Diversity is “everything,” according to Carole Branda, curator at the Kansas African American Museum.
“There are cities with larger black populations, but just having that diversity makes everybody more tolerant toward each other, more understanding,” she said. “Once we’re brought together, we find out that we’re not different from one another, that everyone wants the same thing in life.”
According to U.S. Census data, in 2015, 80.8 percent of the Sedgwick County population was white, while 14.1 percent was Hispanic or Latino, 9.5 percent was black or African American, 4.5 percent was Asian, 3.6 percent was two or more races and 1.4 percent was American Indian and Alaska native. Some people identified as white may also be identified as Hispanic or Latino. The percent of the population who identified as non-Hispanic white was 68.4 percent.
An African-American man and a woman signed the petition for Wichita’s incorporation in July 1870 — showing “diversity from the outset,” according to Jay Price, professor of local and community history at Wichita State University.
Price said a significant portion of the early settlers in the area were of German ancestry. There also was an early African-American presence. Prior to the Civil War, the area was Osage land.
Today, people with German, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Congolese, Mexican roots and more comprise parts of Wichita’s population.
One line of Price’s family includes Jews from Lithuania, while another is English-Canadian and another is “New England Yankee, German Mennonite, French Canadian and Irish.”
Wichita’s Hispanic community has more than tripled since 1990.
Marco Alcocer, founder of a bilingual publication called El Perico Informador y Parlanchin, said in an e-mail interview that Hispanics have come to Wichita from across the nation, drawn by the opportunities of a midsize city.
“Let’s remember it was 1541 when Spaniard Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, led the European discovery of Kansas,” Alcocer said. “… Diversity brings new ideas and offers fresh perspectives. Science, technology, knowledge and understanding are universal representations of cultural diversity.”
Over the years, Wichita has also acted as a refugee city. In the 1970s and ’80s, many refugees came from Southeast Asia, Price said.
In recent years, most refugees have come from countries in Africa.
In 2015, Wichita received 581 refugees from 12 countries, including 304 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.