involvement in Kansas at the KU Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

KU senior Lena Mose is one step closer to fulfilling the potential of her research involving Kansas Chicana activism movements during the 1960s and ‘70s. Mose and her colleague recently received a $6,000 grant from Humanities Kansas to transform her work into a short film.

The film, also known as “La Mujer 1975“,will focus on Chicana activists in Kansas while telling the stories of women activists who attended the Evolución De La Mujer conference in 1975.

La Mujer was open to every social group, not just Mexican Americans. The conference helped ignite a movement for Kansas Chicanas to inform the public on how Mexican Americans are treated in the United States and how they could get more involved in politics and society.

“That conference is the most explicit trace from the International Women's Year Conference in Mexico City of 1975 and a direct impact to Kansas,” Mose said. “It’s exciting because it has been hard researching any Mexican American organizing in Kansas, it's like finding the needle in the haystack.”

Mose has been conducting her research in various forms by talking with Chicanas and searching through archival sources not just at KU. Mose also looked through the Kansas State University archives and Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City, as well as the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter University in New York and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Carrying on the movement

Mose hopes to roll out the documentary next fall.

Mose has partnered with filmmaker Marlo Angell, curator of film & media at the Lawrence Arts Center. Angell has previously documented the impact of Mexican Americans in East Lawrence in the 2021 short film “Searching for La Yarda.”

The film documents La Yarda, a housing complex built for Mexican American railroad workers spanning from the 1920s-1950s, and the cultural identity the area symbolizes. Mose’s inspiration to shed light on Kansas Chicanas moved Angell to this new collaboration.

“It’s wonderful to do a documentary that has specificity to it,” Angell said in a phone interview in October. “Some documentaries feel very generalized where Lena’s work is specific toward Chicanas and centering around this one event.”

On Oct. 28, Mose received news that the project received the Humanities Kansas Humanities For All grant.

Mose’s work falls in line with the opportunities Humanities Kansas provide recipients who are telling stories state residents are unaware of, says Leslie VonHolten, the non-profit’s director of grants and outreach.

“Many Kansans know the pioneer and agricultural stories but there are stories, like the one Lena has brought forward, that a lot of people don't realize and how there was a Chicana movement here in Kansas,” VonHolten said in a phone interview in October. “That's why the project appealed to our grant reviewers.”

VonHolten believes Mose’s story can have a lasting effect on how Kansans view Mexican Americans as well as praising Mose and Angell for their established research and finding a partner who can elevate it.

“I think they (Mose and Angell) are a really strong pair,” she said.

Mose is an Emporia native who recognized the need for stories surrounding Chicanas and their effect on the state.

In 2020, Mose was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program where over the following summer Mose worked on an independent research project, igniting her intrigue in Mexican American archives and how they are documented.

Mose began to focus on Latin studies, but she didn’t know where to focus her research efforts. She read the book “The Decolonial Imaginary“ by Emma Perez, which presented new questions on the history of the Chicana movement.

“There will be different documentaries and pieces of art Chicanas put out in the 70s, but those documentaries are yet to be found. We just know there is a record of them,” Mose said. “That's pretty common with the history of Chicanas, you’ll have a lead, but you might not find what you’re looking for.”

Mose has also expressed dismay at the lack of women of color in most state archival records focusing on Chicana activism. Academic archives, such as the Kenneth Spencer Research Library on KU’s campus, pose a struggle for Mose because women are not often present, however, men are more easily cited.

Many of the archives needed to further Mose’s research come from Chicana activists.

Elizabeth Gutierrez, a student activist at the University of Kansas through 1968 to 1971 who helped launch the first Mexican American Student Organization on campus, and Virginia Mendoza, a student activist at Washburn University in the 70s, are two of the women Mose spoke with.

Mose is hoping to add more interviews now that her research is funded.

How film elevates Chicana stories

Through the lens of filmmaking Angell, alongside Mose, is hoping to create a dynamic film.

Angell plans on avoiding the “talking heads” approach to filmmaking of the documentary as she believes this project is too special and important.

Movement and action are how Angell describes her camera techniques. Visual stimuli also come from presenting something emotionally evocative to the viewer by bringing a subject to a location from their past and capturing the emotions on camera, like techniques seen in “Searching for La Yarda.”

Confident in Angell’s filmmaking portfolio, Mose imagines this documentary will fulfill the mission to preserve these stories and give Kansans an entry into history they might not know.

“My research is important to me because it meant that there is a place for myself in history,” Mose said. “I’m half Mexican and learning everything Mexican Americans have done in Kansas history shows the political progress that’s possible.”