By Claudia Amaro | May 01, 2022
Wichita Kansas.- Juan Torres Rodriguez, 17, is looking forward to his graduation day on May 10 from Southeast High School in Wichita Kansas. In recent weeks, Torres was preparing to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma this summer and attend the Tulsa Welding School. Torres Rodríguez is the eldest of four siblings. His family shared with us that his dream is to someday start a family business with his younger brother, who is currently finishing his basic education and also hopes to obtain a certification in welding. The whole family has been enthusiastically supporting him to make his dream come true.
Now, everything seems uncertain for this family. They lost everything last Friday, April 29 when a tornado hit parts of southeastern Wichita and Andover Kansas, including their home.
Jose Contreras and Ana Rodriguez, parents of Juan, Yolanda, Estefania and Aaron, had just purchased their mobile home near the intersection of 31st South and 137th East in Sedgwick County. The mobile home area was heavily hit by the tornado. "We bought the house in October 2021 with our savings of several years. The house needed many repairs, and we spent all our savings on renovating it. We could barely move in February, look, we had almost everything new and nothing is useful anymore.” Ms. Rodríguez told us while showing us what was left of the interior of her house that was dragged a few feet from its place.
On Friday afternoon, Yolanda and Estefania were in dance practice, Mr. Contreras, Ms. Rodríguez, and Juan were inside their home and Aaron was in the yard. They managed to yell at him to get into the house when they saw that the sky was darkening. No one in the house heard the tornado warning sirens and they were not watching television or listening to the radio, so their intuition made them take refuge in a small closet in one of the rooms of their house, an action that saved their lives. "When the cell phone warning rang, the tornado had already passed, we had already come out," Ms. Rodriguez said.
Yolanda, their second daughter, is currently attending Northwest High School in Wichita. She will graduate in 2024 and already has a two-year scholarship to attend one of the private universities in Wichita due to her good academic performance. Estefania attends Christa McAuliffe Public School in Wichita. On Sunday, May 1st, some of her teachers were at home helping to pick up the debris along with other friends and family.
Araceli Amador, a person known in the city of Wichita Kansas for her leadership in the Latino community went through a similar experience in 1999 when a tornado hit the city of Haysville, Kansas, south of Wichita. Amador remembers everything that happened that day and tells us that, although on that occasion the area of mobile homes where she lived was not impacted, the tornado passed very close, affecting her neighbors. With the rapid growth of the Latino population in Wichita, Amador believes tornado warnings from the county and local media should also be sent out in Spanish. "People who don't have basements constantly worry about not knowing what to do in the event of a tornado," Amador says. She understands that the local government does what it can, but when she talks to other members of the Latino community, she feels that there is still not that inclusion that is so much talked about, "We are already many, we are part of the community, and it is important that they take us into account," she said. Amador understands that more education is needed for everyone to prevent fatal damage in cases of inclement weather. "You have to be on the lookout when they talk about a storm in tornado season," she ended her conversation with us.
In recent years there have been many conversations about the rapid growth of the Latino population in Kansas. Sedgwick County made a great effort during the pandemic to inform the community about the health emergency, with campaigns in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Few departments in the city of Wichita or Sedgwick County attempt to initiate and strengthen communication with the Latino population like the Wichita Police Department did in 2016. The department opened a Spanish-language Facebook page, which has remained active ever since, strengthening the trust of their followers.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell reached out to us after we shared this news on our social media. Howell told us that Sedgwick County makes many public announcements especially during the tornado season but acknowledged that in the educational part it is necessary to do a little more to be able to prevent this type of situation. "I will meet with the county's director of diversity and inclusion on Monday and ask questions about educational information in Spanish and Vietnamese." Howell told us. According to data from censusscope.org in 2000, Spanish and Vietnamese are the most widely spoken languages in Sedgwick County besides English.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez-Lewis also shared on her social media the efforts she has been making over the past few months to create an emergency response team for Latinos in this county. According to her post, she is currently trying to reach out to administrators in other states that already have these types of emergency response programs and is looking for resources to be able to implement something similar in Sedgwick County that responds to the needs of the growing Latino population. “That isn't something that will be done quickly and clearly, we need to get something in place for situations like this now. I've reached out to our county management team to see what we can do faster to get warnings out in multiple languages.” Lopez added on her social media.
As for the Contreras Rodríguez family, who continue to remove the debris of what was left of their home, they ask for the support of the community to be able to start over, find a way to rebuild their house and above all continue to support the dreams of their son Juan so that he can attend school in Tulsa this summer and obtain his certification. "We wholeheartedly appreciate any help provided whether financial, some building material or support for the education of my son who has sought scholarship support, but has not received a response." Ms. Rodriguez said.
Their family set up a support fund so that people who wish to help can send their donations to https://gofund.me/2c0f09ae.
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